Power Rangers: A Movie Review

When I was a kid, I loved watching Power Rangers. No matter how many times the teams changed, one thing almost always remained the same: The rangers always have the will to fight and will always the right thing even when the odds are against them.This film, while not safe for the average five-year-old, is definitely the modern, grown-up Power Rangers that I could see my younger self watching.

I was really worried that the film might be similar to the Transformers franchise, but a better comparison would actually be The Breakfast Club meets the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the iconic 80s movie, the Power Rangers team in this movie consists of an athlete (Jason Scott, played by Dacre Montgomery), a brainiac (Billy Cranston, played by RJ Cyler), a basketcase (Trini, played by Becky G), a princess (Kimberly Hart, played by Naomi Scott), and a “criminal” (Zack, played by Ludi Lin). Billy, Kimberly, and Jason first meet when they have to take Saturday detention together on a regular basis. Jason’s in detention due to a prank gone wrong. Kimberly and Billy’s reasons for being in detention get revealed later on.

When Jason defends Billy from the school bully (sadly not named Bulk or Skull), the two of them strike up a friendship that eventually leads them to the town quarry. There, they run into the three other teens. Billy often goes to the mining quarry to remind himself of his deceased father. The latest excavation leads the five teens to finding Zordon’s Power Coins. Around the same time, Jason’s dad pulls Rita’s body from the ocean, unwittingly setting the course of events in motion.

How is This Different From Every Other Origin Story?

Origin Story Movies these days are a dime a dozen, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I love Marvel, I understand the complaints behind how the movies are written. Doctor Strange may have trippy effects, but the story is essentially the same as Iron Man, especially considering how similar the protagonists are.

What makes Power Rangers different from the other Origin Story Movies is that first of all, it’s an ensemble origin story. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, all the rangers have a backstory and play an essential role in the movie. Jason leads the team, Billy is the heart, Kimberly keeps the team spirit, Zack is the first to try out the megazords, and Trini helps the team find Rita.

The process of them becoming Rangers also creates a bond between these five teenagers and in turn, they help Zordon find closure in regards to his past. In spite of the odds, this ragtag bunch of misfits become fire-forged friends.

The Importance of Representation

Some people would accuse this film of using “tokenism” or using different ethnicities and other “tokens” in the name of political correctness. First of all, Power Rangers was always diverse, even though they unintentionally cast an African-American as the Black Ranger and an Asian woman as the Yellow Ranger during the first season of Mighty Morphin. In this movie,  there’s been press about Trini being gay and Billy being on the autism spectrum.

Billy’s portrayal of being autistic shows him as pretty high-functioning, since he goes to high school and is able to interact well with his friends. He doesn’t understand sarcasm or humor, but his quirks made him able to help the team out and it’s clear that he is the glue that holds the team together, even though he mostly interacted with Jason. He starts out being uncomfortable with being touched and scared to take risks beyond sneaking into the mine, but by the end of the film, it’s clear that he’s embraced his new role as a hero. Overall, Billy has become my favorite character in this film, especially since I’m on the autism spectrum myself.

Parents will probably more concerned about Trini being gay, but thankfully, she’s not a stereotype, either. She doesn’t dress like a butch or flirt with every girl. There is a scene where she playfully fights over the last doughnut with Kimberly, but it’s part of the “team bonding montage” and can be interpreted as just friendly playing. The most we ever see or hear about her sexuality is when she tells the rangers during a campfire scene about how she doesn’t feel like she’s conforming to her parents standards. She never says that she’s gay, but she’s definitely questioning her sexuality, which is actually very realistic.

Zack isn’t even the token Asian, either, as he isn’t the brainy dude or even wealthy. He lives in a trailer park with his sick mother and is scared of losing her.

Don’t Try This At Home!

One thing I need to address is that this film has CGI, but the command center is an actual set and there are scenes that show the rangers in their suits, so it’s obvious that they’re not wearing any capture-motion suits. That said, the teenagers get into a lot of dangerous situations even before they become Rangers. This isn’t a deterrent, it’s just something I want parents to think about.

I also like that Kimberly’s backstory involves a modern hot-button topic and it’s not something debated or central to the plot, but something that informs her character. She did something bad to one of her friends, but the fact that she’s trying to atone for that makes her worthy of being the Pink Ranger.

