Big Bad Beetleborgs (2017)

This weekend’s box office is dominated by Power Rangers, Lionsgate Entertainment’s reimagining of the popular children’s television series. But don’t miss out on Big Bad Beetleborgs, 20th Century Fox’s attempt to compete with Lionsgate for that much sought after kid and teen audience.

Unlike Power Rangers, the reboot of Big Bad Beetleborgs makes no attempt to reinvent the franchise’s preexisting mythology. If you know the original Big Bad Beetleborgs TV series, you won’t be very surprised by the plot of the movie.

Set in the fictional town of Charterville, three typical average kids— Draw (Finn Wolfhard), Joss (Millie Bobby Brown), and their tubby friend Roland (Rico Rodriguez) enter the supposedly haunted Hillhurst Mansion on a dare from rich snobs Trip and Barn. While exploring, the kids accidentally bump a pipe organ that releases a phantasm named Flabber (Ben Kingsley). Flabber offers to grant the kids one wish because he is friendly and grateful that they liberated him from the hellish maw beneath the mansion.

Draw, Joss and Roland immediately wish to become the heroes of their favorite Saturday morning TV show. Flabber obliges and turns them into the Big Bad Beetleborgs. The Big Bad Beetleborgs wear bio-armor and wield bio-swords infused with the life force of insects, developed by the Earth Academia’s brightest minds.

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Draw, Joss and Roland become the Big Bad Beetleborgs with the help of Flabber

It’s all fun and games until the Big Bad Beetleborgs discover silly Flabber accidently brought their sworn enemy to life: the evil Vexor (Robert DeNiro). Vexor transforms regular humans into his synthetic beast slave monsters (or “Magnavores”) using the Jamahl Melody, a form of occult magic. To battle the Beetleborgs, Vexor summons a veritable “rogues gallery” of Magnavore monsters:

  • Death Mult (Al Pacino) – A bird-faced monster with a pronounced wheeze.
  • Bagma Virus (Casey Affleck) – A hunchbacked gray-furred rat monster.
  • Heavyznake (Luis Guzman) – A reptilian humanoid with a long snake draped over the head area that serves as his arms
  • Bububu (Brian Dennehy) – A pig monster who can breathe a white gas that steals human voices, reducing them to grunts and squeals. He can breathe fire and blast lasers from his tusks
  • Kamaza (Leslie Jones) – A mantis monster whose mission is to spread her eggs all over the planet, injecting them into people using her long, spiked tongue.
  • Gagamoth (Sylvester Stallone) – At first an energy-sucking caterpillar monster, Gagamoth metamorphoses into a red moth monster when it absorbs the Beet Ingram’s power
  • Rasbelga (Wayne Knight) – a monster similar to a carnivorous plant that can move on its own and feeds on small animals
  • Figer (Kirsten Dunst) – A legendary fire-breathing cat monster that is fossilized and unable to move
  • Macho No. 5 (Jeffrey Tambor) – A horned tree-sloth monster who is extremely lazy much to Vexor’s dismay. Eventually Vexor has Macho No. 5 pose as a bus driver and use his tongue to suck the energy out of people to become active while they become lazy.
  • Hammer Kong (Jon Hamm) – a silver and gold robot with giant hammers on his hands and a head in the shape of a hammer head with the striking surface being his face. He can pound his hands on the ground to create Hammer Crush shock waves, or toss them in his Hammer Boomerang attack while firing a “Kong Beam” from his single eye & spit giant nails to pin his enemies to a wall.

The Big Bad Beetleborgs successfully destroy nearly all of the Magnavores in a series of action-packed adventures. However, Hammer Kong proves to be too powerful for the Beetleborgs to battle on their own. They decide to seek out Roland’s grandmother Nano (Jessica Lange) for help.

Nano works at the TV station responsible for broadcasting the Beetleborgs TV show. She introduces the kids to Art Fortunes (Dustin Hoffman), the creator of the show. They beg him to help them defeat the Magnavores. Though he doesn’t think it will work, Fortunes agrees to use the TV station’s satellite dish to beam a strong signal directly into their friends Pokus and Braden. The signal transforms Pokus and Braden into White Blaster Beetleborg and the Mega Blue Beetleborg

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Dustin Hoffman as television producer Art Fortunes

With the help of White Blaster and Mega Blue, the Beetleborgs finally defeat Hammer Kong, turning both him and Vexor into nothing more than a pile of nuclear ash. Meanwhile, Art Fortunes makes evil plans to take advantage of the newfound power of his satellite dish in a clear set up for a sequel.

