The wait is finally over! Power Rangers: Once & Always debuted this morning on Netflix with a worldwide launch. As the world simultaneously tuned in to catch up with the heroes of their childhoods, there was some aprehension as to whether it would be a fitting tribute to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, thirty years on. So was it?
SPOILERS AHEAD. LOTS OF THEM. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Power Rangers: Once and Always blasts right into the action with a fight scene on a mountainside: the scene that we’ve seen over and over again in the trailers that led to the special’s release. We first see Billy, who has been fighting alone, regain his composure and morph in the face of a returning Rita Repulsa. Billy is quickly joined by the other five original Power Rangers and is helped to his feet by Zack. To the tune of Ron Wasserman’s reduxed MMPR theme song, the team battle Putties while Billy goes mano a mano with Robo Rita. Vowing revenge, Rita launches a death blow towards Billy but Trini springs to the rescue and dives in front of her friend, taking the brunt of the blast and dying in his place.
Next, we’re taken to the Kwan residence where Billy and Zack argue about how to tell Trini’s daughter, Minh, that her mother has died. As they argue, Minh walks in just as Billy drops the stone cold fact that “Rita Repulsa killed her Mom.” Oops. Fast forward to the present day, 2023, and Zack is living in Trini’s house, acting as a caretaker to Minh. It’s revealed through dialogue that Zack gave up his career as a politician to become Minh’s guardian. What a guy Zack is; more on this later. Minh and Zack head to the cemetery for the one year memorial of Trini’s passing but when they arrive, they hear the sound of the Rangers morphing in the distance. Robo Rita has returned and this time she’s brought with her the resurrected robotic monster forms of Snizzard and Mighty Minotaur. Minh takes refuge behind a modern, redesigned Radbug (nice) and Zack joins the fray. Despite his assistance, though, Jason, Tommy and Kimberly are captured by Rita – converted into Lightning Collection figures by Snizzard. The captives are placed in Rita’s invention, the purpose of which is unknown at this moment, and Zack and Billy are forced to retreat.
On the moon, in Rita’s palace, the evil crew form a plan to draw out as many Power Rangers as possible to capture them and put them in her machine. Zack and Billy head to Cranston Technologies, or at least, the Command Center underneath it, and we meet Alpha 9 for the first time. From here, we’re flashbacked into the story of how Robo Rita came to be. While Billy and Alpha 8 were working to reconstitute Zordon from the remnants of the Z-Wave that killed him, Billy inadvertently reconstituted Rita Repulsa instead. Rita’s energy possessed the robot body of Alpha 8 and Robo Rita was born. Not knowing the full story, Minh blames Billy for releasing Rita and correlates this directly with the death of her mother. No Zordon, a dead friend, and a teenager giving you grief. Poor Billy.
With the backstory out of the way, Alpha 9 summons Kat and Rocky and activates Ranger teams around the world using the Bandora Protocol. As described in Dimensions in Danger, Kat’s primary role in life is caring for her and Tommy’s son, J.J., while Rocky is a firefighter… on his lunch. They teleported the man in before he could warm his leftover Chinese food. Come on, guys! The pair are brought up to speed on what’s happening and the Tyrannosaurus and Pteradactyl powers are transferred to them. Meanwhile, Minh hears about the Putty invasion via social media and takes Trini’s Power Morpher. The band is almost back together.
Rocky, Zack, Billy and Kat morph into action and take down some Putties but this allows Minotaur to track the Rangers using his Morphing Power Tracker. The team resolve to demorph and not use their powers in order to avoid detection and find themselves captured by Snizzard. Back at the new Command Center, the team learn that their captured colleagues are trapped in Rita’s moon palace. Billy and Kat formulate a plan to trap Snizzard and Minotaur so they can go to the moon unchallenged; Zack and Rocky head to their old haunt, Ernie’s Youth Center, Gym and Juice Bar, to rescue Minh, who thought it would be a good idea to head into battle without any powers. Minh gets a bollocking from Zack, as well as a lesson in justice vs. revenge and what Zordon meant to everyone, Billy especially. He seems to get through to Minh and prevent her from being so reckless but we will soon learn that this talk fell on deaf ears.
