I love Power Rangers. When I say love, I mean I have been following the show for twenty-two years. Every awkward season, every bad theme song (Operation Overdrive has a rap, if you were wondering which one was the worst), every casting controversy. I used to write fan fiction for the show (came up with my own series theme and everything), comb the earliest dominions of the Internet for the latest theories on Scorpion Rain, and re-watched many seasons back and forth.
I say all of this so you can better understand where I’m coming from. I’m not some fan who doesn’t want his favorite thing changed, nor do I have nostalgic fondness for a show I used to watch. I have been consistently invested in a show for children, and realize I’m no longer who the series is intended for. But after seeing news of the reboot and the designs of the suits themselves, that’s not exactly the full truth anymore. As Lionsgate and Saban come up with “cooler” designs, they’re losing the spark that made the Power Rangers charming to begin with.
It might be crazy to write about a film I haven’t seen footage of, but I’m just worried. As it stands, Power Rangers isn’t a movie for you, for me, and especially not for your kids. If these pictures and designs don’t look good in motion or offer up anything more than face value, it won’t last after opening week.
We are currently in the midst of a 90s nostalgia boom. Just as the last decade was obsessed with capturing the vibe of the 80s, the 2010s have seen an increase in 90s pop culture revivals. Because “90s kids” like myself have grown into a subculture with true buying power, cinema is trying its best to cater to that market. Which means properties you used to love as a kid now have a chance of coming back. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the fruits of nostalgia lately: a new Powerpuff Girls series, Samurai Jack returning to Cartoon Network, Hey Arnold returning to Nickelodeon for a TV movie, Space Jam finally getting that sequel, Gilmore Girls’ new season, Fuller House and Netflix’s upcoming slate in general. It has gotten so ridiculous there is even talk of more Star Kid, Cruel Intentions and The Craft. If you saw it on VHS as a kid, there’s probably a new version of it in the works.
Given the reboot crazy nature of cinema at the moment, it was only a matter of time before Power Rangers would get the film treatment as well. As a property, it’s a film company’s dream. It’s going to be expensive, but Power Rangers has a rabid (and largely untapped) fan base, name recognition, and more importantly, toy sales. Saban has a history of focusing on toys more than everything else given much of their production is reliant on Toei, the Japanese parent company owner of the footage Saban uses in the show. From the beginning, any original idea Saban came up with was influenced by toy sales. The original Mighty Morphin ran for as long as it did (combining footage from two different Super Sentai series) because it was still a money-making juggernaut. For the first few seasons, they kept the suits but changed most everything else.
Completely American additions such as Lord Zedd, the Tenga Warriors, Rito Repulsa, the shark cycles, the few times the Ninja Megazord combined with the first season zord Titanus, the weird sparkle suit power up, and even as far as keeping Jason David Frank on as the Green, and later White, Ranger despite the sixth ranger being written out of the series early on were all a result of toy sales. This mentality followed the series through its entirety due to the superhero boom. Power Rangers has always competed with some sort of superhero material, and it has only gotten more egregious thanks to Marvel essentially dominating shelves. Thus Saban and toy maker Bandai have gotten used to changing designs in order to compensate. Back when Saban re-acquired the Power Rangers license in 2011 and released Power Rangers Samurai, they tacked on original, “mega” armors each episode in order to not seem plain compared to the numerous Avengers toys littering the shelves.
With the toy first mentality in mind, it is time to discuss the issue at hand. A few days ago, Entertainment Weekly revealed how Saban/Lionsgate’s Power Rangers will look and it didn’t exactly light the world on fire. The fans seemed divided between “Oh man, this is the mature Power Rangers I’ve always wanted” and “They’re all Iron Man.” Unfortunately, everyone is kind of right in this situation. Given the design, the upcoming reboot will most likely be a little darker. Hopefully not so dark as to scare kids away or fill it with subjects that will fly over their heads, but it is definitely not being made with kids in mind. Given the sultrier design of Rita Repulsa (thus taking the meaning out of her name) and the Rangers themselves, coupled with the tone of the images released thus far, I’m not expecting anyone in this movie to say “morphinomenal” or indulge in any of the goofiness the series made itself known for.
The film is wholly an American creation, and thus cannot rely on the popularity of a currently running series like the first movie did, resulting in the “Iron Man” suit design. Expect a line of light up chest figures or maybe the red, blue, and black rangers in a set in the same aisle as next year’s Marvel films. That’s also why these rangers and zords, look alien and Transformer-esque. Saban is merely reflecting what is popular now, just as they did back when the first movie released. Although these designs are reminiscent of the original movie’s suits, they lose what makes the property distinct. As production chases current pop culture and design, it further digs itself into a hole. Power Rangers is trying so hard to stand out among the rest of the toys, it is doing the exact opposite.
