"Ai-yi-yi-yi-yi!," says Alpha 5, the robot sidekick to Zordon, in Saban’s Power Rangers uttering his signature exclamation. Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) is not the only holdover in this slick repackaging of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the shrill and unfathomably popular 1990s Fox Kids’ series (adapted by Haim Saban from a Japanese TV show) about teenage superheroes in color-coded costumes. But Hader’s dialed-down take reflects the movie’s tempered refinement of the original.
Saban’s Power Rangers, plotted by a small army of writers and directed by Dean Israelite, jumps right into an origin story. Zordon (Bryan Cranston) is a protector of humanity who centuries ago led a team of Rangers destroyed by the dastardly Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Now, after lying dormant for centuries, she and Zordon are revived, and Zordon, who lives trapped in a vast wall monitor, must recruit a new crew to fight her.
Gone are the antiseptic characterizations of the Morphin days; "We’re all screw-ups," says Jason (Dacre Montgomery), a.k.a. the Red Ranger, a fallen football star. Kimberly (Naomi Scott), the Pink Ranger, is a guilt-ridden former mean girl; the sullen Trini (Becky G), Yellow, is sorting out her sexual orientation; Zack (Ludi Lin), Black, tends his ailing mother in a mobile home. Billy (R J Cyler, the funniest, most talented fresh face here), Blue, is a timid savant "on the spectrum," he says.
They share a Matrix-like discovery of their powers, conferred by mysterious colored coins, and come across Zordon and Alpha 5’s underground chamber, where destiny — and a requisite training montage — awaits. Banks chews scenery as Rita while her monstrous minion devours the Rangers’ California hometown. When the Rangers engage in Transformers-lite mayhem, an intriguing group portrait collapses into generic pyrotechnics, the dialogue running from "Bring it on!" to "Let’s do this!"
Saban’s Power Rangers may surpass the original, but for what lesson? The value of teamwork? More likely, of a franchise payoff.