Let’s get something out of the way first. “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always” is not where you want to start as a newcomer to the “Power Rangers” franchise. It is also not a wildly different reimagining of the ’90s juggernaut — so don’t expect a gritty reboot like the Joseph Kahn and Adi Shankar short film. Instead, what this offers is a nostalgia-filled special that is not particularly different from the many, many, many other anniversary crossover specials the franchise has done over the years.
What does make “Once & Always” different and notable is that it is entirely focused on the original “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” iteration rather than trying to tie in the past with the future. And even if this is still as cheesy as the original ’90s show, it does have some edge to it that makes it stand out — plus a loving tribute to fallen Rangers. This gives “Once & Always” a more focused and emotional layer that fits a 30th-anniversary celebration.
The special takes place in 2022, when Rita Repulsa (returning voice actor Barbara Goodson) returns to life thanks to a robot body. When tragedy strikes and the Rangers are at their lowest, Rita causes a global crisis that requires all hands on deck from Rangers all around the world, and maybe a new hero or two.
New Look, Same Rangers
Though “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always” looks more polished than the original show did 30 years ago (thanks to the advent of HD and widescreen on TV), it still has the same tokusatsu spirit. Granted, the CG Megazord doesn’t look nearly as good as the proper practical suits of old, but the action scenes are decent, the use of old sets from the original show fit the story, and it’s great to see returning actors still do a fair amount of the stunts.
Speaking of, even if “Power Rangers” wasn’t necessarily prestige TV back in the day, and its cast was mostly martial artists rather than experienced actors, “Once & Always” features poignant and memorable performances — particularly from returning veterans David Yost as Billy Cranston, and Walter Jones as Zack Taylor. Still, this is still “Power Rangers” for better and worse, meaning it’s over the top, with lots of quips and cheesy lines.
That being said, a couple of things are different, starting with the tone. There is an edge, a darkness to “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always.” The plot may be thin, but the theme of revenge and the desire to make the villains pay for the damage they’ve caused for years is interesting, essentially doing “Under the Red Hood” for “Power Rangers.” The special is still very much for kids, and the minions (Putties) still get killed (and explode into little rocks), but nevertheless, the talks of killing Rita and her minions make this poignant and refreshing.
A Treat For Fans
It should come as no surprise that “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always” is very much filled with nostalgia, with references and Easter eggs to not just the original “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” but the entire canon. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the comics or watched every iteration. That said, if you know who JJ Oliver is, or remember specifics like Cestria or the Radbug, the special has a few surprises in store.
It’d be easy to dismiss the Easter eggs as just cheap fan service, but the attention to detail in “Once & Always” makes this more than just another crossover episode. Instead, this is an important addition to the franchise’s 30-year-old lore and a sign that these writers respect both those who grew up with, then out of the franchise, and those who have stuck with it for decades.
And yes, the theme song is back, (as is the original credits sequence, kind of) and it rules. Lastly, there was a lot of speculation regarding whether Jason David Frank participated in the special before his death or whether he’d be included in some way. Thankfully, “Once & Always” offers a loving tribute to both him and Thuy Trang.
This may not be the epic “Power Rangers” reunion some fans may have hoped for, but “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always” is very much the love letter to the last 30 years of this franchise, where it all began, and where it is going.
“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always” hits Netflix on April 19, 2023.
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