Mighty Morphin Power Rangers‘s history starts in Japan. Toei, developed Sentai, a series about masked heroes fighting monsters, in the Sixties. After a deal with Marvel to bring over some of the comic company’s heroes resulted in mecha getting added to sentai series, Toei continued to add giant robots, creating Super Sentai. The sixteenth series, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, caught the attention of Haim Saban, owner of Saban Entertainment. Saban worked out a deal to get the footage from Zyuranger to which he’d use the action scene and create new stories to go with them. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers debuted in 1993.
The original Power Rangers, Jason Lee Scott, Kimberly Hart, Zack Taylor, Trini Kwan and Billy Cranston, were recruited after the sage Zordon ordered his robot aide, Alpha 5, to find “five teenagers with attitude.” Zordon needed a team to stop Rita Repulsa, an alien sorceress who escaped imprisonment after 10 000 years. To help fight Rita and her monsters, the Rangers received Zords, mecha that can combine into the MegaZord. The Rangers defeat Rita’s monsters regularly, but the sorceress has a new plan – defeat the Rangers with one of their own. She kidnaps the Green Ranger, Tommy Oliver, and turns him against the others. Tommy does break free of the brainwashing and aids the others against her. The series sold a number of toys, from action figures to Zords. The effects at times were weak, the result of being a weekly series in Japan. However, the series had a following. The franchise is now in its twenty-fourth season with Power Rangers Ninja Steel.
As is the way of Hollywood, a popular TV series will be adapted. Despite being in its twenty-fourth season, the studio went back to the beginning, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. There is a tendency for film makers to turn a children’s series darker and grittier to the point where the feel is off. With a series featuring martial arts, the potential for a grimdark remake existed. Instead, the movie took a different approach, acting as an origin for the Rangers.
The movie starts at the beginning of the Cenozoic Era with a battle going badly for the Power Rangers. Red Ranger Zordon, played by Bryan Cranston, orders Alpha 5, voiced by Bill Hadar, to send a meteor on his position. This desperate act of self-sacrifice is to protect the Earth’s Zeo Crystal and the Rangers’ Power Coins from Rita Repulsa, played by Elizabeth Banks. The meteor wipes out the dinosaurs, and buries not only the Zeo Crystal and the Power Coins, but sends Rita deep into the ocean.
Millions of years later, Jason Scott, played by Dacre Montgomery, makes a bad decision in trying to steal a mascot and winds up injuring his leg, destroying a potential career in football, placed under house arrest, and sent to detention. While serving detention, he meets Billy Cranston, played by RJ Cyler, and Kimberly Hart, played by Naomi Scott. Billy is in detention for blowing up his lunch box. Kimberly is there because she forwarded an image of her cheerleader friend throughout school. Jason becomes Billy’s friend after stopping a bully from tormenting him, though the feeling isn’t immediately reciprocated. Billy is a genius with electronics and is able to fool the tracker Jason wears as part of his house arrest.
In return for the help, Jason drives Billy up to a gold mine. Billy’s father had been trying to locate something hidden at the mine, and Billy continued the search after his death. He sets up the explosives and detonates them, getting the attention of Kimberly and two other classmates, Trini Kwan, played by Becky G, and Zach Taylor, played by Ludi Lin, are also at the mine and are drawn to the explosion. While Jason, Kimberly, Trini, and Zach argue about why they are all at the mine, Billy realizes that the rock wall is collapsing. The collapse reveals five unusual rocks, red, blue, pink, yellow, and black. Each of the teens grabs one and, with sirens approaching, runs away. Eventually, they all make it into Billy’s van. Jason tries to out run a train to escape both mine security and the police.
Out on the ocean, a fishing boat drags in its last haul of the day. Within the net of fish is the body of a woman. The boat’s skipper calls in for the police to meet the boat at the docks. The body isn’t quite so dead, though. Rita survived, frozen in the ocean until pulled on board. When one of Angel Grove’s finest arrives to investigate, he is surprised that the body not only isn’t dead but is trying to kill him.
Jason wakes up the next morning surprised to be alive and unsure of just how he got home. He gets out of bed, then notices that he isn’t wearing his knee brace. The red stone he discovered at the mine is still with him, even if he leaves it in another room. Jason also discovers that he has superhuman strength. He returns to the mine, where he sees the wreckage of Billy’s van. The other teenagers have also returned. More or less as a group, they explore the mine and discover a long buried spaceship deep under the rock. The ship’s caretaker, Alpha 5, rounds up the group and brings them to the central chamber to meet Zordon, who is now part of the ship’s computer matrix. Zordon welcomes the new Power Rangers and warns them that Rita will be at full strength again in eleven days. The new Rangers need to train and to learn to morph.
