Power Rangers is the movie director Dean Israelite wanted to make. Whether you love the finished product or hate it, the director had a vision and he stuck to it. And when we asked him about his reasons for going certain directions with the movie, Israelite had an explanation for every decision he made — and he still stands by them.
The stars of Power Rangers. All Images: Kimberley French/Lionsgate
"I just love coming-of-age stories," Israelite told us recently. "I love stories about people who are disenfranchised and people who have to go through an intense growth to figure out who they are and own who they are. And when I read the first version of the script, it felt like those themes were really baked into this."
The result is a very character-driven take on the Power Rangers, one in which who the characters are and how they grow as people is given significantly more screen time than the crazy, colourful action fans know from the iconic TV shows. This was a decision made very early on and one Israelite owns wholeheartedly.
"My take on the material from the beginning was, 'I want us to earn [them becoming the Power Rangers at the end of the film],' and I think it's a bold choice and we all decided to go for it," he said. "To me, it makes [the ending] more special."
Israelite grew up in South Africa and there, like the rest of the world, watched the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. He describes his feelings toward the series as "nostalgic".
"There's a real heart to it and a buoyancy, a joyousness," he said of the original show. "And I wanted to capture that while making sure that there can still be real emotion and it can still be scary and thrilling." He came up with a take on the material that he hoped would blend both things.
Director Dean Israelite talking to Jason, the Red Ranger, played by Dacre Montgomery
"What I thought was special about this was that the journey to become a Power Ranger and the journey to just grow up were one and the same," Israelite said. "There was a synergy between those, and becoming a Power Ranger was just a metaphor for a personal character journey. I thought that was unique, and what got me excited about it."
However, that wasn't really a focus of the film originally. Multiple writers took cracks at Power Rangers (four writers are credited with conceiving the story) and Israelite said it wasn't until John Gatins (Flight, Real Steel) came aboard that his idea and the script came together.
"[At that point], the superhero part of the movie and the character part of the movie became one and the same," Israelite said. "They weren't competing, and they complimented each other. And the idea of having to earn being a Power Ranger really sort of came to bear with these characters' issues once John came on to write the script."
The pair tried to blend nostalgic feelings for the show into their new take on the material in multiple ways. Throughout the film there are winks and nods, both big and small, to the original show — but not everything fit in with the tone.
"We had Rita say, 'I have a headache,' in a bunch of different ways, in a bunch of different places and it just wasn't working," Israelite said. "But we got some other great ones in there that I didn't think would ever work, like, 'Make my monster grow!' I didn't think we'd ever be able to get in there, but it just feels natural to the moment. So there are things like that that we're like, 'We're going to put this in and we can afford to get rid of the other one.'"
The Rangers struggle to become Rangers.
There was debate over every big change. Israelite said everyone was on board with additions to the mythology involving Rita and Zordon, but even an ostensibly simpler thing, like the main characters keeping their faces exposed while wearing their Power Ranger suits, posed a problem between the original series and this new vision.
"Them with their masks on is a big part of the show's success," Israelite admits. "Because you can place yourself inside that. Now, the moment you're seeing their faces, it's different. You're not that character. That character is that character. So, I thought it was important for the drama… It was a big debate. I thought that if we were going to go into the Zord sequence and we're going to spend 20 minutes and not see their emotion, I really thought it was going to detract from some importance moments in that battle."
Plus, changes like that are all part of a bigger picture. Power Rangers has to work on its own, but everyone involved does not see it as a one-and-done. They see it as a bigger part of an ongoing franchise. So this film, in retrospect, will hopefully fill that role in the way they want.
"This is an origin story," Israelite said. "I want to do justice to the origin and hopefully there are going to be more that come out of this and, as a whole piece, this will feel appropriate."
Power Rangers is in theatres today.