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March 23, 2017

Should I go see Power Rangers?

I haven’t had an internal crisis this severe since that time I found out that “fans” of The Magic School Bus were willing to make Rule 34 art of Ms. Frizzle.  I mean, yeah, I get it.  Rule 34 is Rule 34, but…is there nothing sacred?  I guess not.  And knowing that there are people who see Ms. Frizzle as an object of lust is -- well, it’s just the sort of thing destined to shake your faith in humanity, you know?

All right, enough about that.  Let’s talk about the Power Rangers movie.  No, not that oneNot that oneNot that one.  That one.

I’ve been tugging at my collar pretty much since the start of the month, because it means the time is finally upon us.  Lionsgate is stepping up with a new Power Rangers movie, and reviving a franchise that ruled the roost back in the 90s.  Well, “reviving” in a loose sense; Power Rangers the TV show has been going on near-continuously for the past 20 years, to say nothing of the Super Sentai franchise it’s based on AND has been going near-continuously for the past 40 years.  Seriously, they just celebrated their 40th anniversary with their last installment, and now they’re on their 41st.  That’s some longevity.

If you’ve read my stuff before, then you’ll know that I’ve been a Kamen Rider fanboy since late 2013.  But that happened because A) I’m an inherent fan of the tokusatsu genre, even if that was secured by Kamen Rider, and B) before Kamen Rider, I watched Super Sentai -- and Power Rangers well before that.  In terms of the former, I made my way through snippets of some installments and massive chunks of others (Shinkenger and ToQger, for the curious).  In terms of the latter?  To be frank, I don’t think I ever really entered my “Power Rangers is stupid now” phase.  It fell out of favor with me because it kept jumping channels and time slots -- Disney/ABC acted like they were embarrassed of it, since they had it air at like 5 in the morning once they got the rights -- and somewhere along the line I went into “Every Piece of Media that Comes From Japan is FLAWLESS and Immaculate” Mode.

Those days are long over.  Even if they weren’t, modern-day Squeenix would’ve killed that mode dead.

But I digress.  Kamen Rider has made the toku genre more important to me than ever, even if I’m not the most dedicated or devoted follower of everything in the world of Power Rangers or Super Sentai.  Despite not seeing every episode under the sun, I have a curiosity for the franchise (east or west, take your pick) that can’t be sated or silenced.  What I have seen of the Sentai has been routinely impressive -- not perfect by any means, but it’s certainly easy for me to see why it’s lasted as long as it has.

And as for Power Rangers?  Thanks to the Twitch streaming marathon -- which I have on in the background as I write this -- I think my appreciation of the western variant is stronger than ever.  No, scratch that; I think my love of the western variant is stronger than ever.  Yeah, more often than not it’s a goofy, dopey series with acting that runs the gamut and writing that can be so embarrassing that I wouldn’t blame anyone (even the actual writers) who’d want to get some distance from it.  But it doesn’t change the fact that the fights are thrilling, the music is catchy, the absurdity is a strong selling point, and -- above all else -- the sheer conviction in its campy style is award-worthy.  The hustle simply must be respected.

I don’t know whose idea it was to have Twitch air some 800 episodes of Power Rangers (side note: damn!).  I’d imagine it was a marketing ploy to build hype and awareness for the 2017 movie, which is pretty useful.  The problem is that, as far as I’m concerned, it utterly backfired.  It was a mistake.  For the most part, it seems like there’s absolutely no point in watching this new movie when the marathon shows content that, while certainly not 10/10 material, is well above serviceable.  Content that’s free, by the way.  The stream features a show with style in spades, even if it’s one that’s varied wildly over the years; even if there are low points in the franchise, Power Rangers can still reach some notable highs -- and when coupled with that style, it makes a combo that’s hard to beat.

So what’s the new movie’s hard-to-beat combo supposed to be?  I’ve been wondering about that since the moment it was announced, and dreading the inevitable answer: that it wouldn’t have that combo.  Deep down, I was concerned that it would drop that style, for fear of indulging in the aspects that make Power Rangers what it is.  Yes, it’s routinely a stupid-ass show where absurdity is the lifeblood of the universe.  But the sheer earnestness that it’s built on and the rapid-fire pace of its insanity is nothing short of a revelation at times.  So if you’re going to make a movie based on Power Rangers, you can’t take any half-measures.  You either go all in, or you don’t play the game.

But this is modern-day Hollywood we’re talking about, and they’ve glommed onto another nostalgic property to reboot (even though the property hasn’t really gone anywhere and is still in production).  And you know the rule.