If the merchandise does not catch kids’ attention, it’s pretty much a death sentence. The first film may make enough money to warrant a sequel (due to folks appeasing a curiosity), but without the toy sales and child audience that keeps the TV show afloat, franchise potential will stagnate. That’s why it is so important to keep the light and airy feel of the show intact. If you make the property more “grounded” or “mature” in order to appeal to the rose colored glasses of fans my age, it will lose the goofy stuff which made it fun to re-enact at playtime. One of my favorite memories is playing with the Power Morpher and Blaster as a kid and pretending I was cool enough to be a “teenager with attitude.” It was because everything was so brightly colored, and admittedly stupid, my parents didn’t mind that I was actually watching a show with a lot of violence. Blood replaced by sparks, the kung-fu lite fight choreography with guys in suits was deemed “TV-Y7,” and the people therein were talented and attractive enough to draw attention. But that is not the path the reboot is headed in. Instead it is already closing itself off.
At its core, Power Rangers has always been about equal opportunity power and this was reflected at playtime. Although the first American team featured two women in conventionally feminine colors like pink and yellow, it was a response to the lack of women in the Japanese version of the show, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. Realizing they wanted more girls to buy the toys, Saban cast a woman for the male yellow and the footage went on just fine. It was a show breaking ground in more ways than one with multi-cultured teams and a strong foundation of teamwork and gender equality. The first season may be filled with weak plots and PSAs a la Captain Planet, but as they got their footing things improved. As the show evolved over the years, it was also better to its women. Character development improved, they wore more masculine colors, and more toys depicting these women were made. The Japanese design of the suits themselves also became more minimalist to reflect the changing times. The only way to really tell them apart was a skirt sometimes.
In the reboot, the suits are definitely not appealing to little girls. The reboot design may take on the tightness of the original spandex (replaced by the alien technology the reboot is pushing), but they’re far too detailed. The boob plates and heels are definitely un-nerving and little girls are way smarter than that. Since the pink and yellow rangers look so feminine, it’s going to mean boys won’t be further encouraged to buy them. Rather than the collect them all frenzy of the original Rangers, boys are only going to want those rangers specifically marketed with them in mind. If the pink and yellow Power Ranger figures don’t sell, they will be produced less and will even get less character development as a result. Since this trend has a precedent in the way the TV show has been marketed, it only worries me more so.
When Power Rangers Super Megaforce, the series touted as a 20th Anniversary celebration, released, Bandai produced a line of “Legendary Ranger” keys. In the show, these keys were used to transform into any of the heroes from years past and were definitely a money-making idea. But each set released only featured the red, blue, and black rangers from each team and neglected to include the women. Even their current running series, Dino Charge, has a weird production ratio. For every five red, blue, and black rangers, there are only one or two pink ones. While this show has been better at capturing the feeling of nostalgia than the reboot likely will be, only two of the series’s ten Power Rangers are women. Despite the gender swap casting it has done in the past, Saban refuses to do so again because they have dug themselves into such a non-inclusive hole the only safe way to make money is to double down on what little masculine audience they have left.
I really want the reboot to succeed, but seeing Saban make the same mistakes on a larger scale is troublesome. In trying to put its best foot forward among the litany of comic book films and other nostalgia ridden properties, it is merely becoming a carbon copy of those that came before. Instead of doubling down on a troubling methodology, the production should double down on what really helped the original series succeed for as long as it did. After losing the rights to Disney, and only getting them back five years ago, Saban has never quite reached the same levels it used to.
The TV series had bad writing or acting at times, but Power Rangers managed to capture the zeitgeist of living in the 90s. It truly understood what growing up at the time meant. It meant obnoxious colors and sayings coupled with even more obnoxious styles. Part of what dates it also makes it that much more relevant. True nostalgia is all about recapturing the feeling of those halcyon days of youth. We have enough cinema making a statement or delving into gritty themes (just take a look at what are supposed to be the most comic booky films of the year, Captain America: Civil War or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), but we don’t have enough films where teens just beat up monsters while making forced puns. I mean, the reboot is so serious it doesn’t even carry the Mighty Morphin’ moniker.
As it stands, the Power Rangers reboot won’t appeal to anyone. Not even adding the original show’s theme to a trailer will save it.