In a scrapyard, the crew manage to successfully trap Snizzard and Minotaur with a powerful electromagnet, which also prevents them from teleporting away. Minh takes an invisibility capsule, steals the Radbug and peaces out again to try and be a hero. She confronts Snizzard and Minotaur at the scrapyard but is captured by Robo Rita, who releases her monsters from captivity and brings Minh back to the moon. The Rangers arrive at the moon palace and discover that Rita’s contraption is actually a time portal that Rita plans to use to travel back to 1993 and give her old self some Ranger killing, world domination pointers. Billy also posits that Snizzard must be destroyed in order to release the captured Rangers, which have grown in number greatly.
Billy tries to take out Snizzard while the other Rangers attack Rita and Minotaur. All are unsuccessful and Rita prepares an energy beam to kill Billy. In a move mirroring her fallen mother, Minh escapes Minotaur’s clutches and dives in front of the ray, seemingly dying in the process. The Rangers gather over her broken body but, inside her pocket, Trini’s morpher and Sabertooth Tiger coin glows. Minh sees her mother’s fond memories in her mind – the battles with Rita, the comradery, the close personal bonds with the other Rangers – and she awakens, finally bonded with the Sabertooth Tiger Power Coin. Minh leads the charge and gives us our first full team morphing sequence of the special; well, the core five, anyway.
The Power Weapons come out and Rangers take down the Putty Patrollers. Robo Rita launches Snizzard out onto the moon’s surface and uses her magic wand to make him grow. While Rita basks in the glory of her gigantic monster, Billy sees an opening and pierces Rita with his Power Lance, while her back is turned. The Rangers call for the Dinozords and Alpha 9 transports them to the moon for use. With the Minotaur defeated, the team pilot the Megazord and go to work on Snizzard. However, Robo Rita reactivates and opens the time portal. She witnesses her own release from the dumpster all those years ago as the Rangers take down Snizzard with the Power Sword. The team launch into action! Minh pins Rita against the balcony railings, allowing Zack to destroy her with a blast from the Power Axe. “This is for Trini,” he declares as he fires the death blow. Meanwhile, Billy and Rocky free the waves of captured
Lightning Collection figures Power Rangers and Kat uses the Power Bow to destroy the time machine with an arrow. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers have saved the world once more.
Back in the depths of Billy’s company, at the new Command Center, Adam and Aisha have arrived and vow to take the shrunken Rangers to Aquitar for reanimation. They name drop Cestria but Billy isn’t quite ready to head back home to the wife just yet. The team say their goodbyes. Rocky heads back to finally get some lunch (Alpha threw out his noodles), Kat heads home to J.J., and Adam and Aisha set course for Power Rangers Cosmic Fury… probably, hopefully.
Zack, Billy and Minh head to the Youth Centre where Minh delivers a heartfelt apology to Billy for all the grief she’s given him about Rita’s release and Trini’s passing. All fences are mended and the veterans reminisce about the good times they had with Trini, including a run in with a certain traffic light adorned mutant turtle.
Power Rangers: Once & Always closes with a replaying of Kimberly and Zach’s performance of “Down the Road” from the Season 2 episode The Song of Guitardo and closes with a tribute to the memory of Thuy Trang and Jason David Frank. Emotional and heartrending to the end…
Of the original six members of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, only Billy (David Yost) and Zack (Walter Jones) returned to reprise their roles. Wrapped up in legal issues, Austin St. John was unable to travel to New Zealand for filming. Amy Jo Johnson declined for reasons only she knows… but it totally wasn’t because they weren’t going to pay her enough, okay? Jason David Frank also declined to be a part of the special and, tragically, passed away while the special was in production and Thuy Trang lost her life in a car accident back in 2001. So, how did they get around there only being two of the six members of the team?
