The words “grim” and “gritty” get thrown around a lot nowadays. Really, we kind of have Batman Begins to thank for it. Before the reboot of the Batman films, back in 2005, the series was almost an extension of the Adam West TV series of the 1960’s. The fights had no real tension, character development was virtually nonexistent and the whole series had become about selling toys. Not that there’s anything wrong with selling toys, but just be upfront about it. So when Batman Begins came around and showed us a film about what Batman would be like in the “real” world, we all ate it up because it was so different than anything we had seen before. We had finally seen Batman get hurt. He was underpowered, he wasn’t confident and his tech was mostly believable. While most praise the Dark Knight for being the greatest film in the history of the multiverse, it wouldn’t have been made had Batman Begins not lay the foundation for its success. So for the last thirteen years, people have been clamoring for their heroes to be treated with a more realistic, if not more respectful, tone. While I also fall under the umbrella of people that want their heroes to be viewed through a more realistic lens, I also believe that in the pursuit of realism, we also need to recognize where the given series roots lie and where you have to stay true to the original vision of a given property. With Batman, a dark and grim tone works because that was the initial intention of the character back in the thirties. Unfortunately, putting a Batman-inspired coat of paint on a property like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers just doesn’t work.
Back in 2015, a fan film called Power / Rangers was released online and supposed nerds went crazy for it. The Rangers seen in the films were dark, messed up and warped versions of the bright-eyed innocents that we had seen on television when we were children. Gone were the days of spandex suits and rubber monsters. Here, in the pretentiously named “Bootleg Universe” from producer Adi Shankar, the dimly lit film tries its damnedest to be taken seriously. From the grimy sets, battered costumes, foul dialogue and forced violence, it does everything but stomp its feet and hold its breath in an attempt to be viewed as anything but a serious drama. But in all honesty, it tries too hard and botches its landing.
The story of this film is actually quite simple. Sometime in the Rangers future, they lost their campaign in the intergalactic was with the Machine Empire. As such peace treaties were signed and the Power Rangers were no more. Jason, Billy, Zack, Trini, Kimberly and Tommy scatter to live the rest of their lives in a world that is now under the iron fist of the Machine Empire. This story actually has a lot of potential, so far in the opening minutes (after a clumsy opening title sequence where the Ranger wildly fire rifles into the air without aiming, because who has time to aim anymore), we are shown Power Rangers that have lost, and that has never really been seen before, at least to this extent. At this point we seen a grown up Kimberly Hart, played by Katee Sackhoff, is under arrest and being interrogated by former Red Ranger, Rocky DeSantos (James Van Der Beek!), who wants the location of the last living Power Ranger outside of themselves, Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger.
Like I said before, the first, maybe, three to four minutes of this film are actually incredible. Everyone likes seeing their favorite heroes lose only to rise up a stronger hero and fight back against their opposition. Unfortunately, the creators here are not interested in such a story. I get it, the film only clocks in at around fifteen minutes, so there’s only so much you can do. But the creators seem far more interested in just killing off their childhood heroes in increasingly disrespectful ways. They seem more interested in ensuring an R-rating with the overuse of blood, profanity and hiring porn stars to play classic villains from the TV show that inspired it. They didn’t care about the Power Rangers, they only cared for the name recognition that it gave them. Over the course of the film, you find out that every Ranger had been hunted down and murdered, you see fan favorite characters Bulk and Skull become meth addicts and call Kimberly a cunt, Zack, the Black Ranger working for the enemy (along with Rocky) while snorting coke and stabbing fools in the throat, and Jason is gunned down mere hours after marrying Kimberly…whom he never had a romantic storyline with in the original series. I understand taking liberties, killing your idols and trying to change the game, I’ve done it too with my own writing. But the filmmakers here seem to have a no clue as to what the Power Rangers were, not only as a franchise (toys!), but as characters as well.
It’s not all bad though. Sackhoff and Van Der Beek actually give performances that they should be proud of here. They’re both reserved yet intense while both hint at their shared history. The fight choreography is well shot and done in long takes that don’t fall victim to over editing. But unfortunately, the big fight in the film, involving the Black Ranger, looks incredibly cheesy because of the poor quality of costumes the Rangers wear. But the fight does include a cameo from actor Will Yun Lee (Sleeping Dogs), and that is always a plus.
And in all honesty, I do appreciate and understand where the character Rocky is coming from. He turns against his fellow Power Rangers because they were children that were asked to take part in an intergalactic war against an enemy that they had never met. In an interview with producer Adi Shankar, he mentions the fact that the Power Rangers are essentially child soldiers who would end up dealing with PTSD. While the term PTSD is thrown around a lot these days, in my opinion to garner interest in a specific property and not to enlighten people on the facts of the condition, I understand where he’s coming from. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t follow through on this boast, with the exception of a single dropped line about being kids when everything the film is based around started. The whole child soldier angle of this film also doesn’t hold water when you think about the source material Shankar and director Joseph Kahn so desperately want to emulate. If the original series, the teenagers with attitude choose to become Power Rangers. During the climax of the very first episode of series, Zack actually questions his ability to be a Ranger, claiming they just got lucky; proving that the choice to be a Ranger was theirs and theirs alone.
If you want to see how being a Power Ranger actually effects the six heroes, then I recommend you go out and read the awesome Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic by Boom Studios. That comic is the perfect “gritty” reboot while staying true to the source material.
This fan fil, is a massive waste of time. From the very first time I saw it, I always had this feeling that the filmmakers wanted to make a hard R-rated film, and they just tacked on the Power Rangers name to get the film made. Banking on a gross mixture of nostalgia and shock value that lets the viewer down, while also leaving them wanting more (read the comic). I don’t know about you, but when I was a small, I used to walk around the apartment wearing my mom and dad’s shoes. They were obviously too big and they left me fumbling around and tripping over the carpet. In my humorous and good natured attempts to walk from point “A” to point “B”, my no nonsense father would remind me that his shoes were too big for me to fill out. I think my father’s logic applies to this fan film. It wants to be taken seriously, but it forgets (ignores) its own roots and ends up just looking silly. Like a child wearing their parents clothing.