In 1993, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was the cream of the on-screen superhero crop.
Since then? The youngsters have taken a backseat in pop culture to six X-Men movies, five Spider-Man films, a Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and 14 projects released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The color-coded warriors get a more grounded reboot with “Saban’sPower Rangers” (now in theaters), and the key to its success in a packed superpowered marketplace is differentiating the group from the likes of Iron Man and Captain America by embracing the intimate and personal, according to director Dean Israelite.
“If you’ve ever been a kid, or are a kid, you’ll be able to identify with these characters,” says the 32-year-old filmmaker, who grew up on the original “Power Rangers” TV show in his native South Africa. “A lot of the superheroes in the other universes are great but they always feel outside of my experience. This has a different quality and you have to define yourself in that way, or it feels like you’re making another superhero movie just to make another superhero movie.”
“Power Rangers” centers on five disparate, disenfranchised teenagers (played by Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Naomi Scott, Becky G and Ludi Lin) in small-town Angel Grove who have to come together and form an armored team to fend off the nefarious machinations of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
It’s a clean slate from the campy TV series (versions of which have been airing regularly for more than 25 years) and two underwhelming movies in 1995 and ’97, and the new franchise-starter broaches such young-adult subjects as cyberbullying, autism and the questioning of sexuality where most superhero films have yet to go.
“We got the chance to actually create these 17-year-old kids, going through things happening in this day and age,” says Scott, who co-stars as Kimberly the Pink Ranger.
The power of “Rangers” has always been tapping into “the fundamental wish fulfillment of being a superhero with your friends — to think you could be called upon, if you were worthy, to become a Power Ranger,” says producer Brian Casentini. And in that sense, these five big-screen teens are “more relatable than many of the superheroes you see who are adults and billionaires and defrosted World War II super-soldiers. And we don’t take place in a galaxy far, far away.”
The nostalgia factor is there for “Power Rangers” as is brand recognition and a strong mainstream interest in superheroes overall, says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “It’s a pretty bold and auspicious step. But to rise above in this very competitive space, that’s a tall order.”
Plus, little kids are one of the primary audiences for the movie, adds Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “What we’re talking about is 6- to 9-year-old boys. Guess what? That’s not enough to drive a franchise.”
At the same time, the goal was never to be “The Dark Knight.” “We can’t just do the pure serious take. People would reject it as not being ‘Power Rangers,’ ” Casentini says. “The kids struggle humorously and seriously to master their powers, and they have a blast kicking monster butt once they do.”
Adds Lin, who plays Zack the Black Ranger: “It’s like life — there are difficulties and hard parts and challenges, but it’s still fun.”
Brian Truitt, USA TODAY