Power Rangers

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks

Director: Dean Israelite

Writer: John Gatins


I was a 90s kid which means that I watched my fair share of Power Rangers growing up. The shows were spectacularly corny and silly but it worked very well for what it was, a campy kids TV show. However many different versions were made, the movies and shows all followed the same tried and true formula. A baddie would release some monsters to wreak havoc, the power rangers would suit up and fight them, the baddies would intervene by making one of monsters enormous, and then the rangers would work together in their animal-robot things to take it down. It was the exact same thing episode after episode after movie after episode. But it worked. It was a formula that children could recognise and follow and the show itself was fun enough that its ceaselessly repetitive structure didn’t really matter all that much. Looking back now it’s clear to me what a stupid, lame show it really was, but back then I couldn’t have cared less.

In the idyllic town of Angel Grove, high school football star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets himself into trouble for an elaborate prank gone wrong and ends up in detention. There he meets Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), a shunned cheerleader, and Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), an autistic nerd. The three end up at an old gold mine along with Trini (Becky), a moody loner, and Zack (Ludi Lin), a reckless maverick. After Billy breaks some rocks with his explosives, the five discover strange coloured coins and each take one. They later find that they’ve all acquired superhuman abilities overnight and return to the mine to discover the source. There they discover a spaceships inhabited by the robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and the consciousness of Zordon (Bryan Cranston), a ranger from long ago. Zordon reveals that the five have been chosen to assume the roles of the Power Rangers and that they must begin training in order to defend the world against the imminent return of the dreaded Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

This is a film that truly exceeded my expectations. It isn’t by any means a great movie, but it is far, far better than a Power Rangers movie has any business being. All I really expected was five teenagers in coloured suits performing elaborate karate moves on weird-looking monsters. Instead I got a compelling teenage drama worthy of John Hughes with a Power Rangers episode taking up the last 30 minutes or so. The movies gives us five diverse teenagers who really do have attitude and showcases them all in believable, gripping ways. Billy’s autism and Trini’s sexual orientation don’t feel like topical traits the movie tacked on to score diversity points, they feel like genuine parts of their characters. The film actually takes time to show how much of an outsider Billy is, especially after the loss of his father who was the one person he felt he could really talk to, and how disconnected Trini feels with her clueless, conservative parents. Zack meanwhile shares a touching bond with his sick mother and is torn up by her illness while Kimberly struggles with being the subject of resentment amongst her classmates after committing an offence that’s actually pretty deserving of animosity. Jason completes the ensemble as its least interesting member, but he has his own father issues as well that leads to a couple of good moments.

As much as I enjoyed getting to know these characters and watching them bond, it did result in one rather glaring flaw. It takes forever for these characters to actually become the Power Rangers. After they meet Zordon about 30 minutes in, the five teenagers spend the subsequent hour training and learning about their abilities. In order to become the Power Rangers they must learn to morph, but the only way they can do that is by believing in themselves and discovering the power that is already within them. The climax cannot start until this happens and, when it finally does, there’s little more than twenty minutes left to go. The disconnect between the discovery of their abilities and their climatic showdown isn’t nearly as mishandled as it is in Fant4stic, but it’s still an issue. The teenage drama that takes up the first 90 minutes is good, but after a while it started to drag and I found myself looking at my watch wondering when they were finally going to master morphing and become the Power Rangers.

Once the climax does get started its about what you’d expect. The movie follows the standard Power Rangers formula to a tee in their battle against Rita as she comes to Angel Grove to find the something crystal of something power so she can something something destroy something Krispy Kreme something. Banks for her part completely commits herself to the role of the gold-obsessed alien and fully embraces the campy, ridiculous nature of this franchise. The rest, especially Cranston, play it straight for the most part but not to the point where they’re taking themselves too seriously. There’s plenty of comic relief, albeit some of it crude and predictable, and enough over-the-top action for the film to live up to the Power Rangers name. It isn’t a smart or a well-made film, but to be perfectly honest I never expected Power Rangers to be either of those things. That the film is at all thoughtful or compelling is in itself a miracle. There is an earnestness and sincerity to Power Rangers that I found rather charming. It’s a silly film but it falls on the right side of silly, offering kids some good, harmless fun with a couple of good lessons to take away and think about.

