Dark, bloody, profane and rated. Not words you would normally associate with the classic Tokusatsu series Power Rangers. But in 2015, a maverick director assembled a diverse team of creatives and set about rebooting the franchise for a distinctly adult audience. The result was the viral hit Power/Rangers.
Directed and co-written by top music video director Joseph Khan, this 15 minute feature drove the internet wild when it was dropped on Vimeo (NSFW) and YouTube on February 24, 2015. Amongst the team behind it were YouTube personality Adi Shankar, Producer, and an Executive Producer with the unassuming name of Justin Smith. Having recently turned to Hollywood film production in 2012, one of the many faces worn by Smith was that of ’Boosted J’, a professional poker player who started his career playing online games before hitting the big time in live tournaments. It was a passion project through and through, aided by some star power in the form of all-American hero James Van Der Beek and Sci-Fi regular Katee Sackhoff. When interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter, Van Der Beek’s enthusiasm for working with the ‘crazy visionary’ Khan was clear: “I wanted to follow him on this journey of creating something that was completely his own. It’s the essence of why we got in. Let’s make something cool”.
The “deboot” has a simple but effective plot. The Rangers are disbanded following defeat at the hands of the Machine Empire. Rocky the Red Ranger defects and detains and questions Pink Ranger Kimberly about the location of Green Ranger Tommy. We learn about the tragic fates of former Red Ranger Jason, Black Ranger Zack, Blue Ranger Billy and Yellow Ranger Trini. The appeal here is in the very adult content. The violence that is hinted at in the Tokusatsu series is ramped up to the max here with stunning effect, all its raw grace captured perfectly by cinematographer Christopher Probst. To show that our heroes really are grown up, disillusioned drugs, threesomes and mariticide all make an appearance.
Facing questions flying in from die-hard fans about his intentions for the franchise, Khan remained enigmatic about the project, stating that it was strictly a one-off parody. He called it “a conceptual straight faced hyperbole” made for people to watch and enjoy. With no further plans to create a gritty reboot of the television series that he firmly believes is ‘for kids’, Khan’s involvement was no more than a self-funded feature film designed, just like the music videos he was famed for, to entertain a digital audience. But in a twist reminiscent of the Machine Empire’s plans to eradicate freedom of expression, just one day after its release, access to the film was shut down by original franchise copyright holders Saban.
The internet, however, had other intentions. On 27 February, the films reappeared on Vimeo and YouTube, with added disclaimers, new titles, an age gate on YouTube and a “nice demeanor” from Khan. He was also sporting “an awesome new haircut”. Khan has been nothing less than cagey about the exact details of how the resolution came about, but the combined power of over 11 million viewers probably helped sway the corporation.
As for the film itself, well it’s nothing like the series we know and love. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Watching it, you can’t help but be impressed by the work and attention to detail that has gone into creating it. It’s dark; it’s violent; it throws in a few tired old tropes now and again, but it’s a piece of creative work that really does engage you for the 15 minute run time.