The 2017 Power Rangers film, planned sequels, and diversity in the movies

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The 2017 Power Rangers movie was supposed to be the first of six – yet its lower than expected box office seemed to have ended a movie franchise with real diversity.

If you cast your minds back to mid-2016, you may recall chatter about a certain film yet to be released. You may also remember a comment made by the man who brought the characters of said film to life in the first place, where he talked about the six film arc they have planned. The film in question is, of course, Saban’s Power Rangers (to give it its full official title).

The film came and went in 2017. As did the years without even a sniffle of one sequel, let alone five.

So, what happened? Well, the film didn’t do the massive business at the box-office that all involved had hoped. None more so than distributors Lionsgate who, after the end of the The Hunger Games series, was on the lookout for a new franchise. Power Rangers seemed to fit. And whilst the film wasn’t a flop by any means, it certainly fell below expectations. Worldwide the film brought in just over $140 million on a $105 million budget. It will have more than likely broke even, just about, once home formats revenues had been counted, and distribution and marketing deducted. The subsequent toy sales wouldn’t have hurt, either.

There were mixed reviews around the film upon the release. Doing a Power Rangers film in the first place is a tricky thing because for every person who looks back on the original television series with fond memories, there will be someone who remembers it being campy nonsense and not give it the time of day. For this writer, the film balances pretty well trying not to upset the fans of the property while also trying to make a modern-day reboot in the shadow of the MCU. And while we don’t see the group as the titular heroes proper until around the 90-minute mark, what we get in its place is well worth your time.

Just when it looked like a sequel was a pipe dream, Hasbro bought the rights to the Power Rangers brand in May of 2018. There were the odd rumblings and comments made around the fact it remained interested in the idea of a follow-up to the 2017 flick, yet here we are at the tail-end of 2019 and no official news has surfaced.

To me it’s a no-brainer to greenlight another film, for many reasons. The first being the cast. The likes of Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks and Bill Hader alone bring with them a degree of clout. But since the film’s release, so others involved have done well too.

Dacre Montgomery, who plays Jason/Red Ranger, has since starred in the Netflix juggernaut Stranger Things to much acclaim. Kimberly/Pink Ranger Naomie Scott shone as Princess Jasmine in the Disney live-action remake of Aladdin and is set to appear in the upcoming Charlie’s Angels. RJ Cyler, who stole the movie as the Blue Ranger Billy Cranston (no relation to Bryan), had a recurring role on The CW’s Black Lightning, and Yellow Ranger/Trini, Becky G continues to rise as a recording artist.

That’s some line-up, and assuming they all signed multi-picture deals when joining the project, the cast alone is reason to get the sequel go-going (sorry).

Narratively, there’s certainly enough source material to support the six films that were originally spoken about even if you don’t count the whole 25+ years of the franchise. Though the TV series is known for switching up the theme and characters from season to season, with the first few runs of the show – while changing the main setting – the cast carried over. The cast that started weren’t the ones to finish, granted, with actors leaving mid-way through a season regularly, but the story was continuous. The final era of the show before they effectively started rebooting every year saw the Rangers set up shop in space, of all places. So if they wanted to mix things up at any point throughout the multiple films they’ve definitely enough story for it.

There was criticism at the time of the movie’s release of Elizabeth Banks’s portrayal of villain Rita, I should note. The argument was that is was too over the top and for a different movie. I for one love her performance in the movie, and the menace she brings. I’d love to see her return. And if nothing else, I hope we get to see all the planned sequels just for the villains they would produce. I would pay an amount of money I’m not happy to admit to see the likes of Terror Toad, Pine-Octopus (aka Pineapple the Clown), and Pudgy Pig on the big screen.

There’s another factor too. There are ongoing debates around the subject of diversity at the movies. For very good reason, too. Yet the 2017 Power Rangers movie actively did something about that. The Power Rangers cast isn’t just one of the most diverse in recent memory in terms of ethnicity, but it also holds the title of the first superhero film to portray both a gay, and an autistic character. Also look at DC’s Legends of Tomorrow on TV, which is leading the charge on how to be inclusive.

Director Dean Israelite, who has just directed the mini-series revival of Are You Afraid of the Dark? for Nickelodeon, would be a welcome return if the sequel were to ever gain traction. The film he held the lens for before Power Rangers was his directorial debut, indie found footage flick Project Almanac (although I prefer it’s earlier title, Welcome to Yesterday). And those sensibilities are all over his take on Power Rangers. Israelite really focuses on the characters with influences from The Breakfast Club being worn on its sleeves.

The film doesn’t kick into full-blown-action-mode until the end (apart from that glorious opening with Banks and Cranston) and I’d say it’s all the better for it. It even slows to a standstill for a scene were the main five sit around a fire and just talk. You could say the scene is a bit clunky and the dialogue for the actors is slightly iffy, with them directly telling us about their characters. Yet I appreciate its place in the film, and it’s easy to see it being the kind of scene that might get the cut if somebody didn’t fight for it.

There was one area that was snipped. The team removed a whole love story subplot between Kimberly and Jason as audiences in test-screening said it detracted from both of their individual arcs.

There’s a lot of good in the Power Rangers movie, and it thus remains a disappointment that more didn’t go to see it.

While not dead, the likelihood of ever getting even one of those planned five sequels is looking slimmer by the day. But the first showed promise, something that can be built upon and gave a needed breath of fresh air into the ever-growing loud and bombastic environment of the modern blockbuster. Only time will tell if we will get to see Tommy Oliver (the fabled Green Ranger) as teased in the post-credits sting.

For now, it’s over to new owners Hasbro (who tends to put its films out via Paramount, rather than Lionsgate). The power lies in on their side. And if we are destined to get this sole outing from this team, I just want it known, to all of you who didn’t support this film, we may have lost the chance, maybe above all else, for Lord Z to be the next Thanos. For that, I can never forgive you…

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