Power Rangers is at its core a movie about teenage rebellion and wanting to be accepted, but like any action movie, throw in a superhero subplot and it can be easy to forget the importance of these teens’ stories.
Going into filming, however, that’s exactly what the five teens who make up the Power Rangers wanted to avoid. The goal was always to make The Breakfast Club instead of Iron Man, and give kids a movie with characters they could relate to. There’s a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal, and together, they make up an ensemble that’s impossible to root against.
Speaking to Polygon ahead of the film’s release, Ludi Lin (Black Ranger) and Dacre Montgomery (Red Ranger) said they spent just as much time hanging out, bonding and becoming close friends as they did learning how to fight. Lin said while he was a fan of Marvel movies, it was hard to relate to the Iron Man character-types, and Power Rangers wanted to fix that problem.
“It's all about being relatable,” Lin said. “It's hard to relate to a tech billionaire who becomes a superhero or someone who learns martial arts and become a kung-fu hero. Spider-Man was the most relatable because he was just this kid who had so many flaws. In Power Rangers, there is so much diversity and there's not one character you can't relate to on some level.
“If you can understand them than you can relate them.”
On the surface, Power Rangers is one of the most diverse superhero movies in years. Its heroes are a a gay woman and an autistic man who speaks of “being on the spectrum." Of the five, just two are white. That’s deliberate. Lin said the entire team felt it personally important to give young viewers a role model who wasn’t a replica of what they were already seeing in movies.
“We see each role as a complete person, a multi dimensional person,” Lin said. “To do otherwise is not paying respect to the audience. We share the same emotions, and if people stop making roles as a good guy or a bad guy simply because they’re an Asian figure, than the film medium will be much improved. We need diversity, not archetypes.”
For all of its faults, Power Rangers’ commitment to developing its heroes and not falling into stereotypical tropes is not one of them. When it shines, it’s in the interaction among the five teenagers. Montgomery said the reason he signed onto the project was because director Dean Israelite pitched it as a coming-of-age story with a side of superhero goodness.
“We wanted to go off the back of Breakfast Club — five kids who don't like each other, but build a bond,” Montgomery said. “I was intrigued by how interesting it would be to couple the Breakfast Club idea — a 1980s coming-of-age movie with a high budget 2017 superhero film. It's just a story about kids.
“All I wanted to give people was a real story.”
Power Rangers can get heavy at times, but the film still has some of the quirks Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the ‘90s series it’s based on, was known for. When the Rangers finally get into their Zords, for example, the excitement from the teens on screen is palpable. Lin and Montgomery said they barely had to act in those moments because of how empowering it felt.
“It was insane to see my castmates on screen,” Lin said. “Seeing their performances and the special effects and the monsters and the Zords. My heart couldn't stop pounding.”
Asked if it felt extra special because they were fans of the original, both actors laughed and sheepishly admitted they hadn’t seen Mighty Morpin Power Rangers. When they each discovered the other members of their crew hadn’t watched the show, they made a pact to not watch it.
It may seem odd to not visit the material an adaptation you’re starring in is based on, both Lin and Montgomery said they didn’t want anything to influence their performances. Power Rangers is supposed to feel unique enough that a new generation of viewers can become fans of the heroes, with just enough of nostalgia interwoven to please fans of the original series.
Montgomery added that Israelite gave the five teens quite a bit of freedom to explore their characters, and thought that if they went in as fresh faced as possible, it would work out better for their performances and the film.
“It was up to the creatives to let us have our own touch on a beloved franchise,” Montgomery said. “There was a always a lot of creative freedom and we ad-libbed a lot. The pressure was always there to make more.”
Lin echoed his castmate’s sentiments, adding that although he watched the original Japanese version Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is based on, he didn’t want to have any kind of influence hanging over his head when he was filming.
“The earlier version was a lot similar to the tv show actually,” Lin said. “But as we went on, Israelite started deepening the legacy and seeing where the story goes by exploring these characters more. The final result was wildly different. I used that creative freedom to expand my imagination and see how much I could bring to my performance.”
Now that the movie is about to be released, the two are excited to see how both new and old fans react. When asked if they were worried at all about backlash from those who obsessed over the series when they were younger, Montgomery said that after seeing the movie, it wasn’t really a pressing concern.
“I think the OG fans will respond and we will gain new fans in the process,” he said. “It's a coming-of-age story, it’s relatable and it's people from different backgrounds coming together. This will relate to both old and new fans. They’ll all get to see their Zords, their Megazords and their suits. It’s a movie for everyone, and that’s what makes it special.”
Power Rangers will be released in theaters on March 24.