It’s weird to think 30 years have passed since Power Rangers first aired on television. Twenty-nine seasons and three theatrical films later, the magic still continues with the recent Netflix release of Power Rangers: Once & Always.
Once & Always is by no means a masterpiece, nor does it intend to be. Old characters make a comeback, as do veteran Power Rangers actors David Yost, Walter Emanuel Jones, Steve Cardenas, and Catherine Sutherland, and they remain as lively as ever. At the same time, Once & Always tackles new grounds with darker themes of death and revenge. The formula remains the same, but the franchise has indeed matured.
The movie follows the remnants of the first Power Rangers squad – namely Billy the Blue Ranger (Yost), and Zack the Black Ranger (Jones). During an encounter with Robo-Rita Repulsa (voiced by Barbara Goodson), Trini the Yellow Ranger sacrifices her life to save Billy. A year later, as Zack looks after Trini’s daughter, Minh (Charlie Kersh) has yet to forgive Billy for her mother’s death. The trio soon come under attack by Robo-Rita and her minions once more. As Billy and Zack reunite with Ranger alumni, Minh goes on a personal quest against Robo-Rita. Along the way, she learns what it takes to be a hero and how vengeance can become an evil force.
Charlie Haskell’s film does come with its flaws. The story follows the all-too-predictable pattern of a typical Power Rangers episode: protagonists go about their lives, the villain shows up, they lose their first fight, they come together with a solution, they beat the villain, episode over. The special effects are quite cartoonish – even crude at times – and the acting is slightly amateurish.
However, those from the 90s era, such as myself, will enjoy these tropes. Yes, there’s a lot of corniness when it comes to the acting and the action, but that’s what made Power Rangers charming to begin with. It was, and remains, a live-action cartoon with flashing colors and wild karate moves. Returning actors Yost, Jones, Cardenas, and Sutherland remain committed to their characters after all these years and still manage to pull off impressive stunts with their age.
The film also comes with respective fight scenes, where the Power Rangers fight evil minions with over-the-top karate stunts. The film manages to blend the drama and the action scenes very well. They don’t get repetitive and even have a few odd twists that keep the story going. They win a battle here, lose a battle there, and so on.
At the same time, Once & Always tackles the difficult topics of injustice and death. The former is a no-brainer, but the theme of losing a loved one in a tragic way is not always explored in the Power Rangers franchise – certainly not in the first season.
Minh’s quest to avenge her mother is the driving force behind the story, and the writers do a good job of showing how Minh’s anger takes her down a dark path. She starts off as a fun-loving teenage girl, but as she becomes drawn to battle, she becomes reckless – often risking the lives of the Power Rangers. This approach creates a very compelling story for us to follow while demonstrating how the next generation of Power Rangers will face more difficult battles ahead.
Newcomers might have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the film and the story, but anyone who grew up with Power Rangers will easily feel at home. Once & Always has its weaknesses, but they’re easily forgotten as we get lost in the story, the characters’ journeys, and the exciting fight sequences that are evenly paced. The film also pays a touching tribute to the late Power Rangers veterans, Thuy Trang and Jason David Frank, giving the film more heart than any other in the franchise.
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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is not for everyone, but it's still a fun watch. Its exploration of darker themes creates an interesting conflict for us to follow, as do the performances of veteran Power Rangers. The addition of silly beat-em-up scenes also ups the entertainment.
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