The first review I saw pop up was on Birth.Movies.Death, with the subtitle of “It’s Mopin’ Time!”  I almost didn’t need to read anything else, because it confirmed one of my worst fears for the movie.  But other negative ones popped up too, as if to confirm every last possible thing I dreaded about this reboot.  No style.  Poor execution.  Zero understanding of why people liked (or like) Power Rangers in the first place.  Jumping onto the bandwagon five years too late -- by which I mean the obvious.  Homogenization is the order of the day.

I don’t want to watch a movie that apes other movies, much less a movie that apes other movies and is still terrible.  But that’s what trailers cast this movie as: it’s picking and pulling from stuff that’s already earned money (and scorn), even if it means sacrificing an inherent style for something much shallower.  And no, this isn’t just about me having hang-ups about a movie being too gritty or serious; even though I wasn’t a fan of that Power/Rangers fan film from a while back, I know there’s a space for a serious, thoughtful take on the franchise…as long as it’s well-made.  From what I can gather, this isn’t it.  Not when one of the first “jokes” is apparently about accidentally jacking off a bull.  Comedy!

Wait, who the hell is this movie for?  Is it for adults, teens, or kids?  Is it for fans, newcomers, or longtime naysayers?  Is it for critics who have been trained to watch movies with a critical eye, or for audiences who are in it for the thrills?  Oh, who am I kidding?  This movie’s probably trying to be for everyone, which means that it ends up being for no one.

Well, I say that, but this is where my confliction comes in.  I don’t think it’s a secret that I haven’t had high hopes for this movie.  I assumed from the get-go that it was going to be a mess, and even when I tried to compliment it, it felt like I was damning with faint praise.  I followed my gut instincts, and for the most part they’re right when it comes to a slew of recent productions -- and lo and behold, when I first checked the Rotten Tomatoes score for this new movie, it debuted at a “respectable” 43%.  I expected the worst, and I got it.

That should be the end of the story right there.  But it isn’t.  I can’t shake this feeling deep down -- this sense that I’m missing out, even though I can almost supernaturally sense how this will turn out.  I didn’t have high hopes for the movie, and the reveals that have happened since announcement day -- including every successive reveal that shows just how repulsive its overdesigned aesthetic can get -- have done everything in their power to tell me to stay the hell away.  But I can’t.  Not yet.

After all, what if the reviews are wrong?

I’ve said before that reviews are a suggestion of quality, not a confirmation of it.  Just because a bunch of guys say that Final Fantasy 13 is a 9/10 game doesn’t mean that it is without question; setting aside personal biases, there are circumstances around reviewing games that don’t always translate to the final product.  Movies are a different beast, but the end result is the same: it’s possible for a reviewer to get things wrong, miss the point, or fail to represent the content (or quality) of a work.  That’s why it’s important to use sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to gain easy access to a smattering of reviews -- a way to cross-reference, for lack of a better phrase.

But Power Rangers, I suspect, finds itself in a strange place.  Power/Rangers proved that when it made the rounds.  There are some people who are 100% receptive to -- and are likely begging for -- a gritty reboot that axes all of the kids’ stuff the franchise is famous for.  There are other people who reject the grit and take pride in the unabashed campy nature.  Some people are more than willing to roll with the absurdity; some people can’t help but question every bizarre event, plot thread, and concept that comes their way.  Who’s right and who’s wrong?  Hard to say.  The bigger issue is that Power Rangers has an amorphous identity; it means different things to different people, and on every level imaginable.

Maybe it’s a consequence of rising up in the 90s instead of roosting in the 80s.  People have long since had time to get stuff like Transformers and Ninja Turtles -- and since Hollywood has a cyclical pattern that revives everything from 20 years prior, it’s only natural that those well-established 80s properties are clearly defined and understood by now.  But Power Rangers?  What was it?  Or, more pressingly, what should it be?  Should it be campy?  Should it be serious?  Should it be hokey?  Should it be classy?  Should it be dumb?  Should it be smart?  Was it ever any of those things?  Are any of those things good?  Were they ever?

There’s too much up in the air right now.  There always will be when it comes to this franchise, this series that defies belief and reason on a regular basis.  Are the reviewers in the right mindset to watch a new Power Rangers movie without docking points merely for its nature?  I’d imagine so, because otherwise they wouldn’t be very good at their jobs.  On the other hand, if they’re out for a movie that can actually prove its worth, and a property like Power Rangers tends to naturally defy the qualities that signal worth, then…well, you can see where the problem lies. 

