There’s a right and wrong way to re-do a thing, whether it’s a cover of a well-known song or a re-imagined film franchise. First: don’t mess with the best. When producers try to cash in by making, say, a starless and soulless rehash of Ben Hur or recording a sweater-vest acoustic version of Eazy-E’s “Boyz in the Hood” (please, don’t Google it), their work deserves to be met with critical scorn and financial loss. A much better approach is to rebuild an overlooked or flawed piece of source material that can grow and improve; kind of like the way Jeff Buckley cracked open Lenard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Martin Scorsese turned The Departed into a uniquely American crime story. The Power Rangers don’t seem to fit either of these criteria. Yet somehow, despite all logic – and in large part thanks to your music choices – this seemingly stupid rehash has heart and guts and even, sometimes, soul.
Colour me shocked.
It should be said that I fall squarely into the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers target demo. I was twelve years-old when the show came out, and I spent many afternoons flipping excitedly to YTV, knowing full well how self-consciously dumb the poorly-made Japanese adaptation was. I imagine it’s the same strain of guilty pleasure people felt while watching Adam West’s Batman when it first debuted. Bold colours and goofy violence, delivered with just the right amount of camp—somehow it overrides whatever barriers the brain normally puts up against such stupidity. Such overblown action, however, can only flourish in certain cultural climates—the kind, apparently, common to the mid-60s and mid-90s.
The mid-2010s is decidedly not the same type of era. So bringing back the Power Rangers was bound to mean going dark. Luckily, there was a surprisingly popular and effective Bootleg Universe test-run two years ago. The producers of this film obviously took notice.
Power Rangers opens like a remake of that short film, with the Rangers being decimated in a fierce battle. Only instead of the future, this battle is happening some 65 million years in the past. Smash cut to the present: some late night hijinks at a high school culminate in a thrilling spinning camera shot that’s a worthy homage to _Children of Men. I knew things were working right off the start, but it wasn’t until I heard your first pop music cue – Social Distortion’s punk cover of “Ring of Fire” – that it clicked. The filmmakers behind Power Rangers aren’t nostalgia pornographers so much as they’re remix artists. They’ll borrow from concepts twice or three times removed from the source material, be it music or short films, as long as it rings true today.
Case in point: “Stand By Me”, as covered by the Bootstraps. It plays during the emotional climax of the film, and connects the melancholy and loss of the lyrics with what’s happening onscreen. I’ll be damned if it didn’t hit me in all the right places.
Bringing back the original TV theme during the big battle—that, on the other hand, may have been crossing the line. But I’m sure that was a fight it was beyond your power to win.