A dark, gritty Power Rangers spin-off?

I love Power Rangers. I realize this is the most ordinary thing a child of the ‘90s can possibly say, but it’s true. I love how it’s all at once batshit insane and yet charmingly simplistic. I love how it keeps reinventing itself season after season. I love the way it’s brought cultures together, introducing an entire generation of American youth to Japanese tokusatsu. But most of all, I love the childlike sense of fun and optimism it inspires in me every time I watch it.

The feeling I’m describing is called “nostalgia”, a concept I’m sure you’re all familiar with. It’s become something of a buzzword in recent years, and has been a frequent influence on our culture since any of us can remember. It’s such a natural human instinct, the desire to capture that feeling of simplicity and ignorant bliss that characterized our childhoods. So we latch onto anything, any memory that might trigger some semblance of that feeling: a favorite toy or game, a familiar song, an old friend, etc. But more broadly recognized and shared are cultural moments that touched and inspired entire generations: famous historical events certainly, but also media like films and TV shows. These things can not only make us feel like kids again, but bring us together in a mutual wistful remembrance of times gone by. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.

So why are we so damned ashamed of it?

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Actor and MMA fighter Jason David Frank, known to Power Rangers fans the world over as the Green Ranger and a breakout favorite of the show, said in a recent interview that he is “talking to Saban”* about the possibility of making a spin-off film focusing on his character. It would supposedly be PG-13, implying a somewhat darker tone than Power Rangers generally has, and he spoke of making the Green Ranger “the Wolverine of Power Rangers”.

[*And let’s be very clear here: “talking” could mean anything from “we are actually having official meetings about this as a serious potential movie” to “I mentioned the idea to one guy and he said ‘yeah, we’ll talk later’”. At this point, the whole prospect of this project ever getting off the ground doesn’t seem terribly likely. I’m not upset about this news because I’m afraid I’ll ever actually see the damn thing. I’m upset because the idea is so symptomatic of a larger, prevalent attitude.]

With all respect to my childhood hero, none of this sounds anywhere close to a good idea. Put aside for a moment the fact that the entire point of Power Rangers is teamwork: complimentary skills, powers, and equipment always succeeding where the efforts of one always fail. So a solo Power Ranger anything is about as un-Power Rangers a concept as you can get. Spin-offs and/or stronger focuses on characters who become unexpectedly popular almost never end well and lead to overexposure. The aforementioned Wolverine is a prime example of this. But beyond that, the idea that such a film would need to be PG-13 just depresses me, because it’s demonstrative of a prevailing attitude with regard to reviving nostalgic properties: the idea that they need to be darker.

For some reason, while nostalgia is something we all share, often openly, it’s also something we have this bizarre need to distance ourselves from. Going back and watching your favorite episodes of Transformers is okay, but only if you do so “ironically”. After all, Transformers was a kid’s show, and you’re not a kid anymore. So to maintain your vacuous misunderstanding of “maturity”, you can only experience nostalgia in a sarcastic, detached fashion. “Harr dee harr! Look at how silly these cartoons are! Can you believe I used to love this shit!? Stupid childlike awe! Harr dee harr!”

So as a result, when said shows get modern updates, fans, having long since grown up, like to think that their beloved childhood classics have somehow grown up with them. They want something that they can appreciate with the same sincere wonder that they had when they were younger. But since they now feel accessing their inner child is somehow beneath them, the answer is to dress those old “kiddie” shows in the hollow trappings of what current you thinks of as “maturity”: darker colors, gritty realism, grayer moralities, and brooding self-importance. “Superman’s not just for kids anymore! He just snapped a guy’s neck! So it’s totally okay for me to still be into him!”

Look, I understand the mindset. I’ve been there. The inception of the name “Joshua the Anarchist” was entirely due to my being a miserably mopey teen way too obsessed with Heath Ledger’s Joker for all the wrong reasons. Not five years ago, I too was craving something exactly like what Jason David Frank is proposing: a dark, gritty vision of Power Rangers. I know about taking yourself too seriously, about mistaking pessimism for realism**. So I say this with the greatest sympathy: Get the fuck over yourself.

