It’s been over a week since I saw Power Rangers, and my thoughts keep returning to it — not because I liked it, but because it features a cyberbullying subplot so baffling that I’m convinced Power Rangers is quietly a movie about how cool it is to be a dickhead.
Early in the film, Pink Ranger Kimberly (Naomi Scott) is cornered in the bathroom by two of her former best friends. They accuse her of betrayal with giggling menace, and stay stone-cold as she pleads that she did no wrong. The rest of the film, as the Power Rangers bond over their young, incredibly troubled lives, Kimberly is the only one who appears too devastated to talk about her own Big Sad Thing. (The Power Rangers all have sympathy-hooking, trauma-laden backstories — Zack is poor and has a sick mom, Billy’s dad died, Trini’s parents don’t accept her sexual orientation, and Jason’s dad is Roy from The Office — so it seems safe to assume that whatever Kimberly went through is going to be twisted.)
Eventually, while in his bedroom, Kimberly reveals the truth to Jason: She did, in fact, do the terrible thing her friends accused her of doing. She leaked a sexual photograph of her friend, which spread around the school, and devastated her friend. I was psyched at this twist at first because I figured the movie was setting up some sort of redemption arc. When Kimberly spots her two friends, one of whom we can assume was emotionally demolished by this scandal, during the film’s climax, I expected some sort of reconciliation. “It’s show time!” I thought to myself at the Saturday matinee I attended, literally surrounded by children. “And now for a life lesson about forgiveness and proper digital socialization!” Instead, both the kids and I saw pure savagery.
Kimberly flies around in a crazy-ass dinosaur robot, living her best life, as her poor, scared friends tremble within their car. When she sees them mid-flight, it seems like the perfect moment to redeem herself, to help them escape mortal danger. Instead, Kimberly accidentally-but-kinda-on-purpose drops a piece of debris on the hood of their car, presumably wrecking it, and definitely causing (even more) emotional distress. She smiles after she does this, like a real scoundrel.
And that’s it! There’s no follow-up to this second act of Aggro Kimberly mayhem, and the movie never suggests that she should feel bad about committing felony property damage against her friends, whom she has already previously abused. Kimberly and Jason give each other knowing glances toward the end that confirm their PG-13 sexual chemistry, and yet he never says anything like, “Hey, remember when you confessed to me about committing an actual crime? Maybe you should go to therapy and definitely apologize to your friend.”
But that’s because Jason is also an immoral creep. The movie opens with him smashing into mailboxes and fences, leading the police on a dangerous car chase just for kicks. He never exhibits a second of contrition for the wanton, pointless destruction he causes. In fact, he seems defiantly proud of his behavior, and wriggles out of his punishment by taking advantage of Billy’s social problems. (Which, I suppose, makes Jason a pretty appropriate match for Kimberly.)
Why is Jason the leader of the Power Rangers? Billy and Zack both seem far more suited to the role. (Trini is too sullen.) There’s no reason for him to be the head of this Fearsome Fivesome — unless, of course, the leader of the Power Rangers is terrible because the Power Rangers are actually villains, and this is a villain origin story disguised as a campy teen hero tale.
During Kimberly’s confession, Jason remained completely unfazed by her actions. He reminded her that photos spread around all the time, and told her she has to let the past be the past. Points (I GUESS??) for being a tolerant listener and not scolding someone who already felt guilty about her bad deeds, but “everyone does it, and it’s not that big a deal” is extremely suspect advice to give a young cyberbully who has seriously damaged another person’s life. Like — she could still apologize? To her friend? Who she ruthlessly, sexually humiliated???? Why wouldn’t you tell her to do that?!?!?!?!??!?!?
Kimberly is a bad friend, and Jason is a bad leader. And I’m sorry, but Power Rangers is a movie about bad people.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Kimberly’s confession was made in a cave; it was in Jason’s bedroom.