Minor Nitpicks

The humor in this film is definitely on par with the usual ridiculousness from the Power Rangers franchise, but it never crosses the line of being overly stupid. I only have two minor nitpicks with this film. One is that I wanted a Bulk and Skull archetype in this film. While the film has a bully, he’s not exactly the same as the bumbling buffoons from the original. The characters that come the closest to being the Bulk and Skull of the movie are Kimberly’s former friends from the cheerleading squad. I understand that the humor mostly comes from Billy, but given the more grown-up tone of the film, having a Bulk and Skull would’ve provided some much-needed levity in the scary situations.

The other minor nitpick I have is that while it was awesome to hear the original theme, I wanted to hear it two more times: during the Megazord fight and during the end credits. And I should also mention that they used the theme from the original 90s Mighty Morphin movie and not from the show. It would’ve been a total nostalgia trip to hear the entire original theme again.

Final Verdict

While I don’t recommend this film to everyone, I still love it. I think that the film is good for kids who are ten and older and know that while they can’t get into the dangerous situations the Rangers do, they can learn to bond with people outside of the social norms and to never give up, even when the odds are against them.

For fans of the original franchise, I want to say that this film is thankfully not as dark as Daredevil nor as stupid as the Transformers series. And while the teenagers don’t get their suits until the third act, it’s clear that even before they morph, they are still worthy of becoming Power Rangers because the want to do the right thing and fight even when the odds are against them, even when they don’t have their armor. Having the courage to fight without armor? That’s what makes a hero.

St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.

 

Flannery O’Connor “Revelation” – A Short Story Review

Fun Fact: Flannery O’Connor’s birthday is on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation. To honor one of the most well-renowned Catholic writers, I want to talk about my favorite of her short stories “Revelation.”

“Revelation” is one of the last short stories that Flannery O’Connor wrote. It was published in 1965, one year after she died. While “A Good Man is Hard to Find” may be the most well-known story from Flannery O’Connor, but I think “Revelation” is my favorite as it’s the most straightforward parable.

The reason I call “Revelation” a parable is because it reminds me of the biblical parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. Only in this story, Ruby Turpin is the pharisee and Mary Grace is the tax collector. Like the pharisee, Ruby Turpin has a very high opinion of herself and a low opinion of everyone else. This is shown as she sits with her husband at a waiting room in the doctor’s office.

The office is crowded with a lot of patients. Ruby condescends to make conversation with a stylish lady who’s sitting nearby. Mary Grace, the daughter of the stylish lady, is described as a fat eighteen or nineteen year-old girl whose face was “blue with acne” and wore “Girl Scout shoes and heavy socks.”

The story is implied to take place during Flannery’s time in the early 60s, as Mrs. Turpin refers to African-Americans as “n*****s” and refers to them picking cotton. However, African-Americans can own property, as Mrs. Turpin thinks about “a colored dentist in town who had two red Lincoln’s and a swimming pool and a farm with registered whiteface cattle on it.” As far as Mrs. Turpin’s mind is concerned, though, she might as well be a southern lady in Gone With The Wind, as she has African-Americans who work on her property.

As the conversation gets more racist and politically incorrect, Mary Grace’s rage slowly builds up to a boiling point. Her mother calls her spoiled and ungrateful, the kind of person who “can never say a kind word to anyone, who never smiles, who just criticizes and complains all day long.” (Sounds like most of the college students on Tumblr.) Finally, when Mrs. Turpin does her very boastful “prayer of gratitude,” she gets a textbook thrown at her face.

The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered. Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target.

Although Mary Grace gets sedated and taken away, her message lingers with Mrs. Turpin throughout the rest of the day. She tries to use the people around her to bolster her ego when she returns home, but to no avail. Finally, at the end of the day, she complains loudly to God, questioning Mary Grace’s words. She receives a vision of a parade of people in white entering Heaven. However, she sees that the people she looked down upon were the first in line while those like her walked towards the end.

“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”-Matthew 20:16

What Would Buffy Do?- A Book Review

What_Would_Buffy_Do_(Buffyverse)

To say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a unique show that ended up changing my life forever would be an understatement. Much like how the Doctor from Doctor Who has two hearts, I have two great loves in my life: My Catholic faith and my obsession with fandoms, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So imagine my surprise when I found out that a book like this one existed.

What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide is a collection of essays by Jana Reiss, a Mormon writer who specializes in writing things relating to religion and spirituality. It really boggles the mind that a show like Buffy, created by well-renowned atheist Joss Whedon, would have spiritual and religious themes that would lead to a Mormon writing essays on it, among other things.