In the opening fight sequence, the only member of the team other than Billy to have any dialogue is Zack. The “fight noises” of the other Rangers are provided by using clips from the original episodes, apart from Jason, who seems to have had sounds recorded by somebody else. Unlike in MMPR Season 2, where somebody tried to emulate the style and cadence of Austin St. John’s ki-yahs, Austin’s replacement voice actor is just straight up grunting and it really doesn’t sound like him at all. Once we reach the modern day, Jason, Tommy and Kimberly are quickly captured by Rita, negating any further need for dialogue. You knew something like this was coming but I kinda like the way they did it. The characters are there but we don’t need to hear from them again.
Speaking of Rita, her voice is reprised by Barbara Goodson, who originally provided the dubbing over Bandora’s (Machiko Soga) image in the original series. Her voice has aged but this worked really well in the context of Rita returning as a vengeful, jaded robot.
Later, with the need for a full team of Rangers evident, Alpha 9 calls upon Rocky (Steve Cardenas) and Kat (Catherine Sutherland) to reprise their roles as Red and Pink Ranger, respectively. The voice of Alpha is provided by Richard Steven Horvitz, who held the role of the original Alpha 5 during Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Turbo.
We also see Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch) and Aisha (Karan Ashley) via video conference. They don’t play a big role in this special but I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of them, and their new organisation Space Patrol Alpha, in Power Rangers Cosmic Fury.
While not officially in the episode, we do get a modern look at Bulk and Skull. During a Putty fight, a civilian is thrown through an advertisement for Skullovich and Bulkmeier Bulk Food Co. Use Your Skull, Buy in Bulk! This is a nice reference to all the sandwiches that Bulk used to eat in detention, especially the giant one he produces during A Bad Reflection on You.
Of the cast that returned for this episode, the star of the show for me is Walter Jones. Walter’s portrayal of Zack for this episode was incredible and far surpassed those of his colleagues. That isn’t to say that everyone else was bad, they absolutely weren’t, but Walter’s delivery of the range of emotions in this special took you on a ride. From the anguish of losing Trini, to the genuine humility of giving up his role in congress to care for Minh, the frank and honest discussion about mentorship and justice, all the way to the classic comedy one liners, quips, flips and hip-hop kido, Zack was the absolute MVP of Once & Always. Please give us more Zack in the future.
From start to finish, the soundtrack of Power Rangers: Once & Always was as looming a character as the returning cast. The combination of remastered songs from Power Rangers Redux and new, original music inspired by the original soundtrack was a perfect blend of the old and the new. Thanks to Ron Wasserman for coming back and giving us more kickass tunes to bop to. Spotify release when?
It was wonderful to see the moon base in its full Bandora Palace glory. See also: Bandora Protocol. Nice homages to Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger and Machiko Soga’s character.
While four generations older, Alpha 9’s mannerisms, character and lines were on point. From “life is busy when you’re raising a teenager with attitude,” to “my sensors are detecting a vibe,” Alpha 9 is every part as quick witted as his predecessor.
All the moments, albeit brief, with Aisha and Adam. The video call from their starship in the Sirius System. S.P.A. The invisibility tech they got from Cranston Technologies. The namedrop of the Troobian Empire they’ve been battling. Love it. Love all of it.
The multiple moments Minh tries to morph only for nothing to happen. Who doesn’t love a good running joke? It also gave the villains a chance to drop some comedy. Who knew that Putty Patrollers could laugh?
The Juice Bar set. Expertly and perfectly recreated. Nerds rejoice! We’re two-for-two on incredible old school set reveals this week. The Juice Bar hit me in the feels just as much as the Enterprise-D set reveal did on Star Trek: Picard. I really hope we get to see this set again. It’s too beautiful, detailed and nostalgic to just be a one and done.
Zack’s hip-hop kido and Minh’s incredulous question of “Are you break-dance fighting?” Zack manages to be simultaneously the coolest and the lamest character all at once; a role that I’m perfecting with my own daughter cringing at my rad 90s suave.