While their training, while painful, is difficult, the new Rangers do learn. Alpha 5 presents holographic versions of Rita’s Putties, the minions she uses as the first wave. Morphing, though, is another matter. None of the Rangers are able to morph at first. Even after Alpha 5 shows the Rangers their Zords, mecha that took the shape of the dominant life form of the Cenozoic Era, the teens aren’t able to morph. The closest any of them get is Billy, who morphs into his blue armour while breaking up a fight between Jason and Zack.
Rita keeps busy while the Rangers train. She collects gold to recreate her monster Goldar, who will be able to dig to retrieve Earth’s Zeo Crystal, dooming the world and giving her the ability to destroy other planets. Rita isn’t picky about where she gets her gold, either. Some of her victims have their gold fillings removed. She senses the other Power Coins and realizes that new Rangers have been discovered, in part because she had been the Green Ranger under Zordon’s leadership until she turned her back on her oath. Rita breaks into Trini’s home to have her send a message to the others to be at the docks.
Trini tells her fellow Rangers about Rita. Despite not being able to morph yet, Jason decides that this is the best time for them to take down Rita. Rita, though, is more than ready for them and easily defeats the group. She knows one of them has the location of the Zeo Crystal and threatens to kill the Rangers one by one until she gets it. Billy, who managed to work out where the Crystal is, doesn’t want to lose any of his new friends and gives her the key words without completely giving away the location.
It takes a tragedy to turn the Rangers from a group of teenagers into a proper team. The death of a teammate makes them realize that each of them would gladly sacrifice their life for the others. The Morphing Grid unlocks and instead of Zordon returning, the dead teammate does. The team morphs for the first time and heads out to fight Rita once again. Rita, though, sends her Putties against them at the ship. The fight is difficult, but when Zach brings out his Zord to even the odds, the others follow suit. The Putties defeated, the Rangers ride out to save Angel Grove from Rita and her monster.
Unlike the TV series, the movie has the advantage of being written as one whole instead of having to incorporate existing footage from Zyuranger with a new script. The formular of the series – Rita hatches a scheme, sends out her Putties and her monster of the week, Putties get defeated, monster forces the Rangers to call their Zords, Rita makes her monster grow, and the Rangers summon the MegaZord – is in the movie, but the movie isn’t just the formula. Instead, the formula provides a scaffold to build on, and gets reshaped in the process. The heart of the movie is the team and how the Rangers come together.
Each Ranger has a problem to overcome. Jason’s is that he is impulsive and prone to self-sabotage. Kimberly was a mean girl who had to face up to what she did. Zach is worried about his mother and being alone if anything happens to her. Trini is discovering that she is a lesbian and feels that she’s an outsider even in her own family. Billy is on the autistic spectrum and is well aware of the problems he faces as a result. By being able to move past their problems and open up to each other, they turn from a group of teenagers to a team of Power Rangers. Each of the Rangers’ problems comes from a real place. None of them are sensationalized. Billy’s autism is one of the more realistic portrayals around, as is Trini’s feeling of being an outsider because of her sexuality and Kimberly’s reaction to what she had done to her friend.
The casting worked. As mentioned above, RJ Cyler’s portrayal of Billy was believable. Elizabeth Banks as Rita channelled J-horror movies, with her early movement similar Ringu`s Sadako. Rita went from evil sorceress to frightening villain. Bryan Cranston’s Zordon had wisdom fighting against desire, a mentor who demanded much but knew exactly what the stakes were. The movie also used colour as a symbol. When the Rangers first meet and while they`re still trying to morph, the colours are muted, dark, and murky. When they become a team, the colour turns bright and full. In part, this helps show off the Zords and the Rangers colour-coded armour, but it also works to show the transition from teenager to hero.
Power Rangers takes Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and expands on it, giving the Rangers depth of character and showing them becoming heroes. Rita’s villainy also expands, showing just how evil the sorceress is. Yet, the movie never forgets its heritage and embraces it. Power Rangers is a well-done adaptation of a beloved franchise’s beginnings.