Friday, June 8, 2018

Power Rangers Reflections Redux #08: Once A Ranger

I wanted to hold off the repost of Once A Ranger until we got our 25th anniversary episode... that I'd never get to see until it hits Netflix next year... and that last bit is why I'm getting it out of the way now. Eventually, the plan is to cover the other anniversary specials - both Forever Red and the Legendary Farce - but for now, I present you with this rehashed (and slightly re-edited) repost of one of the more horrible episodes of Power Rangers and it's only fitting it's from an otherwise horrible season of Power Rangers.

When Power Rangers was entering its fifth season, it had Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, the second theatrical motion picture in the Power Rangers franchise. People often have mixed feelings about the movie; personally, I don't think too highly of this as a feature film. I wouldn't call it terrible - I might actually call it average at best - but it felt more like an extended television episode rather than full-blown feature film, especially in terms of production. Of course, Power Rangers Turbo is that season with equally mixed reactions, though I'd like to think that it has gotten more appreciated over time due to its strong second half more than making up for its spotty first half.

When Power Rangers was in the midsts of its tenth season, it was going a transfer of ownership from Saban to Disney. The series in progress at the time, Power Rangers Wild Force, would air an episode that served as a celebration of the franchise's tenth anniversary. The episode in question, Forever Red, brought back all the Red Rangers (minus Rocky, the second Red Ranger) to face off against members of the Machine Empire and prevent them from reviving Serpenterra, Lord Zedd's ancient War Zord. Though it wasn't as detailed as it could have been and though it didn't enough backstory (certain powers restored being the main culprit), at least there is backstory and a sufficient link to the past that causes enough concern that all the Red Rangers up to that point would unite and face the threat together. Even for one episode, it was a great tribute to a long-enduring franchise.

When Power Rangers was in the midsts of its fifteenth season, the producers in charge of Operation Overdrive, that year's incarnation, attempted a similar concept by bringing back five past Rangers and having them face off against an offspring of two classic Ranger villains. The end result, the two-part Once A Ranger, was either either liked or disliked. It comes as no surprise that I was firmly in the latter category and a more recent viewing of this 2-part had failed to sway me on the opposite end of the spectrum.

When I wrote this Reflections originally, I had barely seen much of Operation Overdrive and if I recall correctly, this two-parter would've been my first time watching this show since perhaps the first episode or two. Suffice it to say, it was not a good first impression and to be fair, a lot of it may have had something to do with my own bias.

Operation Overdrive had an interesting premise at its core; a team of Power Rangers would be assembled to roam around the world and search for pieces of an ancient artifact while fighting off against two rival groups of villains who wish to collect the pieces for their own nefarious purposes. To me, it seemed like a good idea. But when the executive producer was said to be Bruce Kalish, my enthusiasm waned. Kalish began his Power Rangers stint with SPD and I was not a fan of that season for a variety of reasons that I won't get into here, but they were reason enough for me to turn me away from any new seasons.

As such, I had not seen much of SPD since its initial airing, I skipped out on Mystic Force and never really looked back, and aside from a cup of coffee, my exposure to Kalish's final Power Rangers season, Jungle Fury, has been extremely brief. Even to this day, I have yet to touch those seasons on Netflix. In fact, I could say that I've seen more episodes of the recent seasons of Power Rangers (from Samurai to the current Ninja Steel... which I'm also not a big fan of) than I have any of the Kalish stuff.

In any event, I've put it off long enough. Let's revisit Once A Ranger again... for the last time, hopefully.

The villians of Operation Overdrive, having been thwarted by the Overdrive Rangers time and time again, are approached by a newcomer named Thrax, who claims to be the son of Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. You would think that kind of declaration would be worthy of some reaction, but none of the villains seem to take notice, much less care about this guy's parentage. All they see is some joker coming around claiming to have a plan to defeat the Power Rangers. Thrax is a pretty good salesman, however, and manages to get both rival villain clans to unite against the Rangers. I guess that's due to the supposed influence he possesses by proxy of being an previously unknown offspring to two classic Ranger villains.

Seriously, nothing has ever been said about Thrax's birth or how he could possibly be related to Rita or Zedd, let alone their son. In fact, there was no indication that the two ever got it on... in bed. Come to think of it, one episode of classic Mighty Morphin had Zedd bringing up the possibility of making babies and Rita was actually repulsa-ed (har, har) by the idea. And yet here's this fully-sized monster claiming to be the offspring of this couple and we're supposed to just accept it. Even years later, I still find that very suspect, especially considering his backstory of how he was imprisoned by the Sentinel Knight (in a dumpster, no less) and later broke free to exact his revenge.

