Twenty-five years ago, the live action superhero landscape was very different to the one we have today. Back then, the likes of Batman Forever and Steel were the dizzying highs (and mainly dizzying lows) of the genre in a pre-X-Men era. But nothing captured the ‘90s in superheroics quite like the Power Rangers movie.
Today marks Power Rangers’ 25th anniversary since it first morphed onto TV screens in 1993, but to celebrate the beloved world of teens with attitude and recycled Japanese special effects, we’re going back a scant 23 years to the time Ranger mania propelled our heroes off the TV and into multiplexes across the world in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. The ‘90s are fondly remembered as a time of comic book excess, both in the books themselves and in the myriad attempts to bring them to the silver screen. It was the days of ’roided-out muscles and dramatically oversized weapons, of scantily clad women and more pouches than Rob Liefeld could shake a pencil at. Superheroes were grittier, harder edged, and badass.
The Power Rangers then, naturally followed suit in their own transition to the movies. They were already a product of their time—never forget Hip Hop Kido—but Power Rangers: The Movie elevates them into the truest excesses of ‘90s superheroics. Freed from the shackles of using action footage from Super Sentai like the TV show did, the movie was a chance for Saban to show what a truly all-American Power Rangers operation (that, ironically, ended up mostly being shot in Australia to save money) could look like. And what did it look like? Well, pretty much like an episode of the TV show stretched to 90 minutes, lit a bit more dramatically, and with every kind of imaginable extra added on top. Padding! Extreme sports sequences! Incredibly annoying child actors! Movie-only accessories made specifically to sell more merchandise! Truly, Power Rangers: The Movie has it all.
Plot-wise, the film really is just a heavily padded episode of the show. It’s just as formulaic, with show baddies Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd summoning a monster (an all-new creation in the form of ancient despot Ivan Ooze, played to scenery-chewing perfection by Paul Freeman), and the Rangers having to stop him—in this case, before he can use his ooze to mind-control the parents of the world into digging up his giant robotic war machines. This time that requires a bizarre trip to an alien planet Phaedos for pretty much the only thing that would transition back from the movie to the TV show...the team becoming ninjas, for some reason?
Actually, we know why: Power Rangers was running out of action footage from the prehistoric-creature-themed Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, even after Saban made a deal for Toei to specially shoot an extra half season’s worth of action scenes with the costumes to keep Power Rangers going. So it was getting ready to start utilizing the footage from another Super Sentai series, Ninja Sentai Kakuranger. Weirdly enough, the Kakuranger suits never got used by the main team—they were used for the miniseason Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers—but the giant robots from the show were, so you get the contrivance of the Ranger’s powers being lost thanks to Ooze attacking Zordon’s command center, and them going off to become hilariously candy-color-coordinated ninjas. And even then, the show ignored the movie and did its own version of this story anyway, rendering the story line even more pointless.
Despite the weird ninja side story and the costumes that came with it, the Rangers get back into their familiar costumes for most of the action in the latter half of the film. Except this time, instead of the original Spandex, it’s Spandex with the shiniest, plastic-y looking angular armor pieces over the top, a look that is in equal parts cool and cheesy as hell. These outfits are an example of how this movie funneled its budget into practically anything that would boost toy sales. The unnecessary costume upgrades even transferred over to Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa, with Rita getting a slightly more detailed collar, and Zedd getting truly the most ‘90s of all updates: even more chrome plating. Everything about this movie suggests that an executive was lurking behind the camera person, repeatedly yelling the word “more.”
That excess comes into sharpest relief in the final act of the movie, which has aged the worst of all. Like all Power Rangers third acts, the film eventually gives way to a giant monster vs. robot showdown, or in this case, robot vs. robot, as the team’s new Ninja Zords go up against Ooze’s . In the show, just as with Super Sentai, these battles were waged by people dressed in suits on miniature stages to give the effect of larger-than-life action. In Power Rangers: The Movie, it was done with what might stand out as some of the worst, not to mention some of the shiniest, CGI ever committed to the silver screen:
Oh, I forgot to mention that Ivan Ooze double crosses Rita and Zedd and traps them in a snow globe on the moon for most of the movie. That’s a thing that...well, it happens. Don’t ask why!
God, that CG. Yes, times change, and visual effects have come a long way, to the point that we’re kind of okay with its excessive use in the superheroic third acts of the modern era. But this was two years after Jurassic Park! Despite the nightmarishness of all, even then you can’t help but appreciate the absurdity of the scenario, as the chrome mass of the Ninja Megazord and Ivan’s (spectacularly named) Ecto-Morphicon duke it out in barely incoherent action...until they head to space and Aisha decides the only way to beat Ooze is to knee his giant robot in its giant robot balls, into a comet. It’s incredible.
And really, that heady blend of questionable execution and ridiculous ‘tude is part of the charm of Power Rangers in general, and Power Rangers: The Movie is no exception to that rule. In many ways—save for that awful mecha CG—the film has aged about as well as the original show has, so depending on your tolerance for atrocious one liners and excessive use of the word “radical,” it’s either just as excruciating as it always has been, or a camp-tastic slice of cheddar.
The excesses of its film-sized budget gave us more action, shinier new costumes, gadgets to inevitably get shilled as new toys, and new monsters. But everything that made Power Rangers the phenom it was at the time—and everything that made it become the phenom it was despite its faults, like, say, the acting capabilities of its young and mostly untested stars—was still there. This was Power Rangers but bigger, and unabashedly so. Twenty-five years later, there’s still something earnestly joyous about that extravagance, and how it still drives the franchise to this very day.