Happily, this new Power Rangers seems delighted by the ridiculousness of the work it’s adapting. Though there’s some effort to move beyond the Saved by the Bell approach of the original show and pump in a grittier teen vibe (think Riverdale, or a sillier Friday Night Lights), this is still a movie that opens on a scene set in the Cretaceous period, where a nude and blue-skinned alien called Zordon (Bryan Cranston) summons a meteor to strike the earth to wipe out his nemesis Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). The dinosaurs, it seems, were unintended collateral damage.
Sixty-five million years later, ne’er-do-well quarterback Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery, who looks like a generic drugstore version of Zac Efron) gets sent to detention for stealing a cow and totaling his car in the sleepy seaside town of Angel Grove, California. This sets into motion a Breakfast Club-style chain of events where five mismatched kids become fast friends and discover some mysterious glowing coins buried in a nearby mountain that can turn them into alien super-soldiers. As you do.
But don’t stress the details too much—Power Rangers doesn’t want you to, after all. It’s mostly going for “high-school buddy comedy,” crossed with some mildly psychedelic sci-fi nonsense. Jason’s new friends are Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a former cool girl now on the outs from her cheerleader friends after a cyber-bullying scandal; Billy (RJ Cyler), an autistic boy who’s good with gadgets; Trini (the singer Becky G), an outsider who hints that she’s questioning her sexuality; and Zack (Ludi Lin), an aggressively enthusiastic Chinese American bro who’s not afraid to brag about how much he loves his mother.
Every line of dialogue ranges between clumsily heartfelt and nakedly absurd; the performances are all likeable, though only Cyler’s could be called truly proficient. The others make up for it with sheer enthusiasm, which Power Rangers has in spades. Going in, I feared this film would feel blandly competent—that it would be a brand exercise with too much money behind it to embrace its forebear’s lovable weirdness. Not so. Though some of the movie’s oddest moments feel inadvertent—like the suddenness with which it lurches between angsty conversations about revenge porn and chase sequences involving robotic mastodons—Power Rangers always remembers not to take itself seriously.
How could it, when its plot concerns a 65-million-year-old alien diva trying to dig up an ancient crystal that’s buried below a Krispy Kreme? Any time Power Rangers threatens to get too earnest, Banks shows up babbling straight at the camera about gold, in a performance that functions as a delightfully campy homage to the ’90s show. Cranston, honoring his years of work as a voice actor on the show, is a little more routine as the Rangers’ mentor Zordon, barking orders at them from behind a spaceship viewscreen.