Power/Rangers (2015) and “bootleg movies”

powerrangers

Should you be unfortunate enough to discuss “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” with a group of friends, the most common phrase you’ll hear is “that show is still going?” Unless you’ve got kids (and we nerds tend to be a more solitary bunch) you’d never know the sheer number of different series – “Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers”, “Power Rangers Zeo”, “Power Rangers Turbo”, “Power Rangers In Space”, “Power Rangers Lost Galaxy”…this list doesn’t even get us out of the 20th century. For a show designed for the sole purpose of selling toys to children, it’s been remarkably durable.

Adi Shankar is a producer, responsible for movies like “The Grey” and “Dredd” as well as being pretty much a one-person industry of “bootleg” movies. These movies skate carefully round copyright law by being not for profit and having some vague satirical intent to them (thus satisfying the extremely restrictive “fair use” doctrine). Venom, the “Spider-Man” villain; Judge Dredd, in cartoon form this time; The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane from the 2004 “Punisher” movie – surely a blurring of that copyright line; and now, “Power/Rangers”. They’re normally called “fan films”, made by groups of fans out of handmade props and outfits, but this is definitely not a fan film by any traditional use of the phrase.

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Joseph Kahn is one of the more interesting directors working today. Better known for his music videos, every now and again he’ll make a film which combines a love for a particular genre with a strong desire to take the mickey out of it. This started with “Torque”, a very clever parody of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, and continued with “Detention” a few years ago.

So, what these two have done is make a rather expensive joke. The Power Rangers were almost exclusively young-ish teenagers with a variety of super-powerful mystical weapons at their disposal; what would happen when those heavily armed, traumatised teenagers grew up? And what would happen if they lost? There’s a million references, subtle and otherwise, to the original 1993-1996 series, if that’s your cup of tea.

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But that’s not the joke. The joke is on everyone who’s ever seriously argued for a “dark, gritty” reboot of a beloved childrens’ property, and how fundamentally ridiculous that would be. “Power/Rangers” looks like a modern sci-fi action film, a lot like “Edge Of Tomorrow”, and the blending of that with the Saturday-morning primary colours crowd is pretty funny. It works, too – James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhof play what could be joke roles surprisingly well, the fights are well choreographed, and the special effects are strong. The casting is perfect, too – the Beek represents the mid 90s for a lot of people, and Sackhof is perhaps the most fantasy-cast actress of the lot (that “Battlestar Galactica” role made her a favourite of nerds like me everywhere).

The controversy will rage on for a little while, I imagine. Shankar clearly makes these films in part to generate exactly that controversy – an easy way to keep his name out there and get geek websites to publicise his latest stuff. But you can also sort of understand the anger of Haim Saban and the Power Rangers people. They make a show for kids, and kids have access to the internet the same as everyone else. Making a “Power Rangers” thing with drug use and tons of violence is kind of a joke to adult former fans, but not so much to the kids who Saban is hoping go to cinemas to watch the new Power Rangers movie, coming out later this year. Ah, everyone apart from Kahn and the people who actually did the hard work on the movie comes out of this looking a bit sleazy.

Hollywood, give Joseph Kahn more money so he can make proper films again, please. He’s wasted on music videos and things like this.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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