Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

Before you create your character in Dungeons and Dragons you have to decide where they will fit on the alignment axis. If you aren't familiar with the alignment axis it is fairly straightforward: it's a graph where the spectrum between good / evil runs on one side and the spectrum between lawful / chaotic runs on the other. It's actually a pretty ingenious way to organize personality traits, because those dichotomies are intuitively easy to grasp and yet the different combinations can still lead to a lot of subtle differences between stock characters. 

However, while everything you need to make a good D&D character is on those two spectrums, movie characters have to be slightly more three dimensional than game characters, and to achieve that third dimension the filmmakers need to examine their characters on a third axis. Namely: are these characters entertaining or are they boring?

For example, let's look at the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and their opponent Ivan Ooze as they are presented in 1995's Might Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. Now, if you were to map these characters out on the D&D alignment axis I would totally be on the Power Rangers side. The Power Rangers are a team of teenagers who use their mad karate skills and dinosaur robots to fight evil. I'm generally pro-good guys and karate, plus I love dinosaurs, so I should really like the Power Rangers. Ivan Ooze is a purple faced villain who can turn himself into liquid and who wants to enslave the earth. I'm generally anti-bad guys and I don't like the idea of people who can liquefy themselves, plus I'm definitely not pro-slavery, so I should really be anti-Oooze.

But nope. I was 100% in Ooze's corner on this one. The reason why is pretty simple: he was really entertaining and the Power Rangers are really, really boring.

Honestly, it's kind of impressive how boring the Power Rangers are. Their biggest problem is that all of them are completely interchangeable. When the Power Rangers are presented as teenagers in street clothes they aren’t very interesting – the only one that stood out to me was Kimberly, and that was just because she was pretty cute. They are a little more distinct when they are in their Power Rangers suits because their superhero suits are color coded, but that’s really a distinction without a difference; once they are suited up they are all just personality-less automatons who fight identical henchmen with identical fighting styles. If I had to draw a line between the teenager and their Power Ranger alter-ego I think the only one I would get right is that Kimberly is the Pink Ranger, and that’s less because she’s the most well rounded character and more because of general sexism (mostly on the movie’s side, but also a little on mine.)

The sad truth is that it didn’t have to be that way, because with just 10% more effort the Power Rangers could have had personalities. Each of them pilots a flying machine called a “Zord” that has a distinctive prehistoric animal theme; most of them are named after dinosaurs, but one of them pilots a mastodon-Zord. (It’s never explained how a mastodon got lumped in with the dinosaurs but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t matter.) After the Power Rangers suffer a defeat in the movie’s second act they have to go to a mysterious alien planet in search of a mythical power source which is supposed to take their butt-kicking game to the next level... And apparently it does, because once they find this power source their spirit animals evolve from dinosaurs to more contemporary animals. (I guess going from a triceratops to a crane is somehow a big improvement in fighting ability.)

However, that transformation doesn’t matter at all in storyline terms; the new Zords look and act a lot like the old Zords, and none of the Power Rangers goes from acting triceratops-ish to acting bear-ish. Their whole shtick is bland and half assed, since half of their new spirit animals aren’t even cool animals (a frog? Really?) and there’s no reason why those animals would make a cohesive fighting force. (Are wolves and frogs friends and I somehow missed it?) The Power Ranger’s inherent lameness is particularly frustrating since it would just take a few bits of dialog and a few more character building scenes to turn these uttely forgettable not-characters into vaguely memorable stock characters, but alas, the ape-themed ranger never does ape-y things like throwing feces or hanging out with Dian Fossey.

In contrast, their main enemy Ivan Ooze has panache to spare. Most of his one liners are corny and not even close to being funny but at least he delivers them with enthusiasm. Ooze's weird hair and purple skin makes him stand out, plus he has an interesting grab bag of powers – he can shoot lightning out of his fingertips and shrink people down till they are small enough to fit into a snow-globe. Furthermore, he's the most well acted character in the movie - Paul Freeman, the actor who plays Oooze, makes him sound like a vaudeville version of Christopher Llloyd – hammy, and goofy and loving it. 

Hell, even Ooze's incompetent henchmen are cooler than the Power Rangers. Ooze's main sidekicks are a pig-man, a sphinx-ish thing, and an army of crow-men that look like they escaped from The Wiz, which is another collection of things that doesn't really make sense but at least they all look distinct when they stand next to each other. Furthermore, the henchmen all have actual personalities, which puts them way ahead of the Power Rangers on the interesting scale; they are enacting their schemes because they have a reason to do so, rather than just because some random person told them of a vague prophecy about a planet that was so powerful it could transform a weak-ass pterodactyl into an all powerful falcon.

Here’s the thing about the D&D alignment axis: at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what traits you give your character but it does matter how the character you've created fits in with the other characters in their party. An evil chaotic character might be redundant next to another evil chaotic character; an evil chaotic character might cancel out a lawful good character and thus be of no help at all in your overall campaign; but that same evil chaotic character might compliment a neutral evil character nicely. The same is true when you’re building a movie’s storyline – you have to properly balance out the good and bad characters.

On paper, the Power Rangers lawful good should be a nice counterpoint for Ivan Ooze’s chaotic evil – but alas, they differ too much in that key third department, because the Power Rangers are just too boring and Ooze is just too exciting for them to successfully share the same screen. Had the Power Rangers been fighting a villain as boring as they were I would have just let the movie become background noise, or if the Power Rangers had been as distinctive as Ivan Ooze I probably would have enjoyed watching the two sides clash. Unfortunately, they were far too mismatched, and the boring-interesting-boring-interesting cycle that dominated this movie left me feeling pretty frustrated, which is much worse than being bored and much worse than being entertained. Maybe next time the Power Rangers power up their Zords they can keep their physical properties and add some personality traits; I bet you that a flying bear who could make jokes would be pretty fun to watch, even if he was still a tight-ass lawful goody-goody at his core.

Winner: Draw

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie on IMDB