Exactly how long ago did this take place? It was never clearly brought up. The scene gave the impression that it happened ages ago, but then how could it have? Rita and Zedd only married in 1994. In fact, before then, Rita was more of an annoying servant of Zedd's than anything else, so there'd be no possibility or indication that they hooked up prior. Even years later, I have no clue what's going on here... and even years later, I still am not impressed by Thrax himself.

This is supposed to be the son of Zedd, but sounds more like he's related to fucking Peckster, a generic monster from the first season of Power Rangers. Hell, he even looks like a generic monster of the day that was slapped together from recycled bits. How is it that Saban, a man who likes to produce things on the cheap, was able to conceive a menacing character such as Lord Zedd; concocted a character so menacing and disturbing that the character was toned down because parents complained he was too scary... and yet Disney couldn't even be bothered to make an equally menacing offspring, instead going for a poor man's imitation of an imitation of an imitation. On top of that, they couldn't be bothered to give a valid reason for his existence. It's like they went, "This guy's Rita and Zedd's son. Don't ask us how or why. Just accept it, fanboys."

So Thrax and his United Alliance of Feuding Villains lure the Rangers out and they have this fight that is almost a trademark of Kalish-era Power Rangers; lots of explosions, none of the excitement. After this soulless battle, the villains come together and execute an attack that somehow disrupts the Morphing Grid and basically disconnects the Overdrive Rangers from their powers. At first, I thought this was smart strategy on Thrax's part, but watching this again, I actually soured on this. To me, it just makes the existing villains look more like complete dummies because this kind of strategy could have been implemented at any time WITHOUT Thrax's involvement. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure something to this extent has been done before in prior series... but for the sake of the narrative (and the Sentai footage being used), none of these villains learn from their peers' mistakes. Can't fault the show for that, though.

Despite no longer being able to morph, the de-powered Rangers encounter the baddies and attempt to fight them off using their genetic abilities... yeah, I never got that with the Disney offerings. Could somewhat understand Ninja Storm; they're ninjas. I sorta tolerated Dino Thunder's reasoning; it'd make sense for the Dino Gems to give off some residual ability... but then SPD got crazy with genetic mutations and DNA powers or whatever the hell their explanation was... but I digress. Anyways, the Rangers predictably get defeated and are eventually saved by returning Rangers from the past, driving the villains away. Well, I'll say this much.

The former "Retro Rangers" comprise of:

Adam - the second bearer of the Black Ranger and the only Ranger to represent the classic Saban era. It absolutely baffles me that Doug Sloan was able to pull out the Dragon Dagger out of mothballs for a five-minute dream sequence in Dino Thunder and yet Bruce Kalish can't be bothered to give our returning veteran his old Blade Blaster considering he's going to appear for two episodes, instead using some other gimmick that's hard to make out. They couldn't even be bothered to just dig a toy version of the blaster from eBay or something and use that. Even years later when he's regarded as a big deal, poor Adam is still getting the shaft. The only good thing to come out of this is that his Power Axe rips the Earth and, in all honesty, it was neat to see an old Ranger using new toys. On a sidenote, the new morphing sequence is kinda neat, even if overdone. I guess they couldn't use the old morph for some legal reason... presumably the same legal reason that there's never a "Go Go Power Rangers" to be found in the soundtrack.

Kira - the Yellow Ranger from Dino Thunder. Namedrops Dr. O at one point, which results in Adam not believing that Technicolor Tommy is a doctor. He's not the only one in disbelief... but then again, if Super Mario could get a doctorate, it's anybody's ball game, I suppose.

Bridge - Red SPD Ranger... even though he started off as Green Ranger and was later promoted to Blue Ranger towards the end of SPD... and somewhere along the way he was promoted to Red Ranger... because we absolutely needed a Red Ranger in this "retro" team and since none of the other ACTUAL Red Rangers were available or wanted in, they went and gave Matt Austin the red suit. At least they TRIED to explain that whole mess.

Tori - the Blue Wind Ranger from Ninja Storm. She seems somewhat more mature than she did in Ninja Storm, but then again, the same can be said for her appearance in Dino Thunder. So whatever.

