I’ve talked about my growing apathy of the Power Rangers franchise and have listed out the many reasons I have for that. In fact, I’ve still yet to finish the second season of Dino Fury because I honestly am in no hurry to do so. And that’s thanks to that aforementioned apathy.
One of the reasons I cite in the above post is how the franchise, to be frank, shoved Mighty Morphin down everyone’s throats. And specifically, it happened during the years under Saban Brands and Hasbro. This kind of contrived attempt to milk nostalgia for as much and as long as they could. And in turn, taking away from each of the seasons in the last decade.
So when it was announced that a new anniversary special surrounding Mighty Morphin would be coming to Netflix, I just had to roll my eyes. Another “Here we go again!” moment for me. And I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the special, let alone be as excited about it as probably most others.
And yet, I decided to watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always on the day of release anyway. And to my shock, I actually quite enjoyed it. In fact, I think it’s probably the best (live action) thing to come out of the franchise in a decade. At least, it’s my favorite thing.
Once & Always has an energy and excitement that I feel has been sorely missing in the franchise during the Saban Brands and Hasbro Eras. And somehow, it found the right balance of MMPR 90s nostalgia with a fresh, modern approach. Far from the two steps back-type of Power Rangers that we’ve gotten these last ten years.
Once & Always begins with the original Mighty Morphin Rangers, back in action in the present day, taking on a robot version of their once-arch nemesis Rita Repulsa. During the battle, Robo Rita shoots at Billy only to have Trini leap in to shield him and absorb the deadly attack herself.
Billy and Zack must now figure out how to break the tragic news to Trini’s teen daughter Minh. Fast forward one year later, Zack has now become Minh’s adoptive father. But on the day of Trini’s death anniversary, Robo Rita is back to finish the rest of the Rangers off. Unfortunately, Jason, Kimberly and Tommy get captured and downsized by Robo Rita in order to use them to further her ultimate plan.
Now, Billy and Zack, with the help of Alpha 9, must call on Power Rangers from across the galaxy in order to stop Robo Rita and save their friends. And all this while they still struggle to come to terms with the loss of Trini and having to ensure Minh’s thirst for revenge does not put herself in danger as well.
Unlike pretty much every instance of nostalgia-mining Power Rangers has had in recent years, Once & Always finds the right balance of legitimately exciting action, a good story with a nod to history that is not contrived or heavy-handed and the usual camp that the franchise is known for.
For years, Saban Brands and Hasbro has insisted on MMPR nostalgia to placate older fans. Doling out everything from small Easter eggs to veteran actors guesting on the show. In a way, those small, but frequent doses may have watered down Once & Always as it commemorates the series’ 30th anniversary. And indeed, this special could have felt even more meaningful and impactful without being constantly reminded of Mighty Mophin on and off air.
Which is why the fact that Once & Always actually works is all the more an accomplishment.
The special features many familiar story beats. All intertwined with some well-placed history and references to the past. There are some truly wonderful character moments in this special. Emotional ones at that. And seeing the OG cast members back alongside a talented Charlie Kersh as Minh helps to bring it all together.
There are some upgraded effects and choreography to the action sequences. This isn’t some big budget studio spectacle. But its use of familiar practical effects along with the strong fight choreography make for some thrilling scenes.
And it’s all mixed with the usual camp and amusement of the original seasons. The puns and quips are of course a staple of Power Rangers. But when they are kept to a minimum and they don’t take away from the actual fight sequences, then that’s also a big accomplishment compared to the modern series.
That excellent balance makes me feel like this is how you should reboot the franchise. Not some misguided attempt at a more mainstream grim!dark version of the story. Not some condescendingly dumbed down toy commercial/TV series.
With a bigger budget and larger scope, this could absolutely have been a more solid “reboot” of the franchise. Or even just a bridge between the last ten years and a fresh start with hopefully a truly more modern TV series that appeals to a wide audience.
Being able to capture the essence of Mighty Morphin and what most of the mainstream remembers about the original seasons is key when trying to reboot. But being a bit cheesy does not prevent possible future live action Power Rangers to be serious. Have serious stories. Have good character moments. Have exciting, explosive action. While also being silly and funny when appropriate. It’s really that simple. And Once & Always shows it is possible.
The main plot of this special pays a wonderful and emotional tribute to actress Thuy Trang in a way that is respectful and sincere. The end of the film features an extended tribute to her and the recently passed Jason David Frank. And the special including footage of the late Japanese actress Machiko Soga who appeared on Power Rangers via footage from Zyuranger as the witch Bandora was also a wonderful tribute and reminder of how indelible and iconic Machiko Soga is to both Power Rangers and Super Sentai.
The special deals mostly with how to cope with loss, loneliness and the effects that may have on others. And vice versa. It’s quite a mature, nuanced topic than Power Rangers is used to. But again, this is the kind of potential storytelling that could be seen in other Toei live action series.
Overall, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is a sincerely wonderful special. A great hour of television that honors the past while being its own thing. Being able to tell its own story while drawing upon the past in a way that makes sense and with depth is a major accomplishment. And it shows that Power Rangers still does have an opportunity to bring itself into the 2020s.