Around the time the Zeo storyline was ending, and before Power Rangers in Space could breathe new life into the series, the franchise found itself in its first real lull following an incredibly successful boom in the U.S. It seemed like the perfect time to do a second film, another shot at the big screen for these teenagers with attitude, but something cheaper this time, with the real costumes and Zords, that tied into the show, to give the fans what they wanted after the first attempt in theaters. It sounded like a strong idea, but the result was the weakest film to bear the name – Power Rangers.
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie isn’t a great title, especially with how easily it can be confused for the following television series, Power Rangers Turbo, but there was certainly some excitement around its release in 1997. Now, watching it 25 years later, it’s hard to imagine that any momentum going into the movie isn’t immediately drained by the film’s legacy, or, just the opening.
The movie begins with a text crawl, attempting to channel as much Star Wars energy as it can. The opening is narrated by Zordon, who sounds sleepier than normal and looks like he’s had a serious downgrade since his last motion picture outing, or hell, even from the original show. The setup is reminiscent of Masters of the Universe and starts the action off with our imposter-Gwildor running from unfamiliar soldiers. It should be an exciting scene, but this is also where most viewers will realize that basing so much of the plot around our alien friend Lerigot, wasn’t a great idea.
Just after that, we see the martial arts-loving youths training for a tournament, where, in a moment of overzealousness, Rocky takes himself out of the movie, and the rest of his career as a Ranger, with an absolutely ridiculous spot. At least when Kat throws herself over a ledge in a similar fashion, later on, we could argue that she didn’t know there was a cliff there. It looks like she damaged her Morpher as she fell, getting injured could have thrown her back to human form, or the tech wasn’t designed to withstand being submerged, but whatever people choose to believe, we only get a brief glimpse of one Zeo transformation and these incredible powers are out to make way for the new Turbo line.
It isn’t that the cars are necessarily bad in any form, just a bit boring compared to some of the previous model Zords and the change felt like more of a sidestep than an advancement, even if they were needed to get into the Nemesis Triangle. Thankfully, the vehicles look good forming together and in action when they finally get unleashed. It’s easy to understand why some fans were upset that there wasn’t more reason given for switching powers, but David Yost’s exit from the show – for horrible reasons – apparently altered those plans.
The bigger issue here is Justin. It isn’t just that someone decided to try and spread the cast across multiple age demographics for more viewers by having seniors in High School and a pre-teen on the team at the same time – and that the Japanese source material had already done this – but that his introduction and reasons for becoming a Ranger were paper-thin at best. It seemed like he was just in the right place at the right time, bumping his head and stumbling into being a superhero, all because he found out their secret identities and everyone felt bad his mom was dead and his dad abandoned him for a karate dojo. People spend more time talking about how his morphing transformations work with his long-term physiology than they do about what he contributes to the team. He grows into an adult when he shifts and shrinks again when he’s done. Is that safe?
He could have been handled much more poorly by the writers than just being thrown in the story, however, and isn’t quite as annoying as I remembered. Lerigot is honestly worse. He barely speaks other than some odd cooing, is only there to be a waddling McGuffin, and needed to be taken out of the plot much sooner, but instead, they decided one weird-looking puppet wasn’t enough and brought his wife and child into the mix also. These scenes take away from much more interesting characters from the Power Rangers history that pop up.
It isn’t explained what Kimberly and Jason are doing scuba diving out there, just in the right place to get nabbed, but if that was part of their surprising the other Rangers, I want to know where that was going. The two former mighty-morphers are held hostage on a submarine along with Bulk and Skull – who have seemingly been brainwashed for no good reason, especially if they weren’t going to do the same to all of their prisoners – but the two are still heroes and have solid chemistry together. Their roles as captives, human sacrifices, and brief villains are handled well and are one of the more enjoyable parts of the film, right next to the brief cameo from Rita and Zed.
Turbo introduces new villains led by Divatox, who has a great name that immediately says a lot about her personality. She’s a toxic diva, space pirate, and hungry for power. This time she plans on pursuing these goals by doing some sacrifices and raising a bigger baddie named Maligore, that looks better than I remembered and who I didn’t realize was the same costume they used for Dark Specter during Power Rangers in Space until all these years later. Divatox is potentially the best part of the film, watching her chew the scenery up (or grab it with her tongue) and lean into the hammy performance. She’s stunning, funny, and wildly over-the-top. Campy? Sure, but this is Power Rangers. Not everything about her works, but so much screams entertainment.
Like many of the fights in the film, the final battle is short and unsatisfying, but at least it was flashier than any of the others. Originally, the movie was supposed to give fans longer, more involved fight sequences, and have the characters in their Ranger forms quicker. It’s a shame because that could have salvaged some of the pacing.
There were multiple scripts written, at least five that weren’t used, and a ton of footage was left on the cutting room floor. There’s so much they wanted to do, some of it had to be shown in the credits. These previous versions offered much more character development, time on-screen for fan-favorites, and provided significant explanations to the Turbo powers, as well as additional background for Justin, a new ally, and several cut action scenes. The back of the box famously shows a picture of Kat using a flame thrower, but that scene didn’t make the final cut. That additional material is said to have put the film at around three hours, but none of it has ever been officially shown. The theatrical release has several spots that are obviously edited down and this diced-up cinema experience caused confusion, as well as multiple questions from fans. While most of the information has leaked out via interviews, it appears that there is a good amount of fan interest in seeing a different cut of the film. (#ReleaseTheTurboCut?)
The movie was given a PG rating, mostly because of some comical violence, that bloody gash on Kat’s knee, and Divatox’s sexy outfit. Maybe this was for the slightly older crowd or they were just carrying over elements from the first film with Dulcea barely wearing anything, but the diva’s cleavage was quite noticeable and received complaints from a few parents. Diving into the behind-the-scenes of the movie was incredibly fun, especially finding the original website for the film, and being reminded that I enjoy a lot of the Power Rangers music, except for “Hope for the World” (I know everyone else loves it).
They didn’t try to be bigger or different with Turbo, which helped the producers to embrace what they were doing in the show, but it felt much cheaper, like a transitional cash-in. Saban is notorious for keeping costs way down, which is why contracts were constantly an issue and the movie was filmed alongside the regular show. That probably helped anyone just watching it as a part of the full run, but Turbo doesn’t feel much like a movie on its own, barely even an event. The stakes were raised slightly, mostly due to Jason and Kimberly briefly turning evil, but otherwise, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is forgettable. It was nice to revisit after 25 years, but there doesn’t seem to be a need to do it again for a long time.