Xander - the Green Mystic Force Ranger. Apparently, he was the comedy relief of that series, but since I've yet to watch Mystic Force, I can't honestly say. But if his character here is indicative of his character in his own series, then I may actually be tempted to finally give that season a watch... maybe.

I don't mean to go off on a tangent here... okay, I do, but what was the decision-making process behind this mishmash group? Why these people specifically? Forever Red's recruitment formula was simple; Red Rangers only... okay, Quantum Ranger, you can come along since we can't find Rocky anyway. But still, it was straightforward and obvious; these guys led their teams to victory and were now united against a grave threat. I get that they didn't want to pull off Forever Red 2 here (good move), but did they have a raffle or something to see who gets inside this circle or something? Am I missing something here?

So here's the deal; some dude named the Sentinel Knight has recruited the veteran Rangers (as well as restoring their powers... What?) to replace the Overdrive Rangers who just lost their powers. Naturally, the former Rangers sulk because now that they can't morph into Power Rangers anymore, they're all but useless... so they decide to quit and return to their normal lives. However, as is traditional with this type of plotline, the former Overdrive crew start to regret their hasty decision and thus attempt to restore the powers by searching for Excelsior... no, not the starship captained by Mr. Sulu, but a sword that is supposedly apable of killing Sentinel Knight... I honestly don't know why, but whatever.

Look, I might rag on the episode for being completely useless, but for all the issues I have with this, I actually like this alternate approach. Rangers lose their powers, newbies are brought in to replace them, which leaves a sour taste in their mouths. So the team quits but ultimately realizes that they were happier doing Ranger stuff and so try to get their powers back. And you know what? It sounds like a pretty neat concept for the most part. The only issue is that the Rangers come off as kinda whiny and while the Overdrive fan might be a little more sympathetic, someone like me would be put off by that. Going to back to this years later, I found that I actually kinda, sorta liked this one aspect to what little story Once A Ranger boasts.

The MAIN problem I have with this set-up is that this is supposed to be a team-up between the Overdrive team and the hatchpatch grouping of veteran Rangers who have supposedly replaced them in their Ranger duties. Thus far, the only thing that the older Rangers have done are participate in a couple fight scenes that, quite frankly, could have been done by ANYBODY. And that's what bothers me. The veterans serve NO REAL PURPOSE. They're just shoehorned there to fill a role that could have been filled with nameless drones... which honestly would have made the Overdrive portion of the story that much better. Seriously, they could have pulled ANY OTHER RANGER TEAM out of their ass; just an unlikable group of newbies who are too cocky for their own good and it probably would have been a slightly better story. But because it's the "anniversary" episode, they bring back these veterans to say "Look, kids! Team up! EXPLOSIONS!"

There was that one episode of Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue where the Lightspeed Rangers are replaced by Robot Rangers. And while the Rangers were forcibly kicked out by the Powers That Be rather than quit outright, they still have the drive to do their duty despite being fired and not having fancy special powers like super speed or super jumps. And Lightspeed Rescue was a series firmly part of the "classic" Saban era when normal humans were portrayed as, well, normal humans and not granted obsurd genetic abilities. It makes me wonder why these Overdrive Rangers chose not to continue their mission from a different angle, given their genetic powers. Sure, they got beat first time around, but surely they would have been able to master their abilities and treat them as useful as former Ranger powers. Instead, they just quit because they don't have shiny suits anymore. Pathetic.

Wow, that was a bit of a tangent there. Sorry about that. Let's move on.

So Mack goes to the stock New Zealand forest to get the sword and is eventually joined by the other Overdrive Rangers, who caught wind of Mack's plan to find Stan Lee's catchphrase. Meanwhile, our replacement team of Overdrive Rangers with different powers (for fuck's sake, man) return to Angel Grove (presumably one of the many abandoned warehouses in the world-famous Angel Grove Abandoned Warehouse District) and reclaim Alpha 6, who is packed away in a box. Funny, I thought I thought he was on Mirinoi with the Lost Galaxy Rangers... but I suppose a lot can happen in 5+ years. Maybe this was a different version of Alpha 6 that was shelved away for some reason, since he sounds different from last time and is about as tall as the other humans... for those not educated in past Ranger affairs, Alpha (5,6,7,8,EX, take your pick) is usually SHORTER than this... Ugh, I still can't get over this Alpha voiceover. It's just terrible. No attempts were made to at least MATCH the old voice... but for as much as I hate this new Alpha 6 voiceover, it's still preferable over the Brooklyn talking voiceover from Turbo.

