Summary: The 20th anniversary of the monolith that is Power Rangers makes its debut, deliciously rife with franchise references galore that ought to appease longtime fans and a whirlwind of color and action that will certainly entice new ones.
If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading. It’s not like I’m MEGAFORCEing you to, or anything.
Troy, on his first day of school, has dreams of a giant war made up of over 100 Power Rangers. Meanwhile, an alien spacecraft arrives on Earth with the intention of invading. Gosei, a giant talking head, awakens in his underground Command Center with Tensou, his wheely robot assistant. They summon a specific team of teenagers with skills and attitude—Troy, Gia, Emma, Jake and Noah—and teleport them to the Command Center, and inform them of their destiny to continue the legacy of Power Rangers. When the teens leave, they’re attacked by the aliens, and use their morphers for the first time to become the Power Rangers Megaforce to defeat the bad guys.
You have to be a certain kind of person to be a Power Rangers fan. The acting is seldom, if ever, beyond hammy or subpar, the way the Japanese footage is worked around is often awkward, and the continuity and storylines sometimes don’t make any semblance of sense. On the upside, though, that means when the show gets its act together, it can be extremely surprising and engaging. And there certainly have been times in the past 20 years when it’s shown flashes of underrated greatness in terms of storytelling on a children’s show of its limitations. But beyond all that, Power Rangers is, at its core, meant to tap into the utmost basic desire to have lots and lots of colorful, crazy, imaginative fun with explosions and robots.
Power Rangers Megaforce seems completely aware of this fact, and appears to have every intention to use it to the fullest extent. There’s no façade here; it opens with this Ranger Legend War right from the get-go, even before the opening credits. It clearly isn’t hiding the fact that it’s playing up the nostalgia and the anvils will be aplenty, it’s embracing it. As annoying as those anvils often are in many franchises—previous Power Rangers seasons included—the fact that Megaforce is so upfront about it without pretense makes it all surprisingly endearing. And hey,
There are obvious nods to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, like the character archetypes, the reuse of the original theme song, etc. (the latter of which was already reused in the lackluster Samurai.) But it’s also plenty clear that attention was taken to what elements were thrown in. Having an “Ernie” hangout, “Power Cards” in place of “Power Coins,” or recycling lines like “the helmet messes with my hair!” and the lead-up to the first morph aren’t necessarily going to be things the public consciousness would remember, but they’re sure to spark that familiar feeling in viewers’ brains when they come up. And let’s face it, that spark feels pretty darn good.
Using the keys from the Japanese Sentai anniversary series as decorations in the Command Center is a clever idea, though I hope they actually get used for something down the road, too. Either way, I really like that we haven’t actually seen much of the original Mighty Morphin costumes in the dream or as the decorative keys yet. Teams from all eras are getting some well-deserved spotlights, like the Red Time Force key being the first close-up, which is a promising sign for fans that stuck with the franchise past its heyday.
The Rangers themselves are still essentially outlines of characters. So far not much has been revealed about the team aside from their basic stereotypes and one or two skills, which were all blatantly spelled out for us in true Power Rangers fashion. But the ensemble seems to jibe fairly well, and there’s a nice amount of collective charisma. Gia, for starters, has potential to be an ensemble darkhorse amongst the group, what with her bad-boy leather jacket and the most “attitude” of these teenagers with attitude. She’s also the only one that doesn’t really have any counterpart with the original MMPR crew, and Ciara Hanna seems the most competent in her acting ability.
Noah is pretty much a complete stereotype, but unlike Billy, MMPR Blue Ranger and nerdy genius on which he was based, Noah is much less socially awkward from the get-go. It makes him a little more flat, since Billy at least had to develop over time before becoming awesome, this also prevents him from going as far over-the-top with the nerdiness (which is already a thin line he’s walking.) John Mark Loudermilk could be a little stiff, but not to an intrusive or annoying extent.
Emma appears to actually be an amalgam of both of MMPR’s females. It’s probably a good thing, considering Trini was a rather bland character, and Kimberly’s valley girl trait wouldn’t really work in 2013. She’s been too quiet to tell exactly how she’ll play out, but Christina Masterson feels enigmatic enough that she could make it work. There are some fun tidbits, too, like seeing her creatively fighting with her camera flash.
Jake, the Black Ranger, might be the most fleshed-out from the get-go, particularly because he’s got a crush on Gia, and he’s the most observant and has the most realistic reactions of the Rangers. Rizk seems to be having a lot of the fun in the role, and it certainly shows, providing an energy which is definitely needed in this kind of show. He’s also has the most “meta” attitude of the group, pointing out how ridiculous Gosei looks (which, sorry everyone, but he definitely does) and how weird it is that they can suddenly use these powers. That level of meta humor had been mostly well-utilized from Ninja Storm through RPM, but was noticeably absent in Samurai, so it’s welcome here.