The essays in Spiritual Guide are split into three sections: Personal Spirituality, “Companions on the Journey” (Interpersonal aspects of spirituality), and “Saving the World” (broad spiritual themes).  The essays in the first section are the most accessible to understand. “Be a Hero, Even When You’d Rather Go to the Mall” looks into the theme of self-sacrifice, using the characters of Buffy, Angel, and Xander as examples. This essay ties self-sacrifice with the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva, “beings who are more concerned with the welfare of others.”  Although it includes the prayer of St. Francis as a quote (the same prayer also used in the end of the Buffy season 6 finale “Grave”), it neglects to mention the Christian aspect of agape and altruism, especially this verse from John 15:13 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“Change Makes us Human” looks into how vampires were originally conceived in the show: as metaphors for the selfish tendencies we have and the obstacles we have to deal with in the process of growing up. Spike is used as an example of this inability to change. In the episode “School Hard, Angel confronts Spike, saying “Things change.” Spike replies “Not us! Not demons!” The essay goes on to show how Spike becomes one of the most dynamic characters in the show, starting with the fact that Spike was the vampire with the most humanity. He cared for Drusilla for over a century and it’s through love (his love for Dawn and Buffy) that compels Spike to get his soul. Willow, Xander, and Giles’s character arcs are also examined.  What makes Buffy unique is that how slowly the show changes and evolves and the characters (and the audience) are forced to adapt and adjust to the change.

One aspect of change that this book looks into is death, examined in the essay “Death is Our Gift.” Death is shown as  something to be feared initially in Buffy and gave rise to the running joke of Joss Whedon killing off everyone the fans love. However, the darkness that death brings is one of the themes in season six. Sarah Michelle Gellar said that she felt uncomfortable with Buffy’s story arc in season six as it didn’t feel like the character she knew and loved. Marti Noxon, one of the writers and producers, called seas on six Buffy’s “Dark Night of the Soul.” Sadly, that’s the only mention of the Dark Night of the Soul in this entire book.

There is an essay on darkness in the third section of the book entitled “Taming the Darkness Within Ourselves,” but it looks into darkness from a more thematic and psychological perspective and not a spiritual one. Given that Spiritual Guide was published in 2004 and Mother Teresa’s struggles with her interior darkness wouldn’t be published until 2007, it’s somewhat understandable why the idea of spiritual darkness wasn’t fully examined in this book. The essay on humor “The ‘Monster Sarcasm Rally,'” also neglects to examine the ties between humor and faith. Then again, humor and religion have only recently shown to go hand in hand.

This book is a wonderful read as far as examining the various themes and the complexity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the spiritual roots are soaking in shallow water, probably so that the book would be accessible to a general audience. I would love to see a follow-up to this book, some kind of anthology with essays from people of all denominations. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing that this book has me asking more questions than answers, leaving me wanting to dig deeper and continue down the path towards integrating my favorite show with my belief system.

In the last episode of Buffy, “Chosen,” the power of the Slayer is given to every girl in the world and ends with Dawn asking Buffy “What do we do now?” When I finished watching the show for the first time, I was left wanting more and eventually found a community of fellow fans who love Buffy. To my surprise, these friends are also people whom I can discuss my Catholic faith with openly. I think the Vampire Slayer Spiritual Guide serves a similar purpose. It’s not meant to give straightforward answers, but to act as a conversation piece for people like me who have both faith and fandoms in their lives. It might be a good way to introduce the show to those who wouldn’t watch something with horror and modern themes.

Tl;dr: Read this book and have a good discussion with your fellow philosophy and theology majors. And then watch Buffy. It will make you laugh, cry, and change your life forever.

Lent: It’s Not About Us

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It seems like every Lent, people talk about what they plan on giving up. While I understand that for people who plan on fasting from social media, I think many Catholics try to make Lent all about them, whether consciously or unconsciously.

What is Lent really about?

This passage from Joel from today’s first reading gives us some insight:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God. (Joel 2:12-13)

This Lent, Jesus asks us to refocus ourselves and center our lives on Him. It doesn’t matter how much money we put into the Rice Bowl or how much we do or don’t eat. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we do for Lent. What matters is that our thoughts and actions are done with Christ in mind. This goes well beyond “What would Jesus do.” Put simply, Lent calls us to do all things for the glory of God.

So what can you do today? Take some advice from today’s Gospel:

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

So please don’t post a selfie of yourself with the ashes. To quote my friend Katrina Ebersole “Every time someone posts an ‘ashes selfie,’ a kitten slowly dies.” If you’re still using social media, use it to glorify God this Lent.