One thing that Power Rangers fans have been able to consistently count on over the years (besides their favorite masked, multicolored, spandex-clad heroes always saving the day in the end, of course) is the franchise paying tribute to its history in some incredible ways. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always, which debuted on Netflix on April 19th, is the latest example of how fans have been rewarded with thrilling content at each milestone anniversary. Here’s a refresher on some of the other anniversary events:
- “Forever Red” is an episode of Power Rangers Wild Force that serves to celebrate the franchise’s tenth anniversary. Each of the previous seasons’ Red Rangers return in what is, at that point, the most epic crossover in Power Rangers history.
- “Once A Ranger” is an episode of Power Rangers Operation Overdrive that commemorates the franchise’s 15th anniversary. Rangers from several different seasons (Mighty Morphin, Ninja Storm, Dino Thunder, SPD, Mystic Force) return to help the current team battle Thrax, the child of Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa.
- “Legendary Battle” is the season finale of Power Rangers Super Megaforce, as well as an observance of the franchise’s 20th anniversary. With each previous Ranger team represented, this episode is currently the largest live action crossover event in franchise history. Despite the magnitude of this event, many fans remain partial to “Forever Red” in terms of excitement, cameos and overall episode quality.
- “Dimensions in Danger” is an episode of Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel that also marks the franchise’s 25th anniversary. This crossover event brings back a number of veteran Rangers, and also marks Jason David Frank’s final live action appearance as beloved fan favorite character Tommy Oliver prior to his passing in November 2022.
- Shattered Grid, unlike the above crossover events, is not live action. It is a comic series created by Saban and Boom! Studios that coincides with the franchise’s 25th anniversary. The series reimagines the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers era to take place in current day and introduces brand-new storylines never seen on screen.
Each anniversary event is special and unique in its own way, as is the subject of today’s piece: the long awaited reunion special, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always. Fans of the franchise have been anticipating this particular production for a while now, primarily due to the return of Billy Cranston (David Yost) and Zack Taylor (Walter Emanuel Jones). Katherine Hillard-Oliver (Catherine Sutherland) and Rocky DeSantos (Steve Cardenas) had appeared as recently as 2018 (“Dimensions in Danger”), while Zack and Billy are resurfacing for the first time since 1994 and 1996, respectively.
Despite a number of promotional images, a behind the scenes featurette and a trailer released in late March, there was still a lot we didn’t know about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always. Was this to be set in universe, or an alternate timeline? After all, the 1995 feature film Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie is quite notably not canon. How has Rita Repulsa returned as a robot? When did Billy get back from Aquitar? How can the Rangers even morph? Well, some questions are answered and some aren’t. Let’s dive in!
*Warning: spoilers ahead for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always
What are our heroes up to when Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always begins?
Something I love about this special right off the bat? We get right to the action. There’s no extensive buildup, no excessive background or exposition given. Instead, we begin right at that grassy field from the trailer, where Billy is battling the already revived “Robo Rita” and her legion of Putty Patrollers (but yes, it is explained to us how exactly she returned later, this isn’t The Rise of Skywalker). Billy soon receives some much-needed multicolored assistance, as his fellow Rangers teleport in to come to his aid.
As I wrote in my Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always trailer breakdown, I was very curious as to which Rangers we were going to see and/or hear in this sequence. Amy Jo Johnson and Austin St. John decline to participate in the reunion for their own reasons and, as all devoted fans of the franchise are aware, Thuy Trang and Jason David Frank are no longer with us. The team at the very start of Once & Always is revealed to be the original Ranger team of Jason, Kimberly, Zack, Billy, Trini and Tommy.
Despite the fact that the only Rangers to unmask in this fight sequence are Zack and Billy, the rest of the team’s respective voices can be heard through archive audio. This is a fantastic touch, as I was a bit worried that these characters would either be noticeably silent or voiced by someone doing a half-assed impression of the original actors. I was not prepared to hear Thuy Trang or Jason David Frank’s actual voices; the inclusion of this archive audio was really well executed, and I was thrilled to hear the original team back together again in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always.
This isn’t a campy Saturday morning kids show, that’s for sure!
Anyone who watched the trailer knew exactly what was coming, but those who didn’t soon realize that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is not going to be as campy as the show they remember from their childhood. Rita kills Trini just 3 minutes in, as she sacrifices herself to save Billy. This theme of sacrifice repeats itself throughout the special, but the sight of a Ranger actually dying on camera is darker than anything we see on Fox Kids back in the 90s.
There’s actually a bit of a time jump after the first few minutes, as we move ahead one year. The theme of sacrifice re-appears right away when it’s revealed that Zack stepped away from his career in politics to become caretaker to Minh (Charlie Kersh), Trini’s daughter. Minh sacrificed her chance at the life of an ordinary teenager in order to train constantly; she is determined to avenge her mother, despite Zack and Billy’s objections. Sacrifice, loss, grief and guilt are a handful of themes that manifest themselves throughout Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always.
Of course, in addition to these various tropes, we obviously have the conflict presented by Robo Rita, our main antagonist, who manages to capture Kimberly, Jason and Tommy. This seems like the natural choice and makes it easier to fit Austin St. John, Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank’s absences right into the story of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always. This prompts the arrival of Kat and Rocky and really kicks things into gear.
So Billy is basically the Tony Stark of this universe?