[** To once again borrow the phrase from Flex Mentallo that just never stops being relevant.]

Have you forgotten what attracted you to these things in the first place? It wasn’t that they were “edgy” or “dark” or “mature”, it was they were fun and lighthearted. Is not the whole point of nostalgia to remind yourself of happier times, when the world was less complicated and you were less cynical? Are you really going to continue to let your obsession with the trappings of maturity to the exclusion of its substance continue to pollute and distort your childhood memories? Growing up isn’t about leaving the things you love behind. It’s about expanding your mind and taking responsibility for your actions.

Do not misunderstand me to mean that stories and franchises should never change or evolve. Batman has been swinging back and forth between comedy and seriousness for the better part of a century now. Stagnation is the enemy of any franchise, and adaptability its cure. So by all means, rethink and reevaluate your favorite childhood stories. But don’t ever lose sight of what made that story worth telling a second time to begin with.

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  • ShadowWing Tronix

    Heck, I still watch kids shows, including Power Rangers, because they tend to be more fun than the “adult” stuff. Even the darkened remakes of Masters Of The Universe and Thundercats didn’t take themselves so slagging seriously.

    I don’t watch things ironically any more than I believe in “guilty” pleasures. I watch what I like regardless of the target audience. Life is depressing enough, I just want to be entertained by my entertainment.

    • Bouncy X

      i hear ya, i never understood the term “guilty pleasure”. if you like the show or movie or music or whatever, what do you have to feel guilty about? i’d lump that in with “so bad its good”… if i like and enjoy something, then i obviously don’t think its bad. and if i think something IS bad, then i don’t waste my time on it.

  • To be fair, “Adventure Time” frequently has a darker tone than “Power Rangers” ever has. It wouldn’t take much to make the show darker.
    I would also like Jason David Frank to appear in other stuff, like “The Expendables”, Lots of guys like me (late 20’s) would find that to be as much of a nostalgia draw as Norris or Lundgren.

  • MichaelANovelli

    A PG-13 rating doesn’t necessarily mean it would be darker. It could just have more of an action focus.

  • Dark Power Rangers movie would be to MMPR what Shin Kamen Rider is to Kamen Rider: something that combines great elements that are unrelated that you can enjoy in both a childish nostalgic way and an adult way at the same time.

  • Cameron Vale

    Maybe it’s not all nostalgia. I was first exposed to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as a grown man, and it rocked my socks.
    I didn’t see the majority of the later Power Rangers incarnations (sadly, they didn’t rock my socks) but I did see most of Linkara’s lengthy overviews of them, and my impression from those was that “bringing the original Green Ranger back” and “taking the subject matter to very dark places” are hardly virgin territory.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Kudos for the Flex Mentallo reference.

  • Yep. When I was in college I replayed my Beast Wars DVDs and dammit, I enjoyed it every time (apart from a couple exceptions like “The Low Road”, I guess). I realize the characterization was generally shallow and unoriginal, but that’s true of most popular TV shows, whether directed at kids or not…little if any personal growth is the usual rule for long-lasting comedies, for instance.

  • The Nightmare Rider

    Why a spin off of Power Rangers and not an adaption of Kamen Rider?

    • Dave

      There have been a few… and they all sucked. Saban has the rights to adapt it again (and have trademarked the name “Power Rider”) but have done nothing with it.

      • The Nightmare Rider

        I know Masked Rider sucked, but Dragon Knight wasn’t that bad. Just saying it has potential is all.

        • starofjustice

          Dragon Knight was better, but was still just passable in most respects. After one crappy entry and one mediocre one people probably aren’t too willing to take a chance on further ones.

          • youbettcha

            Dragon Knight was better than Disney’s version of PRs.