★★★

The BFG

Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jermaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Melissa Mathison


Roald Dahl had a singular gift for capturing children’s imaginations. In novels like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach he demonstrated an uncanny ability to see the world through the eyes of a child. While adults tend to have their feet grounded in reality, children are able to accept the impossible in stride, something that Dahl fully embraced. His stories were creative, silly and relatable and they dealt with the fantastic and the bizarre in a very matter-of-fact way. Sometimes they could be dark (I remember this one passage in The BFG that described what all the different children of the world tasted like) but the baddies always got their just deserts in the end and there was always a moral for kids to take away. There are few films that can match the childlike wonder of Dahl’s work, but E.T. is unquestionably one of them. I cannot think of a more suitable team to bring one of Dahl’s stories to life than Spielberg and Mathison.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) lives in a London orphanage where she often reads into the late hours of the night when everyone else is asleep. One night at the “witching hour” she spots an elderly giant lurking in the shadows outside of her window. The giant snatches her from her bed and carries her all the way to Giant Country. There the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) explains that she must remain in his home forever so that she may never reveal the existence of giants to the world. The other giants are all enormous, repulsive bullies with names like Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) who spend their nights stealing children and eating them. The BFG meanwhile spends his days capturing dreams which he then casts into children’s minds as they sleep. As Sophie becomes friends with the BFG, she determines that something needs to be done about the rest of the giants and enlists the BFG to help her.

The plot, much like in E.T., is very simple and minimal, allowing for more time to focus on the interactions between Sophie and the BFG. This movie is perfectly content with putting the story on hold so that a moment may be allowed to play out. Even when the plot does move forward in the third act with Sophie and the BFG appealing to the Queen of England, the film still finds time for an amusing scene the morning after where the disparity between the giant and the humans is played on for comic effect. The film also pauses to focus on moments of enchantment, as when the BFG takes Sophie to the pool where he collects his dreams. It is a tremendous scene that allows the viewer to get lost in the magic for a moment. Other times the film simply lets Sophie and the BFG talk to each other, allowing us to enjoy the evolution of a fascinating and unlikely friendship.

Despite the vast differences between them, Sophie and the BFG are remarkably similar in a number of crucial ways. They are both outsiders, Sophie being an orphan and the BFG being the runt of the giants. Both are childish in certain ways and adult in others, meaning they must both be responsible for each other. Sophie is mature for her age but is still helpless against the giants, therefore it is the BFG’s responsibility to protect her. The BFG however is rather scatter-brained and timid, making it Sophie’s responsibility to mother him. Barnhill makes her splendid debut as the clever and witty Sophie while Rylance is simply magical as the odd and affectionate giant. In a motion-capture performance that rivals even those of Andy Serkis, Rylance’s delivery of the BFG’s garbled lines and realisation of his peculiar movements amount to an utterly charming character. The friendship the two of them form is the heart of this movie and watching their interactions was a delight.

The BFG is a movie about dreams and stories, family and childhood, and having courage in the face of adversity. It is above all a film about friendship. It is a tale of kindness, valour and goodness winning against bullying, malice and cruelty. The movie is patient and clever enough that it doesn’t need to constantly keep the story moving forward for fear of losing the children’s attention. The magical world it depicts and the enjoyable characters it portrays are both fascinating enough to keep the viewer engaged, even in the moments where there doesn’t seem to be much happening. The film doesn’t have the emotional punch of E.T. but it has the creativity, humour and wonder. The BFG is an endearing, kind-hearted movie that I’d like to think Mr. Dahl would’ve been proud of. I think it is a worthy fulfilment of the book I enjoyed so fondly as a child and I hope it is one that will resonate with children today.

