‘Power/Rangers’: Or (The unexpected virtue of expectations)

Surprise entertainment releases can provide a needed deviation from mundane routine — and set the Internet ablaze. So, it’s not surprising that the spontaneous release of a gritty “Power Rangers” remake garnered more than 12 million views on YouTube in just one week.

In short, the 14-minute film entitled “Power/Rangers” details the imagined alternate reality that the Power Rangers universe could have become if the teenage Rangers had lost to the Machine Empire, the villainous robotic forces from the original series that aired on Fox Kids. The Rangers’ loss leaves the teens trying to reconcile their involvement in a losing fight. They have to adjust to life as teenagers under adult subjugation in the dystopian machine-dominated world. 

Unlike spontaneous works like “Power/Rangers” that materialize without warning, feature films are often subject to failure because audiences and critics expect them to meet or exceed an established standard. With higher budgets and box office expectations, the entertainment world sets much higher standards for their success.

Part of the success of “Power/Rangers” comes from its dark underpinnings, which trace back to iconic works from producer Adi Shankar. Shankar forged his own success by producing grim crime dramas and adventure films such as “Dredd,” “Killing Them Softly” and “The Grey.” His knack for stylized violence and painting dystopian worlds creates the perfect backdrop for his production in “Power/Rangers.”

Famed music video and independent film director Joseph Kahn released the link for his and Shankar’s collaboration at midnight on Feb. 24, and Kahn’s legions of followers and fans continued to elevate it into the upper echelon of trending topics on the web. With no anticipation preceding its release, the film’s viral success literally began overnight. By the end of its first day, “Power/Rangers” had garnered over 4.5 million views. 

We can attribute much of that initial success to the lack of expectation from viewers upon the film’s release. Kahn veiled the time and labor until the film reached its final form. The only initial expectations come, then, from the original “for kids” Power Rangers series that still air on channels like Nickelodeon and Toon Disney. 

For fans of the original “Power Rangers,” the short film’s references and homage to it are masterful. The recounting of the Rangers’ post-war lives is both detailed and reminiscent of their past character arcs. The most thoughtful story involves Rocky — a replacement for the original Red Ranger — who becomes an agent of the Machine Empire. His renunciation of the Ranger credo is mocked by Kimberly, an original Ranger, who scorns, “You were never really one of us.” 

In contrast to “Power/Rangers,” some recent blockbusters couldn’t live up to their high-stakes marketing campaigns — take “Edge of Tomorrow,” the third most expensive film of 2014 at $175 million, for example. In terms of domestic sales, the film only grossed a little more than $100 million in its time at the box office — a resounding box office failure — despite earning critical acclaim.

Don’t get me wrong — “Edge of Tomorrow” looked exceptional. But for audiences that saw the stunning CGI models from 2013’s “Pacific Rim,” sleekly animated aliens were not anything revelatory. From the trailers, we could expect that “Edge” would hinge on a time paradox in which dying allowed the protagonist to repeat the same day again and again.

The expectation then, from the trailers and the posters, was that “Edge of Tomorrow” would incorporate time paradox philosophy, action sequences, a love story and a mission to save planet Earth packed smartly into more than a generic summer blockbuster. 

Unfortunately, the film lacked philosophy more thought-provoking than its inspiration, “Groundhog Day.” Another 2014 actioner, “Godzilla,” outclassed its action sequences, while the narrative was derailed by vapid dialogue in the second half and a predictable happily-ever-after ending. 

“Power/Rangers” doesn’t hinge on expectations, but it exceeds any preconceptions anyway. With the film’s positive reception, it will be interesting to see whether or not other directors take Shankar and Kahn’s film as a precedent.

Perhaps major studios might limit promotion of their films to curb audience expectation and incite a sense of mystery prior to their release. Perhaps it won’t be long before we see many of our childhood shows redone in grim, mature remakes. 

Think about it — how cool would a gritty “Hey Arnold!” be?