I’m not going to say that any reviewer who dumps on this movie is wrong, because that would be a shitty thing to do.  But that question of how much others are willing to accept the Rangers will always be in the air, informing opinions and decisions.  So who knows?  Maybe there was an influence that reviewers aren’t even aware of.  Maybe certain elements just don’t gel with a decent-sized chunk of the populace, and an even bigger chunk of the reviewer community.  Again, who knows?  It’s all conjecture.  I hope I’m way off the mark here, but…well, anything can happen.

It’s a question of trust, but I’m not sure if that trust is earned by anyone involved.  Do I trust the critics who might not give even an eighth of a damn about the franchise?  Do I trust the filmmakers even when it’s possible -- if not blatantly obvious -- that their heads weren’t in the right place?  Or do I trust myself, because gut instincts aside, I actually, deeply, really want this movie to be good?

I’m wary of that third option, because clinging too fiercely to it means that I’d be a massive hypocrite.  “Oh, yeah, reboots of nostalgic properties are complete garbage -- at least until there’s a reboot of a nostalgic property that I care about!”  Hell, there’s a tag on this very blog that’s called “Nostalgia is for Yellowbellies”, to say nothing of the posts that have taken shots at nostalgia, reboots, and the like.  What does it say about me, knowing that I can potentially be suckered in by the promise of something whose name alone makes me unable to quit it?  What does it say when my logic and reason are potentially compromised because of this one property that once saw fit to bake its heroes in a giant pizza?

If we’re being optimistic, then maybe the reason why I’ve still got an interest in this movie -- against all odds, reason, intuition, and common sense -- is about what it symbolizes instead of what it offers.  Like I said, Power Rangers is still going strong today, in the States and further east (though ratings have apparently, and consistently, dropped in Japan).  I get the feeling that a lot of people walked out on the series at some point, which they’re justified in doing.  How many people give a damn about -- or even know about -- Time Force, SPD, or Jungle Fury?  How many people think that Power Rangers starts and ends with Mighty Morphin’, and assume that the kitsch there is the sole quality of some twenty years of storytelling?

The Twitch stream has been marvelous so far (and will continue to be) because it’s exposing people to the best and worst Power Rangers has to offer.  Likewise, the Twitch chat has turned a near-lethal binge session into a delight; half the fun is seeing all of the comments and memes whiz past, including what I can only assume (or hope) are the most raw, sincere reactions the world will ever know.  It gives me life.  I want people all over to know that feeling.

But I know that there are people who can’t (or won’t) bother with that stream.  That’s where this new movie can come in.  Yes, it’s not like it’s 100% faithful to the style and aesthetic of the series, but it still has a lot of conventions and conceits.  It still has the name.  If it’s good, then maybe it’ll show people that there’s a lot more to love about Power Rangers.  Maybe it’ll spark a renewed interest in the franchise -- and because of it, more people will have more opportunities to bond over more art.  That’s what it’s all about.

So maybe there’s a part of me deep down that doesn’t want to write this movie off.  Maybe, as futile as it is, I still can’t help but see it as a symbol of hope and untapped potential.  I want it to be able to share something special in the world, something that only a franchise as strange yet storied as this can deliver.  I want it to be genuinely, defensibly, objectively good, so that we can all see what happens when someone gives the property the time, effort, and respect it deserves.  And above all else, I want to be able to report my findings to the world -- to tell them that despite my fears and hang-ups, Power Rangers ’17 is actually a good movie.

But I’m not gonna bother with that shit if the movie is awful.

I get the feeling that if I go see this movie, it’s going to result in me writing several thousand words on the subject -- especially if it’s bad.  And you know what?  I don’t want to do that if I can possibly help it.  I’ve got other, better things to write (because novels don’t write themselves), and blowing hours, if not days on end doesn’t seem like the recipe for a good time.  Or a good schedule.  I mean sure, it’d be good for a boost in pageviews and clicks -- which this post will likely also be, solely because the title features Power Rangers right before the launch of the Power Rangers movie -- but it might not be worth it in the long run.  Also, I value comments more than pageviews, soooooooooooooooooo…if I do this, then y’all better leave some actual comments this time around.  If not, I’m gonna be pissed.

So I guess that’s about where I stand.  And I’ll end things with the question that started it all: should I go see Power RangersIf you have any suggestions or an opinion, then you know what to do.  Tell me what’s on your mind, and keep me from making a big mistake if you can.

Or pay me.  I’m not opposed to that; I WOULD like to save up for a new computer, after all.

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