★★★★

The Angry Birds Movie

Cast: (voiced by) Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage

Directors: Clay Kaytis, Fergal Reilly

Writer: Jon Vitti


I’m not really one for mobile games. I do sometimes play Minesweeper on my phone, but that’s about it. I’ve therefore never played a single game of Angry Birds in my life and knew little about it beyond its basic concept. I can certainly remember a time when Angry Birds was the biggest app in the world and can only imagine how popular this film might have been if it came out five years ago. I doubt I know a single person who still plays Angry Birds today. However, since The Lego Movie proved in 2014 that a blatant commercial could still be a smart and entertaining movie, maybe now really is the right time for mobile apps to start making the leap to the big screen. I hope this means that there is a Minesweeper movie in development somewhere. Anyway, whatever the level of popularity it holds today, The Angry Birds Movie is the film we got.

The film takes place on Bird Island, home to a wide variety of flightless birds. One of them, Red, lives in isolation from the rest of the community due to his anger issues. After an incident sends him over the edge Red is ordered to attend a series of anger management meetings held by Matilda. The other attendees are Chuck, a swift and zippy yellow bird, Bomb, a well-meaning black bird with a tendency to explode (literally), and Terrence, a giant, intimidating red bird with an apparently sadistic temperament. One of their sessions is then suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a boat carrying green pigs. Leonard, the leader of the pigs, claims his intentions are peaceful and wins the birds over with his offerings of friendship. Red however is not convinced. He enlists Chuck and Bomb to help him discover the pigs’ true intent and uncovers a heinous plot that will doubtless already be known to the millions of viewers familiar with the game.

The Angry Birds Movie is a harmless film with some nice animation and a few laughs, but that’s about it. It has very little of the creativity, imagination and dynamism that made The Lego Movie such a smash hit. The plot is pretty banal and safe, the characters are distinctive but mostly forgettable and the comedy consists almost entirely of bird or pig related puns and slapstick. There are enough bright colours and movement on screen to hold young children’s attention and distract them for a while but not enough character, story or inventiveness to engage them. The theme of the resentful, solitary loner learning to open himself up to others and become a part of the community is a familiar one we’ve all seen in a hundred better movies and there isn’t much that the film does to present it in a different or fresher light. I suppose the film does kind of distinguish itself by engaging with anger and concluding that there is actually a time and a place to allow yourself to become angry but it isn’t nearly as profound as what Inside Out did with sadness.

Red is the protagonist and the titular angry bird of this film but there isn’t a lot that can be said about him. The film does give him a backstory that provides an explanation for his anger but even then he isn’t particularly interesting, funny or entertaining as a character. The majority of the side characters are hardly worth mentioning. You can work out their quirks and traits within two seconds of meeting them and whatever amusing characteristics they have get worn out very quickly. The weakest character for me was probably Mighty Eagle, a revered figure who turns out to not be as mighty as the tales held him to be. Our introduction to him consists of a feeble, lowbrow joke that isn’t nearly as funny as the filmmakers think it is. I did however enjoy Terrence, a daunting behemoth who only ever communicates in grunts, a characteristic I appreciated all the more at the end when I found out who voiced him. For me he was probably the only consistently funny character in the movie.

The film does pick up at the climax when the birds are finally allowed to be the Angry Birds from the game. Here the film has some fun with its characters and their singular abilities and allows things to get a little creative and chaotic for a while. I’m not sure it was worth the wait though. There are a lot of lame jokes, stale character moments and clichéd plot developments that have to be endured before you can reach that point. The animation is nice enough and the characters are variable enough that your five-year-old won’t be bored while watching it but there isn’t much to be taken away from this film. Maybe if they’d gone the same route as The Lego Movie and just allowed themselves to go crazy they might have made something funnier, more entertaining and more memorable. Instead they played it safe and the result is a cute but forgettable movie.

★★