The first "all-American" Rangers
This month's Power Rangers reboots Saban's original 1993 series, but is unencumbered by connections to super sentai. It's the first American installment, 24 years after entering American pop culture.
"It wasn't deliberate, but I think that's right," Israelite tells me, when sizing up the functionality he never questioned as a kid. "We didn't have to use all these disparate ingredients, we get to bake the cake with whatever we want."
In the new movie, most Rangers mythology, Japanese or American, is gone. The movie opens on a Green Ranger murdering an alien Red Ranger who calls down a meteor (presumably causing the extinction of the dinosaurs), before segueing to a good hour of hanging out with the new versions of our "teenagers with attitude." Not only do the modern Power Rangers have personality, they have something no sentai team has harbored: a death wish. "Kind of metaphorically, they do die. They die over and over," Israelite says, "because I feel like coming of age, there are these moments that feel like death and you have to be reborn... It's part of the Hero's Journey."
Haim Saban gave Israelite freedom to mess around with the internal logic of the license, and if the Japanese cultural aspects weren't gone when the producer first cut up Zyuranger, they are now. The suits look like modern superhero uniforms. Goldar drops the griffin look. Rita Repulsa is no longer a witch, but the Green Ranger, in battle against Zordon himself, the original Red Ranger.
Even the henshin roots, the morphin', has evolved. Instead of the teenagers summoning their armor and dinozords using space-age coins, the movie imagines the transformation as a metaphor for a teenager's emotional journey. Morphing as a metaphor for friendship: Does it get more American?
If expanding his characters to be quintessentially American teenagers accidentally erased any Japanese cultural allusions, director Dean Israelite isn't too concerned about it: "I think if something is actually really well observed and specific, it becomes universal."