-Disney’s newest live-action installment may be their best yet, and Power Rangers blends decent teen drama with a disappointing backdrop.
Disney’s trend of adapting their classic animation into live action (see such films as Alice in Wonderland, Pete’s Dragon, Maleficent, Cinderella) hit an all-time best last year with The Jungle Book, a beautiful film with amazing computer generated imagery, but some inconsistency in the lead characters. Here, their adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, while substantially similar to the 1991 cartoon, arguably showcases the best mix of iconic imagery and acting performances and is probably the best of the bunch; that is, the trend of adapting these classics to a new medium.
This time, the eccentric, but attractive, bookworm Belle is played by Emma Watson, her first work as a singer in the entertainment industry. Belle lives with her widowed father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who heads through the forest outside of their village to go to a local market. When there, he is chased by wolves and ends up in the castle of The Beast (Dan Stevens), a former arrogant prince who was turned into a Beast after closing his doors on an old lady in need (Hattie Morahan) which also left his various castle servants turned into different appliances: like Ian McKellen as a clock, Ewan McGregor as a candelabra, Stanley Tucci as a harpsicord, Emma Thompson as a tea kettle, Audra McDonald as a wardrobe, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a duster. When Belle changes places with Maurice as the Beast’s prisoner, they begin to develop a chemistry, much to the ire of the local hunk Gaston (Luke Evans), who wants to win Belle’s hand. Gaston’s right-hand-man LeFou (Josh Gad) is updated for modern times and has a bit of a crush on Gaston.
The songs are as great as ever, with the film doing a great job incorporating them into a beautiful score and decent enough singing performances by Watson and Stevens. It’s nice to see Watson come back to her Harry Potter form as a respectable actress, as I wasn’t a big fan of her in Noah or The Bling Ring. Outside of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, her post-Potter career has been pretty inconsistent. Stevens, on the other hand, is an excellent Beast, and continues to grow his brand after breaking out with the amazing thriller The Guest, and then starring in FX’s new, and quite good, hit show “Legion.” These two have a nice rapport, and have the best brought out in them from classic actors like Emma Thompson and Ian McKellen. Further, I love Luke Evans as Gaston, he plays the role quite well, and even Josh Gad is understated enough here to not ruin the film.
The real asset that sets this Beauty and the Beast adaptation apart from some of its Disney competitors is the visuals, however. Although nothing will compete with how exquisite The Jungle Book looked last year, this film is a close second and manages to do more in terms of character development than was initially expected. I just can’t really say enough good things about the beautiful execution of this classic cartoon; it was well-acted and directed, and was a pretty diverting distraction for adult audiences, in addition to the children. It’s essentially an adult movie based on a children’s cartoon, and it completely will keep an adult audience engaged and attentive through its run time. Occasionally, the pace drags, or character logic is undone by the fact that it is a family story at its heart, but the music, visuals, and performances more than make up for any flaws that are present in the plot.
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Director: Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1+2, Mr. Holmes, The Fifth Estate)
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Kevin Kline
with: Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw
RT Score: 70%
It takes a ton of confidence from Lionsgate to release this film starring five complete unknowns as the five lead Power Rangers in the new series starter. The gamble is not only investing in an expensive blockbuster, and possible sequels that revive an essentially dead franchise, but they’re also investing in these kids, who have hardly any exposure in the industry.
The Red Ranger/Jason Scott is played by Dacre Montgomery in his first feature film role. He’s a former high school quarterback who injures his leg in a joyriding experience.
The Pink Ranger/Kimberly Hart is played by Naomi Scott (of Fox’s “Terra Nova”). She’s a former cheerleader who is ousted from the “cool girls clique” after backstabbing one of her friends.
The Blue Ranger/Billy Cranston is played by RJ Cyler (of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). He’s a young inventor on the autism spectrum, who befriends Jason when they help each other out of trouble.
The Yellow Ranger/Trini Kwan is played by Becky G (a Latin singer, actually). She’s a childhood rebel, moving around a lot, and questions her sexuality.
The Black Ranger/Zack Taylor is played by Ludi Lin (of Monster Hunt). He’s a high school flunk-out who takes care of his sick mother.
The one thread that merges all of these rangers is their outcast status, many of them meeting in Saturday detention for their various offenses. Their lives change for good when they find their power coins, amulets that assign them each a different power rangers status after choosing them among the rest of the world. The coins open up a whole new world for them, including meeting a former ranger turned sentient computer Zordan (Bryan Cranston) and their ships’ robot friend Alpha 5 (Bill Hader). It’s not all learning how to jump and phase into Power Ranger form however, with their awakening comes the awakening of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) a former green ranger who betrayed her team and wants to rule the world by seizing its lifeforce.
There is plenty wrong with this adaptation, including hokey action sets, a monstrously annoying Bill Hader, and a third act that feels like a complete departure from the serious tone the film builds up. The Chronicle-esque first two acts are actually pretty decent, before becoming an action-comedy and resorting to overly saturated CGI. The need to turn this into a Power Rangers film that resembles the original hurts the creativity of the director and writers, who clearly had a way about introducing us to these people. Each character is worth a study and is interesting, it’s just that the movie around them isn’t as deserving.
When the film starts, and we get to know these five characters, I was so surprised to see how completely invested I was. Frankly, it was more fun that I had experienced in a superhero movie in awhile. It’s a nice blend of teen drama and clear campiness, but when the Power Rangers training montage begins, and Rita Repulsa (who starts out being an awesome, almost horror-movie style villain) becomes more campy herself, things really go off the rails. The third act is just terrible, and lowers the film below a passing grade.
Power Rangers (2017)
Director: Dean Israelite (Project Almanac)
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Naomi Scott, Becky G, and Ludi Lin
with: Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, David Denman, and Bill Hader
RT Score: 47%