Obviously, there’s nothing in Big Bad Beetleborgs that’s particularly new or original if you’ve spent any time watching the original TV series. Though a few names have been changed and certain aspects of the plot have been rearranged, it all felt very familiar to me. But with top of the line special effects and production design, a stellar cast, and inspired direction by David Cronenberg, it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

TL;DR – While not breaking any new ground, David Cronenberg’s first film for children is a highly polished and professional production that is a worthy successor to the original series.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Big Bad Beetleborgs is a smash hit!” – Owen Gleibermann, Entertainment Weekly

“I had never heard of the original TV series, so this was like a brand new normal movie for me, and I loved every minute of it.” Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“David Cronenberg’s lurid imagination is finally at work again in the insectoid and skeletal design of the movie’s many fabulous creatures and machines.” Tirn Moloch, Bloody Disgusting

“Robert DeNiro’s hammy performance as the film’s villain Vexor is yet another embarrassment the once great star will never live down.” – Ward Geith, IGN Movies

“The movie constantly introduces new characters and strange, largely unexplained concepts like the Jamahl Melody. You can try to understand Big Bad Beetleborgs or you can try to enjoy Big Bad Beetleborgs, but you cannot possibly do both.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“An embarrassment for the entire cast, for director David Cronenberg, but mostly for you for spending time and money watching this moronic garbage.” – James Berardelli, ReelViews

“Everyone involved in this movie should be ashamed they accepted payment to fabricate such a nonsensical waste of time.” – Scott Tobias, NPR

“Sit back and let the Big Bad Beetleborgs take you on the ride of your life.” – Murvin Del Toro, Cinegarage

Melonmeter® Score:

72% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™ BUT MAYBE LACKING SOME SEEDS OF ORGINALITY

Power Rangers (2017)

Lionsgate Entertainment and director Dean Israelite have reinvigorated the Power Rangers franchise with an entirely novel approach to the characters and mythology we all know and love. If you strip away all the flashy computer generated special effects and whizzbang action, the new Power Rangers film is actually a compelling, 1970s-style paranoid conspiracy thriller in the mold of The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor.

Power Rangers is elevated by its award-winning ensemble of actors, including Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Naomi Watts, Paula Abdul, Sissy Spacek, Eddie Redmayne and Jon Cryer. Cryer in particular gives a standout performance as the autistic Billy Cranston (aka the Blue Ranger), a computer expert with an inability to understand the most basic social cues.

The first hour and twenty minutes of the movie is a strictly realistic story of an internecine bureaucratic struggle between the corrupt Secretary of Homeland Security Rita Repulsa (Spacek) and a team of spies working in the National Security Agency nicknamed the “Power Rangers.” The Rangers struggle to prove that Secretary Repulsa is betraying America by hollowing out the border security and immigration screening functions of her department. They attempt to steal files and hack into computer systems but are consistently outfoxed by Repulsa’s mastery of the the general and permanent federal statutes of the United States government.

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Michael Fassbender as the Green Ranger (unmorphed)

Toby Olbers (aka the Green Ranger, portrayed by Fassbender) cracks the case wide open when he obtains information from an anonymous leaker in a dimly lit parking garage. The information he receives proves that Secretary Repulsa has been covertly working for the Islamic cleric turned terrorist ringleader known as Lord Zed (Dileep Rao). The Power Rangers must use their secret morphin’ powers to battle the putty patrollers, defeat Goldar and summon the Zords for a final showdown with Lord Zed’s Jamaat Ansar Islamic Liberation Front.

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From left to right: Idris Elba, Paula Abdul, Eddie Redmayne, Naomi Watts and Jon Cryer

The last hour of Power Rangers is a nonstop smash fest between the humanoid robot Zords (piloted by the Power Rangers) and the suicide bombers of Jamaat Ansar Islamic Liberation Front, who have been trained up to an elite level in Africa by Boko Haram fighters. By the end of the movie I was gasping for more, and cannot wait to see the “five or six or seven sequels” already being discussed by Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer.

TL;DR – Suspenseful and politically astute, Power Rangers is a superior entry in the franchise’s canon and is sure to thrill audiences of all ages.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“While I appreciated the dense political content of the movie, it seemed to bore the children who made up the vast majority of the audience in the theater. Many of them napped until woken up by the loud and interminable battle of Zords and suicide bombers at the end of the movie.” – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

“I can’t decide which performance I found more mesmerizing: Paula Abdul as the Black Ranger or Idris Elba as the Yellow Ranger.” – Belkina Mazona, IndieWire

“I found the obvious Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment of Power Rangers to be alarming, as it has been marketed primarily to young children and teenagers.” – Bhaskar Sunkara, Jacobin

“The taut, conspiratorial, dialogue-driven scenes of the first half contrast dramatically with the phantasmagorical and entirely nonverbal action of the second half.” – Full Edwards, Village Voice

“Who expected a Power Rangers movie could be so smart and relevant to the world we live in now?” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed the hints dropped indicating Fassbender’s Green Ranger is actually a mole for the Chinese government, setting him up as the villain for the inevitable sequel.” – Jasper Knowles, Den of Geek

Melonmeter® Score:

90% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™