The multi-media franchise known under the broad name of Power Rangers in the United States (a substantially revised localisation of the even bigger franchise called Super Sentai in Japan) has been through so many iterations and revisions along the way, why not a franchise-starting action movie remake? Albeit one that seems to have pretty securely failed to start a franchise, but that's not really the point.

The point, of course, is that the target audience for the 1993-'96 television series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers - still the incarnation of the franchise to have enjoyed the biggest awareness in the broader culture - are, in 2017, of roughly the right age to be the parents of children who are themselves roughly the right age to be exposed to their very own version of Haim Saban's longest-lived cash cow. And the goal, I suppose, was to get that one-two punch of nostalgia mixed with an untapped youth audience that drove the enormous, box office shattering success of Jurassic World or the opposite of that amount of success of  Goosebumps.

And assuming that was the goal, the question presents itself: why, then, make such a profoundly kid-unfriendly film? This Power Rangers is all about teen angst, and between that and its jarring happiness to indulge in the full gamut of PG-13 swears (eschewing the one permitted "fuck", though I lived in perpetual hope), it feels just so wrong, in contrast with the brightly colored outfits and mechs and the pridefully hokey rock monsters, and Elizabeth Banks's untrammeled performance as the screaming villain Rita Repulsa (I do not know if Banks thought that her double-decker ham sandwich of a performance was meant to save the film, or if she was just indulging herself as she realised that the film was beyond hope; either way, it's amply appreciated). The first quarter of 2017 was something of a bonanza of silly kids' movies mistakenly thinking they were teen movies; Power Rangers is only barely a worse example of the form than the pathetic, instantly-forgotten Monster Trucks was.

Anyway, here we are, in the merry land of teen angst, which is probably why the set-up draws so heavily from The Breakfast Club. We meet our five title characters when they're all gathered in detention, though at first we only know why Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), former star football player, is there; he and a buddy got caught trying to smuggle a bull into the gymnasium (giving us ample room for one of those evergreen "I tried to milk this cow"/"...that's a bull!" exchanges so beloved by writers consumed by a bottomless hatred for comedy and humanity). We'll learn a little bit about some of the rest, but mostly you just need to know their names and quirks: Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) is an autistic nerd, Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) is a popular mean girl, Trini (Becky G) is sullen and ostensibly a lesbian, though a lesbian in the way that the filmmakers want credit for including a lesbian, without being at all interested in putting in the work of actually making that part of her personality, behavior, or representation, and Zack (Ludi Lin), is an impulsive loner. That each of these characters maps exactly onto one of the cast of The Breakfast Club is, I'm sure, a coincidence, and that two of them are so under-written that they didn't even get surnames is, I'm sure, an oversight.

Now, what we know that the characters don't yet, is that tens of millions of years ago, during the Cenozoic Era,* there was a great battle between the five good Power Rangers, led by the Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston), and the rogue, evil Green Ranger, Rita, who desires to capture the Some Kind of Magic Crystal, hiding in Earth's primordial bosom. Zordon's dying command was to have the robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader, eventually) drop a meteor on his and Rita's location, sealing both of them and the Crystal away for countless ages of the Earth. It just so happens that 2017 is right about the moment that Rita has finally stored up enough strength to re-emerge in the world of the living, and the Crystal has thus been obliged to call up the undying spirit of the Power Rangers, now to be embodied by our very same five misfits.

Another way of summing it up is that Power Rangers, very inexplicably aping the macro-structure of the famously horrible 2015 Fantastic Four, presents its title heroes before they become heroes, instead lingering on the petty in-fighting that prevents them from gelling as a team until it's almost too late. That's not an unsalvageable approach; I suppose that if you really wanted to go all-in on making this a teen drama that happened to involve gaudily colored superheroes wearing skin-tight plastic suits, you might be able to do it by presenting the Rangers as highly distinctive emblems of American teen life, with fully-realised backstories, and strong character-oriented performances. Even then, I'm not sure it would be the right choice, but it would at least be functional, which the extant Power Rangers never is; none of the characters are worth a damn as written, and Cyler is the only one giving a particularly interesting performance, having fun with a socially awkward character instead of just resting on lazy shorthand.

All of these characters are dribbled into a film that is a rather offensive misfire of style. The design ranges from low-fi cheesy (Rita's make-up and costuming) to hi-fi cheesy (the rock monsters), to fussily overdone CGI (the giant gold monster, the Rangers' dinosaur mechas), and it's hard to imagine how all of these things fit into the same universe; that Banks's performance is far and away the film's most enjoyable, and also far and away the film's goofiest, only adds to the feeling that a trashy kiddie flick and a high-budget tentpole had an ill-advised one-night stand, and this unloved baby was the result.

And then there's the question of how director Dean Israelite decides to frame all of this, and I just have no clue what to even say about that. Power Rangers is quite full of some inordinately odd choices about camera angles, movement, perspective... basically a film that has concluded that the cinema image can be freed to do totally different things than the story of the screenplay and dialogue, and as a fan of pre-WWII avant-garde films, I'm all for that. Power Rangers is not, however, an avant-garde film. So when Israelite and his crew insistently tart it up with elaborate 360° pans inside of cars (which he does twice, both near the beginning), or with unexpectedly cutting in extreme shifts in shot scale accompanied by changes in speed, or any number of other things that are more about exaggerated shifts in perspective, it doesn't do anything. It just points out that the filmmakers were apparently just as bored as I was with the story they were telling, and so endeavored to make it amusing for themselves by making it needlessly complex and dazzling. Sadly, the amusement dried up before it managed to escape off the screen.

*It never augurs well when the film's very first gesture is such a basic factual cock-up: while it might well be the case that the prehistoric world we're looking at is in the Cenozoic Era, it is also the case that you and I are living in the Cenozoic Era right this very instant, and it seems pretty clear that the writers meant "Mesozoic".