By the way, whenever the retro Rangers fight, each one is usually showcased while their respective series' theme song is playing in the background. I can't stand any of these songs except for possibly the Dino Thunder theme. Adam, once again, gets the shaft by getting generic music playing during his sequences, presumably due to rights issues over the classic "Go, Go, Power Rangers" theme song... the only OTHER theme I could tolerate.

So the Overdrive Rangers get the sword despite Thrax's attempts to do so (and during that time, he mentions the purification of his "parents" - I first thought it was a sliver of consistency, but if he was trapped in this dumpster, how would he have known about that?) and Mack's first action with the sword is to take down a giant monster fighting the veteran Rangers.

Seriously... that's what happened. First time I saw this, I thought it was dumb, but then I remembered that one bit in Dino Thunder where Tommy kicks a dinosaur, which is quite possibly the single most moronic thing I've ever seen anywhere. Besides, at least Mack killed the giant monster with the sword, which gave some additional and much-needed badassery. What purpose did that dinosaur kick serve? Absolutely fuck all. Ol' Tommy boy kicked the dinosaur and then he hauled ass.

So congratulations, Mack. You've managed to make yourself more of a badass than Tommy "I forgot what color Ranger I am" Oliver. In fact, I'm shocked that Jason Frank hasn't petitioned Saban to make a cameo appearance so he could do something equally stupid just in a show of oneupsmanship. Because that's what Power Rangers is all about. Douche.

When all the Rangers return to Ranger Command or whatever their headquarters is called, Alpha comes out of the Morphing Grid (which is apparently a metal hallway with electricity... funny, I thought it was a rock in Tommy's basement) and says that he fixed the morphing grid and that the Overdrive crew now have their powers back. Cue the requiste big fight at the end where the combined forces of the Overdrive and Retro Rangers beat the living shit out of the Overdrive villains (with explosions galore) while Thrax is killed off by a now-physical Sentinel Knight and his brand new Excelsior... just like that. It took a wave of good energy and the death of Zordon to eliminate the threat of Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa... and their would-be offspring was offed just like any other monster of the day. Bullshit.

Not to mention the bigger problem; the Overdrive Rangers had defeated their arch-nemesis and their minions in a giant battle, when both rival groups had joined forces. Having seen this, there is no longer any point in going any further. These two groups have combined forces, got beat, and then went back to feuding with each other as if nothing had happened. Why bother? It's a given that the Rangers are going to win because they had defeated their foes at their most strongest and any future attempt to instill drama or tension in future episodes is worthless.

And then the Rangers say their goodbyes and that's the end of the show. Whatever, it's over.

Years after the initial viewing and rant, I still dislike this episode. Once A Ranger is perhaps the most disheartening and disappointing episode to be considered a team-up episode and an anniversary episode. There wasn't much of a plot and what little plot was there was shoehorned aside for the five-hundred fights they decided to toss in there because Kalish loves his fucking explosions. There was virtually no story, no reason for Thrax to exist, and ultimately, no real reason for these veteran Rangers to even show up. They're just there to fill a role and that's it.

And on top of that, they're mostly in the background and used as a tool to advance the Overdrive portion of the story, which doesn't get going until the second part. The interaction between the two teams are minimal at best and again, like I said, this didn't NEED the old rangers. They could have used completely generic characters with no past ties and they'd did get the same thing. And maybe if they had went THAT route, the few highlights of the episode would've come off stronger.

Once A Ranger might not have been a good anniversary episode; there's no point to bringing in the older Rangers, there're no real links to the past (Thrax is NOT a link to the past - a shitty-sounding Alpha is NOT a link to the past), and there's overall no real effort made in making this a celebratory or even fulfilling episode. As an episode of Operation Overdrive, however, it is still not very good, but has a couple moments here and there that got me to stick around and watch choice episodes of the rest of the season. And while my overall impressions of that season hasn't really changed, at the very least, I've eased up a bit and found a couple things to like about the season... but I'm not blowing the wad here.

In conclusion, Bruce Kalish executive produced a pretty bad anniversary episode of Power Rangers... and then Saban Brands came along and told Kalish to hold their beer.

The End.

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