Andrew Gray as Red Ranger Troy, so far, is the weakest of the cast. He’s probably the closest avatar to his MMPR counterpart, Jason; he’s dedicated to martial arts, stoic, and—no offense to Jason, but—kind of without much of a personality. Jason worked, though, because Austin St. John had an extremely likeable presence and distinct way voice for even the most generic leader-y lines. Troy has the same character beats, but Gray seems to run with the stoicness to a fault. He doesn’t have much charisma, and tends to have consistently monotone line readings, even when an overwrought yell would be perfectly acceptable. It might be the first case in Power Rangers history where one of the leads is weak because of underacting, instead of overacting. Then again, he also had the fewest lines out of the ensemble—an odd case for a Red Ranger—so hopefully we’ll see him grow into something more interesting over time.
Gosei and Tensou, the obvious Zordon and Alpha 5 avatars, are about average. The Legend of the Hidden Temple-inspired Gosei works well enough as a means of exposition, but his late predecessor (and teacher, apparently!) Zordon was also affectionate and fatherly to the team, enough to get past his low-budget head-in-a-jar appearance. Whether Gosei is played like this remains to be seen, but I’m glad the show didn’t let the ridiculousness of his appearance go unnoticed; we got some humor out of it, what with Jake calling him a “freaky tiki” that looks like something on a Hawaiian shirt. Tensou, on the other hand, is just kind of there; he seems to be channeling the “clumsy-yet-loyal robot” schtick Alpha had, but without any of the quirks that made him loveable.
The Ranger action fare is pretty much what you’d expect, but with more time to get acclimated to the characters (there are no zords at all yet.) Also worth noting is that the original Japanese source material featured an “angel” theme for these powers, which has of course been phased out as much as possible. The result is that we get a lot of shining, golden tones, which gives everything a triumphant, even if somewhat generic, feel to the action. This is actually a really cool way to go for an anniversary season—it feels more celebratory than theme-oriented, as it should. It’s reflected in the triumphant way “Megaforce!” is shouted in the theme song, accompanied by an operatic sound akin to Power Rangers Zeo‘s similarly triumphant theme. While the previous Samurai season often felt like it was going through the motions with using its source material, Megaforce does seem like an honest attempt to twist and mold the footage and elements into what it needs to be. The franchise did this back in In Space and Lost Galaxy (two deeply space-oriented shows that used distinctly not space-oriented footage) and those ended up being two of the best seasons in the show’s history. So if Megaforce is doing the same, then I’m all for it.
“Mega Mission” as a whole didn’t function as much more than an introduction to the characters while throwing in a fun tease of the war that may come. As it stands, there’s barely a plot here, which actually works really well for an outing like this. It was a hook, one to get old fans to return and play “Where’s Waldo?” with all the references, while simultaneously getting us to like the new guys. And at that, it excelled. It remains to be seen if Megaforce has any intention to go beyond the “coolness and nostalgia” factors and tell an interesting story. But as it stands, it’s a fast-paced whirlwind that invites multiple viewings, and overall is a huge blast to watch for the fun-seeking, mesmerized kid inside us all.
Odds & Ends
- And so we continue the stupid, stupid tradition that started in Samurai where the cast states their names in the opening credits. Ugh.
- The helmets appearing just before the title in the opening is cool, though. The Megaforce costumes themselves are gorgeous.
- I like that the teacher, Mr. Burley, has a perfectly realistic “O…kay…” reaction to Troy’s cheesy “humans can do anything with teamwork!” comment.
- Ernie’s Brain Freeze is clever idea, but I’m not sure how much I like this new Ernie. Though, it’s nice that we didn’t get someone who looked like Richard Genelle—that would have been too hard to swallow.
- I know saying Zordon was Gosei’s mentor was meant to be a name drop more than anything, but it does kind of fit into Zordon’s tendency to ridiculously secretly over-plan everything. There were about six years’ worth of “secret buried zords I’ve hidden in case of an emergency” back in the day.
- The morphing sequence this time around is relatively simple, compared to the overly long, complex, and super flip-happy sequences the past few seasons got hung up on. It’s refreshingly straightforward (even if it does still have one flip.)
- I’m actually angry that Bulk and Skull were already used (to an extent) in Samurai. How perfect would it have been to have Spike going to school with the Mega Rangers?
- This show likes to play fast and loose with continuity, but the faux paus of someone being skeptical of the existence of aliens, monsters and Power Rangers when all these seasons supposedly take place in the same universe—one with very public Rangers and battles—continues to plague it. It’s not normally a big deal, but here the show is deliberately emphasizing that these Power Rangers all existed, which happens in the same scene that the new team acts like they’ve never heard of Power Rangers before. Alternatively, that could be a hint that this season does take place in a separate universe, and the Great War Troy is dreaming of actually transcends different Power Rangers universes and timelines. That would be an easy way to clean up the inevitable continuity snarl. But either way, the show needs to be consistent about whatever direction it goes.