      • inyoface

        God help us if Saban touches Kamen Rider again.

  • mrtfool

    Super Sentai was dark and gritty until parents in japan wanted it toned down. It is closer to Power Rangers now. Just with better cheesy effects and better acting. I luv JDF, but he needs to get over himself. If it wasn’t for the Japanese green ranger, he would have never had a career. The GR isn’t Wolverine. He’s closer to Batman.

  • Dan Mason

    I definitely see your point about how every franchise feels a need to turn to a gritty tone to fit with the times. But… honestly, I like it when they re-invent franchises with a darker tone. It doesn’t always work, but when it does I love it. I wouldn’t be opposed to this idea at all. The rangers will still be around, but you’d have this movie as a companion piece.

    And yeah, why not just do another adaptation of Kamen rider, which is what this would pretty much turn into.

  • Cody Connelly

    There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that really fits this situation perfectly: “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these are the marks of childhood and adolescence.”

  • nejiblue

    I’ll just say that I was a big fan of super sentai, though I felt it went off the rails with 2001’s gaoranger and never really recovered(outside of one or two random shows), and that power rangers was always a terrible show. That’s not what I wanted to say, though I do find it funny that power rangers was about “teamwork”. No, it was the Tommy show. That was made very clear when he became the white ranger in season 2. It’s also I think the main thing most people remeber, so it would be the focus of any nostalgia movie.

    But yeah, I have a issue with how you use the word nostalgia. I tryed rewatch transformers G1 a number of years ago when I was in my 20’s. Couldn’t get through 2 episodes. Why? Because it was awful. Literally everything about the show sucked. I can watch the 80’s movie however. Why? Well, the animation is quite good for the most part, and unlike the show it has excellent voice acting(mostly thanks to leonard nimoy and orson welles), despite most of the rest of it still being pretty bad.

    Nostalgia is a pure emotional reaction. No one chooses what they have nostalgia for, It is based purely on memories. Faint memories you have, from something you watched or did a long time ago. I will always have nostalgia for transformers G1. I’m not bitter about that, it was a big part of my childhood, and that’s fine. Hell, I lost my toys of optimus, starcream, and soundwave a long time ago, but I wish I still had them(hell, they were probably a bigger part of my nostalgia than the show ever was). But when I rewatch the show now, as a adult, I’m not going to lie to myself and tell myself “this is a truly wonderful show” when I feel that would be me lying to myself.

    And I’m not saying nostalgia and quality are mutally exclusive. My fav example there would be batman the animated series. A show made for kids, one I have nostalgia for, but I have the whole thing on DVD and for the most part, I still feel it’s one of the best TV shows ever made. The classic sentai shows are another example of this. Made for kids in japan, but very enjoyable shows for any age. The difference between those and transformers G1 and power rangers is very simple. The former were made by people who gave a fuck about making a GOOD show, for kids. They cared about the quality, and in turn they were shows anyone who cared for the genre’s in question could enjoy. The latter were made by people who made toy commercial’s disguised as TV show’s. They never gave two fucks about the shows, and it showed. Even batman TAS sold toys, but it was a byproduct of the show, not the one and only point.

    But yeah, that’s all I have to say. Just when I see shit like this:

    For some reason, while nostalgia is something we all share, often openly, it’s also something we have this bizarre need to distance ourselves from. Going back and watching your favorite episodes of Transformers is okay, but only if you do so “ironically”. After all, Transformers was a kid’s show, and you’re not a kid anymore. So to maintain your vacuous misunderstanding of “maturity”, you can only experience nostalgia in a sarcastic, detached fashion. “Harr dee harr! Look at how silly these cartoons are! Can you believe I used to love this shit!? Stupid childlike awe! Harr dee harr!”

    I feel like it’s shoving words in my mouth. You understand I have the right to change my opinion, especially when I grow up, right? You can’t “experience” nostalgia by rewatching the show when what the show is clashes with your faint memories of it, right?