Nostalgia rabbit holes rarely go deeper than this: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always (now on Netflix) is an hourlong special marking the 30th anniversary of a deathless zillion-dollar franchise that fed Millennials dozens of TV series, a handful of video games, a few movies and enough toys and merchandise to choke every Goodwill donation center worldwide. Which makes it different from every other successful franchise HOW, you may ask? I concede the point, but as a Gen Xer weaned on Star Wars and The Simpsons, I have to not at all objectively say that Power Rangers is far dumber than the pop cultural fodder I love, and I shake my cane at it vehemently. More to the point, this special brings back two original Rangers, David Yost as the Blue Ranger and Walter Jones as the Black Ranger, for not much of a reunion, because they’re joined by some non-originals and a newcomer to ward off the evil schemes of Rita Repulsa, who’s now a robot. This hour also functions as a tribute to late Ranger actors Thuy Trang and Jason David Frank – so here’s hoping its display of OTT cheeseball violence does right by their memories.
MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: ONCE AND ALWAYS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: There’s some text on the screen, and it’s hilarious, because it includes the phrases “Space Dumpster” (their capitalization, not mine) and “five teenagers with attitude.” And then we see Billy (Yost) face down on the grass. He lifts himself up and transforms into the Blue Ranger so he can battle Robo Rita (voice of Barbara Goodson) and a small legion of her mindless minion Putties. Billy is soon joined by five more Rangers who join the fray, and it’s at this point we realize Once and Always isn’t interested in modernizing the franchise like that ugly bomb of a Power Rangers reboot movie did a few years back – nope, rest assured, this is all cruddy martial-arts choreography, chintzy costumes, shiny spandex and raw obnoxiousness, just like it was in 1993. Billy’s about to be zapped by Rita, but the Yellow Ranger jumps in front of it, and dies. Dies! That was Trini Kwan (but really wasn’t – Trini’s a stunt double, since she used to be played by Trang, who died in a car crash in 2001), who left behind teenage daughter Minh (Charlie Kersh). And now, it’s time for Billy and Black Ranger Zack (Jones) to tell Minh that her mother was secretly a Power Ranger.
ONE YEAR LATER. Zack has become legal guardian of Minh, who funnels her orphan angst into her backyard martial arts practice. Is she the new Yellow Ranger yet? No, but it doesn’t take reading the tea leaves to figure out that she’ll get there before the end of the movie. Rita manifests new monsters, Robo Minotaur (voice of Ryan Cooper) and Robo Snizzard (voice of Daniel Watterson), who capture some Rangers, whoever they are, prompting Billy and Zack to recruit retired Pink Ranger Kat (Catherine Sutherland) and Red Ranger Rocky (Steven Cardenas) to help. Did I mention that Billy is the one who accidentally resurrected Rita? And then she killed Trini? Whoops. He’s surely carrying around a lot of guilt somewhere beneath Yost’s persistently wooden expression.
Anyway, Rita orders the Putties to harass the citizenry, so it’s time for the Rangers to go go to work work: “It’s likely we’ll find ourselves in a Megazord situation soon,” Billy says, and if there’s a situation the citizenry would like to avoid, it’s a Megazord situation, and if there’s a situation watchers of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers don’t want to avoid, it’s a Megazord situation. The Rangers pound on the Putties and square off with Rita and it all leads up to… well, NO SPOILERS, and I therefore cannot confirm nor deny that a Megazord situation occurs.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The cruddiest sub-Godzilla silliness (the Gamera films come to mind) crossed with pre-Morphin TV series like Star Blazers, Voltron and my personal favorite, Spectreman.
Performance Worth Watching: Hats off to Jones for putting some effort into his performance, gutting it out gamely through a scene in which he’s fighting some Putties and exclaims, “Time for some hip-hopkido!”
Memorable Dialogue: Billy doles out some deep, hard-hitting Power Ranger wisdom: “All-out destruction is rarely the most optimal strategy.”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: There’s a joke in Once and Always about “vintage aesthetic,” in a scene set at the Juice Bar in which Billy comments that it looks like nothing has changed. And that’s what the movie is about: vintage aesthetic. Sure, we get a throwaway lecture from Zack to Minh about the difference between revenge and justice – the former is bad, the latter is good – but that’s about it for wholesome messages here. Otherwise, the bad guys sneer and wreak havoc just like in 1993, and the good guys spring to the rescue just like 1993, and no Power Rangers-related conflict will be resolved with nonviolent means, just like 1993. The more things change, the more they etc. etc.
Reunion/nostalgia projects like this have to carefully calculate their Venn diagrams between familiar and new content, and Once and Always – as in “once a Power Ranger, always a Power Ranger” – leans heavily into the familiar. The Minh character is the “new content” here, but only out of necessity, since the O.G. Yellow Ranger is no longer with us, and the show acknowledges the indelible presence of death (in the flimsiest possible manner, mind you – a meditation on grief and loss just doesn’t jibe with the ultra-silly Power Rangers vibe). Of course, it acknowledges that change by not changing anything at all. There’s a line here that Billy recites: “The Morphin grid is a pathway to infinite possibilities,” and it struck me that one of those infinite possibilities is doing things exactly the way they were before, except with actors who are visibly older (and whose body types, you’ll no doubt notice, don’t quite match up with their Power Ranger-suited stunt doubles). So is any change really be acknowledged at all? Ponder away, Morphinheads, ponder away.
Our Call: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always is a classic, to-the-bone FFO – you know, For Fans Only – endeavor. If you were there, STREAM IT, and if not, you probably didn’t notice the movie exists in the first place.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.