Finally, realising how much Zordon meant to Billy and the desperate methods he took to try and revive him. The joy on Billy’s face when he believes his technology has locked on to Zordon is heartwarming, and very quickly heartwrenching when it all goes wrong. This also gave us the touching moment in the Youth Center at the end of the special, where Minh finally stops throwing all her teenage angst at Billy. Billy dropping the line, “You didn’t say anything about me I haven’t told myself a million times,” is another truly impactful line. Not only does this give you an insight into what Billy has gone through these last few years but it also provides a stark reminder that everything wasn’t peachy for David Yost during the filming of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Yost has been quite vocal about how he would often erroneously blame himself for the mistreatment he received on set and I definitely think he was channelling a little bit of his own self doubt here. I truly hope that this whole experience was in some way cathartic for him. Based on his stellar performance in Once & Always, I’d like to believe it was.
Overall, Power Rangers: Once & Always had a lot more good than bad. That doesn’t mean that it was perfect, however, and there are some key criticisms to discuss.
In the moments after Trini is killed by Rita, Billy and Zack stop fighting and take off their helmets to look desperately over the cliff’s edge for their fallen comrade. While this is a nice moment and definitely tugged at my heartstrings, it’s doesn’t make a great deal of sense in the context of what is happening. Rita has just murdered a member of the team, following the attempted murder of another. Why on earth would anybody, let alone seasoned veterans like Zack and Billy, remove the protection keeping them alive and turn their back on the enemy? Furthermore, why did Rita retreat at that moment? With the odds firmly in her favour, Rita decided this was the best time to peace out when she could have easily finished the job and killed the rest of the Rangers while they reeled from Trini’s death. It just doesn’t make sense. Then she’s gone for a year, which makes even less sense. It doesn’t take that long to read The Art of War.
Once & Always is historic for being the first time in Power Rangers history where a villain has used the threat of death. In previous incarnations of Power Rangers, words like “destroy” were used instead to be more child friendly. It was wholly necessary and, actually, quite gratifying to not be babied in this special but it did feel like the writers were making up for lost time in this special and words like die, killed and death were grossly overused in my opinion.
And now, to the biggest complaint. How can I put this in a way that truly conveys the severity of my feelings? The CGI Megazord scene is… f***ing atrocious. Truly, truly awful. Thankfully, we were prewarned about how bad the Megazord was going to look in the trailer. There was some hope that it just looked bad in that moment and that the rest of the scenes wouldn’t be so bad but they absolutely were. Often defined as the worst Zord scene in history, the CGI from the 1995 Power Rangers movie is universally panned but I make no exaggeration when I say that both the Megazord and the giant Snizzard from Once & Always are infinitely worse. It felt like I was watching an episode of Beast Wars… and a bad one at that. Not only was the CGI cartoonish, the proportions are all wrong and the Zords stuck out from the background like a sore thumb. This is only half as egregious as the movements of the Zords. The movement’s are supposed to be robotic, sure, but why did the Megazords arms move like an inflatable tube buddy pinned to a wall? The greatest homage you could have made to the Megazord would have been to recreate the suit (or just borrow it from Toei) and record the footage on a soundstage. The epicness of the Season 3 premiere could have easily been recreated on a budget. This was a massive fumble by production; my only true regret in the whole special.
At least the Megazord cockpit kicked some serious ass.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always is the most highly anticipated reunion in the long and storied history of Power Rangers. While not without its faults, the special did not disappoint. There will be criticisms within the fandom that Jason and Kimberly were left out but I think the production team did the absolute best they could with the cast that was available to them. Once & Always was a fitting tribute to Thuy Trang and a great introduction to Charlie Kersh as Minh; I hope that this isn’t the last we see of her. The long awaited return of Walter Jones and David Yost did exactly what it needed to from both a nostalgia and storytelling point of view. It answered questions about what their characters had been doing since each of them unceremoniously departed the series all those years ago and put them at the forefront of the action, giving them a chance to shine in their roles.
This, however, cannot be the end. There’s so much more left in these characters and the lore of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers at large. Charlie Kersh deserves another opportunity in the yellow suit and I could really do with more Zack Taylor in a mentoring role. We look forward now to Power Rangers Cosmic Fury this summer and dream that it’s the launching point for more great things to come.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and watch it for a third time.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is available to watch now on Netflix. What did you think of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned to The Toku Source for more reviews of the special from other members of our team!