The original Power Rangers TV show and movie were both kitsch – they were cheap cash-ins that weren’t trying too hard to be “good”, which meant that they could be enjoyed earnestly at face value (particularly by children) or they could be enjoyed ironically (particularly by adults, who were far more likely to see just how goofy the whole thing was.)
That kitsch factor presented a problem for the new big budget Power Rangers reboot, because films that intentionally aim at kitsch rarely work (…particularly if they are crammed with expensive CGI effects, because decent production values really undercut the prerequisite crappiness of a kitschy project.) Your Snakes On a Planes and your Sharknados are too self-conscious to be genuinely enjoyable as kitsch, and they are also too half-assedly made to be enjoyed legitimately. They exist in a no man’s land of entertainment, which is why they generally don’t do well, either critically or commercially.
Fortunately, the reboot sidestepped this problem by not aiming for kitsch. No, Power Rangers made a smart decision when it decided to go for camp.
Camp, of course, is when a work of art aims to be “good” and falls short. The new Power Rangers plays it completely straight – which is, of course, totally ludicrous, because the whole premise of “five angsty karate-trained teenagers randomly meet up at a semi-abandoned Southern California gold mine and are then given magic space suits by a disembodied blue head trapped in a wall” set up is obvious hogwash. This is a film that is really, really funny – in large part because it sincerely wants its audience to be asking themselves “will these quarrelling kids come together in time to stop the inexplicably-back-from-the-dead-and-constantly-cackling villain?!?”
(I know this spoiler-iffic answer will shock you… But they do.)
I suspect that the filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing – I think they intentionally made a movie that can be enjoyed both earnestly and ironically. And if so my hat’s off to them, because it is almost impossible to make a film this campy anymore; meta-consciousness and defensive snark has become so ingrained in our culture that even films aimed at pre-schoolers riff on how pervasive Joseph Campbellian hero archetypes have become in our pop culture. (Cough cough Lego Movie I’m looking at you.)
But at no point does Power Rangers give the audience a wink to the audience. It acts as if its climactic battle between a fifty foot winged gold monster and five gun covered dinosaur robots is a matter of life and death, even though that idea is undeniably super-goofy. And by treating its premise so seriously the film actually manages to breathe a little life into a dying thing. And by “dying thing” I actually don’t mean the Power Rangers franchise (after all, they are still airing new episodes of the Power Rangers on TV as we speak!) – I mean big budget blockbusters.
The last twenty years have been overflowing with movies that looked great but which weren’t any fun to watch, a disconnect which has lead to a lot of blockbuster fatigue. The Power Rangers looked great, but it was also entertaining - and stumbling across a film that managed to do both of those things at once gives me a little bit of hope that our current all-exploding-robots-all-the-time isn't completely doomed.