Sunday, April 9, 2017

Autism Can Make You a Better Superhero: A Film Review of Power Rangers (2017), by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Spoiler Alert!!!

Spoiler Alert!!!

Spoiler Alert!!!

Alec Frazier with David Yost, who played the original Blue Ranger, Billy.
Yesterday, I went to see Power Rangers, directed by Dean Israelite, and based off the fan favorite TV show from the 1990s. I was somewhat skeptical of how successful the movie would be, given the reviews and my own experience with the franchise. The original show was somewhat poorly written, with very cheesy effects. However, it is the whole concept behind the story that makes said story so appealing.

We began with Jason Scott, a star football player for a high school in the fictional Angel Grove, a small town with both fishing and a gold mine, both of which play important roles to the plot. Jason is fond of engaging in hijinks, and winds up off the team with detention for the rest of the year. (This prank involves a cow. Please don’t ask me why. It is darn funny, though!) In detention, we meet with much of the rest of the cast. This review would like to focus on Billy Cranston, played by RJ Cyler.

The very first thing we see Billy doing is arranging colored pencils quite meticulously. I immediately thought, “Ooh, I used to do that!” And in fact, it is very true. I used to be absolutely obsessed with coloring in floor plans with Crayola colored pencils. In fact, my theft of two colored pencils wound me up doing juvenile community service once. Unfortunately, Billy is being bullied at the time that Jason meets him. Jason tells the guy off, and then gives him a humorous slapping. “Did you just slap him?” Billy asks. “Yes, yes I did,” Jason replies.

Jason is on house arrest due to said hijinks earlier in the film, and is unable to play sports due to injury. However, Billy mentions that he can reset Jason’s ankle bracelet, so that they can chill later and that he has found something out by the gold mine. He also mentions that he is on the autism spectrum, to which I in the audience said, “DUH!! Of course you are!” We are treated to a view of Billy’s sanctuary in the basement of his house. It looks like a dream come true for an intellectual individual. There are tons of gadgets, often cobbled together by Billy’s own invention from items that he has salvaged from various locations. The thing is that in real life, as opposed to the stereotype, autistic individuals do not tend to be absolute wunderkind savants. This results in a number of hilarious moments throughout the film when Billy accidentally makes things blow up, slip, trip, sproing, fladap, shtoink, and just about every other word invented by Don Martin. (Look him up. One of the greatest cartoonists of all time!)

The something that Billy has found by the gold mine ends up being the whole Power Ranger deal, which comes complete with magic coins, a humorously talkative robot, an alien spaceship, a magic portal, superstrength, speed, and agility, and their own personal Brian Cranston. It also comes with sci-fi armor and giant robots called Zords, but those enter the story later. Billy and Jason encounter three other individuals from detention at the site of this mysterious discovery: Kimberly, Zach, and Trini.

A word about Trini. There is a wonderful scene where they are all getting to know each other better, and someone mentions boyfriend troubles, and she hesitates a bit. The person then mentions girlfriend troubles, and she also hesitates about that. You see, Trini identifies as a female in terms of pronouns, but she makes it clear that she does not let conventional definitions apply to her. Trini is queer, and may be the first big-budget superhero in the Hollywood film to definitively have that identity. Her new friends warmly accept her for who she is.

One major criticism of the characters from the original TV show is that we never saw them living their family lives at home. In this film, we spend some time at home with the Rangers. Zach has a loving but sick mother. Trini has parents who don’t understand her too well and younger siblings who look up to her. Jason has a father who tries his very best to be proud of him. In fact, Jason even saves his father’s life during the climactic battle.

All of the five are somewhat hesitant to explore their new discoveries, except for Billy. He is extremely excited about the entire thing. During the whole film, he talks a lot, and he sometimes divulges inappropriate information. That is par for the course with autistic individuals, including myself. Luckily, Jason will sometimes politely remind him that his cup runneth over. I would like to reiterate at this point that friends are amazing, and that autistic individuals should never be afraid of socializing. Billy is also sometimes hesitant to engage in physical stunts, and in real life many autistic people are more involved in the intellectual than in physical activity.

It was aliens, bro!”
As it turns out, the team’s Brian Cranston is an ancient alien named Zordon, who had been the Red Ranger 65 million years ago. At this moment, someone must be thinking, did the Power Rangers kill the dinosaurs? Yes, actually. You see, Zordon was fighting the former Green Ranger, who had turned into an evil being known as Rita Repulsa. As Zordon’s Ranger team lies dying, he summons a meteor weapon to attempt to destroy Rita. The problem is, however, that bad guys (and girls) don’t tend to stay dead very long. Fortunately, Rita stays dead for an entire 65 million years, before fishermen from Angel Grove discover her corpse at the bottom of the sea. Naturally, chaos ensues.

Now, back to our team. They have been busy practicing. However, they have been unable to generate their armor. Suddenly, one of them does. Billy becomes the first one able to do so. They later discovered that, because the unit is a team, their ability to generate armor depends on their ability to know each other. This is actually tremendous news for Billy, and the autistic community. It is frequently said that we autistics do not get the rest of humanity. However, Billy clearly gets the others better than they get each other. Many autistic individuals are incredibly observant of everything and anything, including other people.

Rita instigates a fight, and the team gets thoroughly thrashed. In fact, Billy ends up getting killed. They take him to Zordon, who was planning on using the Rangers’ power to regenerate his life. Before he plans to do so, the rest of the Rangers speak of how they would all give their life for Billy. For autistic people to find real, tangible friendship, the kind which involves self-sacrifice, is a gigantic triumph. As mentioned before, autistic people are not always the best at interpersonal relations. However, with proper time and effort, we can form wonderful friendships. In the end of this scene, Zordon decides to regenerate Billy’s life instead of his own, and they go off to fight Rita.

Rita’s goal is to destroy the Zeo Crystal. In this movie’s cannon, a Zeo Crystal can be found on each planet that supports life. Indeed, the Crystal provides that life force on each of those worlds. Naturally, the Zeo Crystal in this film is located right under a Krispy Kreme. In fact, Rita stops to enjoy some of their doughnuts as she tries to destroy the world. Wouldn’t you?

Rita builds a gigantic monster out of gold from the mine outside of town, and said monster starts destroying said town. The Rangers use their Zords to protect the town and tried to stop the golden monster, which is named Goldar, after a henchman of Rita’s from the original TV series. Goldar is nearly destroyed, until Rita joins with it and is nearly successful. She tosses the Zords into a pit of lava, but they arise, combined into the mighty Mechazord, which Billy has named. Goldar is finally destroyed, and the Rangers demand Rita’s surrender before Zordon. She refuses, which angers Jason, the Red Ranger and leader of the team. I could hardly believe what I saw next, and neither could Billy. “Did you just slap Rita?” Billy asks. “Yes, yes I did,” Jason replies. In fact, Jason has slapped her into outer space. As her frozen body heads towards the moon, we see a smile spread upon her face. I smell sequel!

The town is absolutely overjoyed, and Billy makes the Mechazord dance to country music, which is his guilty pleasure. Two townspeople are played by Amy Jo Johnson, who played the original Pink Ranger, and Jason David Frank, who played Tommy Oliver, the original green Ranger. There are many moments in the film that throw back to the original TV show. In fact, it even gives off the same feel. Near the end of the film, there are more scenes depicting the successful Rangers interacting with their families.

There is one scene during the credits, during which reference is made to Tommy Oliver. There is also a massive explosion in the bathroom of the school, to which Billy says “Oops! My bad!”

Promotional Image of Billy Cranston
Billy is the first definitively autistic superhero in an A-list Hollywood film. Based on criticism of The Accountant, various members of the autistic activist community may point out that it is not realistic to portray an autistic person as a superhero because we autistics are not special, but rather a naturally occurring subset of society. To this I say, “WTF!?” This film has dinosaurs, ancient aliens, giant robots, a humongous golden monster, and a woman who comes back to life after 65 million years at the bottom of the sea! I think we can learn to suspend our disbelief a little bit.

In addition, it is noteworthy that the Blue Ranger is autistic, as the color blue is symbolic of autism awareness. Although many autism activists do not like the color blue standing for autism, they should recall that use of the color to symbolize the autistic movement predates any of the harmful efforts by Autism Speaks. The autism activists would point out that the color blue was chosen because it was initially thought that was prevalent mostly in males. Once again, may I point out that perceptions and symbols can change and adapt. What was once thought of as mostly male is now known to be spread more or less evenly between genders, although autism sometimes manifests slightly differently in each gender. Although the blue color was initially meant to reflect the male gender, the intent was not sexist, and the color can be perceived as applying to both genders.

As an autistic person with autistic friends and acquaintances all across the autism spectrum, I do not think I have seen a more accurate depiction of autism in popular culture, except for possibly the character I review in my first book, Without Fear: The FirstAutistic Superhero. Both myself and my firm, Autistic Reality, would like to fully endorse this film. We will attempt to get in touch with Lionsgate Entertainment and Saban, to make that endorsement official. Both myself and my firm give this amazing wonderful film ten out of ten stars, or five out of five. It is very rare to see a good, high profile film that so flawlessly embodies diversity. SEE THIS FILM!

The Power Rangers, with Billy Cranston in blue.
This blog posting is the personal opinion of Alec Frazier and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

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