One of the questions we don’t get a clear answer to in Once & Always is when exactly Billy arrived back on earth from Aquitar, where he had been since the final few episodes of Power Rangers Zeo in 1996. Regardless of when he got back, he clearly made a mark for himself as a genius, superhero, businessman hybrid; he started his own company: Cranston Tech. Sound familiar? If his Blue Ranger costume was made of something a little more heavy duty than spandex, he’s basically Tony Stark!
Billy rebuilt the Command Center underneath his company’s headquarters, which answers the question of how the Rangers got their old hideout back. Wait, underground hideout full of juicy tech? I guess if you think about it, there are some Bruce Wayne elements to Billy, as well. But I’d like to stick with the Stark comparison here because, just like our pal Tony did in Age of Ultron, Billy unknowingly created a villainous super bot! Yes, it’s revealed that the resurrection of Rita Repulsa is Billy’s doing, and that reality weighs on him.
In his attempts to revive the Rangers’ former mentor, Zordon, Billy mistakenly attracts the evil energy from the remnants of Rita, which had been scattered throughout the galaxy. And what’s worse? She basically possesses poor Alpha 8, explaining why she has her current robot body. This is all shown in a flashback, which explains Billy’s guilt, as this chain of events wind up leading directly to Trini’s demise. The Age of Ultron parallels are very much noted here.
Morphing ain’t always easy!
One of the coolest aspects of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always, and something that fans were looking forward to the most, is watching these amazing heroes morph into action again! The special contains a fantastic modernized version of the classic morphing sequence from the 90s show that we have the pleasure of seeing multiple times. What we also see, though, is that no matter how much she desires to do so, young Minh can’t just pick up her mother’s morpher and be a superhero just like that. Despite multiple attempts, Minh is unable to morph into the Yellow Ranger, which frustrates her.
Minh’s overall character development in just this hour-long special is noteworthy. Initially after her mother’s death, Minh’s mentality is “if Mom could do it, so can I.” She scoffs at Billy and Zack’s warnings that her training, while extensive, isn’t enough to take on Rita and her army of monsters. She’s angry, even pointedly blaming Billy for Trini’s passing.
By the final act of Once & Always, Minh learns humility and gains compassion. She sees Billy come within point-blank range of a blast from Rita’s wand and jumps into its path. That courageous, sacrificial act causes Minh to be protected from the blast by Trini’s morpher, which has seemingly deemed her worthy to use it. Just like that, Minh has become the new Yellow Ranger. “If Mom could do it, so can I,” indeed, Minh!
Okay, so what does our final act look like?
It is revealed in the teaser trailer that Rita plots to create a time warp, which allows her to go back and defeat the Rangers before Zordon recruits them as teenagers in the first place. We don’t know how she plans on accomplishing this, though. As it so happens, Robo Rita has developed some sort of device that saps the life energy out of the other Power Rangers she captures. That energy is what powers her machine. The final act of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is where we see this plan reach critical mass – Rita is about to open the portal and free the past version of herself!
It’s here that things get even more exciting, as the Rangers breach Rita’s moon palace using stealth tech that Billy invented (again, could he be any more like Tony Stark?), only to be ambushed. Following a fighting sequence and subsequent struggle, we see the aforementioned emotional act of sacrifice from Minh. The now-completed Ranger team morphing into action is fantastic. Despite the fact that we’ve known Minh’s character for less than an hour at this point, her journey to become a Ranger has a fantastic payoff.
What follows next is, quite honestly, the only disappointing part of the entire special, and the reason I can’t give it a full five stars. The CGI Megazord is super underwhelming. This is 2023 and a Netflix production; how do these computer animated robots look this fake? You couldn’t have digitally remastered some of the 90s footage, perhaps? It really isn’t anything that takes away from your enjoyment, and it’s awesome to see the classic Megazord in action; I just wish that it looked a bit better.
An emotional and fitting tribute to two Rangers gone too soon
What I appreciate more than anything about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is that it doesn’t shoehorn in a short dedication graphic to the late Thuy Trang and Jason David Frank. Instead, sweet little tributes are sprinkled in throughout its entirety, one of which is a framed photograph of Trang displayed on the mantle inside of Zack and Minh’s home. The final scene is entirely devoted to Billy and Zack telling Minh some of their favorite memories of her mother. Despite the fact that Yost and Jones are in character, you could tell that this the two of them reminiscing about their late friend.
Finally, before displaying the tribute card to Trang and Frank that you can see below, we’re gifted with one more emotional piece of footage: ‘Down The Road,’ a song that Amy Jo Johnson sang and played on guitar during one of the original 90s episodes. At the time, back in 1994, Jason David Frank’s character had an uncertain future, as Saban had run out of Japanese Green Ranger footage. This song was intended to be a goodbye in the event that his character needed to be written off. Due to his immense popularity, however, Tommy Oliver remained and later became the iconic White Ranger.
I’ll be the first to admit that this scene made me tear up right away, especially when the camera pans over and focuses on both Jason David Frank and Thuy Trang. While Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always intends to pay tribute to Trang (as evidenced by the plot), this footage was specifically inserted following Frank’s death last November, as filming had already completed beforehand. This is the cast and crew’s way of honoring and remembering their dear friend on screen.
Final notes and nuggets on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always
- Minh Kwan the ally! While perhaps a minor scene in the grand scheme of things, it is great to see Minh assist a gay couple who are under attack by putties. Considering David Yost’s history of dealing with homophobia on the Power Rangers set back in the 90s, I would not be surprised if this was written for him.
- