by Frankie TAGGART
A color-coded, spandex-coutured smorgasbord of high camp and heroics, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" has stood astride popular culture for a quarter-century as one of television's most successful franchises.
The show -- which premiered in 1993 and promptly became a global hit, supported by a vast range of toys, video games and comics -- is on its 24th season as "Power Rangers Ninja Steel" on US children's network Nickelodeon.
Smelling a potential goldmine, Lionsgate has turned it into a $105-million movie, but with poor early reviews and fierce competition in a market saturated by comic book characters, critics are asking whether it might be a superhero movie too far.
Described by Britain's Daily Telegraph as "the most flabbergastingly misconceived reboot of recent years," the movie has an average rating of five out of 10 on online movie reviews collator Rotten Tomatoes.
In an excoriating review, Telegraph critic Robbie Collin said the movie's "ugly and incomprehensible" climax appeared to have been "shot by the Hunchback of Notre Dame and edited by a monkey wearing oven gloves."
- 'Lame, safe pandering' -
Other writers have questioned its relevance in an era that has seen the release of more than 50 Marvel and DC movies, with the hotly-anticipated "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" and "Wonder Woman" due for release in the coming weeks.
"The irony is that 25 years ago, 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' was launched as superhero fodder for kids... but we're now so awash in superhero culture that kids no longer need the safe, lame, pandering junior-league version of it," said Variety's Owen Gleiberman.
Adapted from Japan's long-running "Super Sentai" television series, the "Power Rangers" are a group of teenagers who "morph" into superheroes in bright spandex suits and helmets, ready to combat evil.
Lionsgate -- whose youth-oriented blockbusters include "The Hunger Games" and the "Twilight" franchise -- announced in 2014 it was partnering with Saban Brands, which owns the rights, to "re-envision" the saga.
Due to hit US theaters on Friday, "Power Rangers" follows five high school teenagers -- played by Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Naomi Scott, Becky G and Ludi Lin -- who unite to battle the nefarious Rita Repulsa, played by Elizabeth Banks.
Scott told AFP she remembered playing make-believe "Power Rangers" with her brother as a child and was in awe of a rare depiction of female superheroes.
"I think that already was a great thing and shows that it was so iconic. Whether you watched the shows or not, you wanted to be one," she said.
- Social media buzz -
Bad reviews are not always a portent of box office failure, according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, voicing optimism that the movie might find its niche.
"The bar has been raised so high over the years and, of late, the R-rated, harder edged superheroes have really resonated, a year ago with 'Deadpool' and now with 'Logan,'" he told AFP.
"But maybe that leaves open a space for a more teen-oriented group of superheroes."
The analyst said Disney's box office phenomenon "Beauty and the Beast" would continue to dominate while there would also be strong competition from "Kong: Skull Island," "Logan" and surprise smash hit horror "Get Out."
"I would never underestimate it, though. Reviews, depending on the genre, matter at times and don't matter at other times. A more important element will be how social media reacts to the movie," he said.
Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com, told AFP that based on "fairly strong" social media buzz, "Power Rangers" ought to open in the mid-to-upper $30 million range, which would be a respectable debut for March.
Its box office, he added, would largely be driven by the nostalgia of its older audience while themes of inclusiveness would extend its appeal to the younger generation.
"The potential for counter-programming is also significant since 'Beauty and the Beast' doesn't have the same monopoly over young males as it does other demographics," he added.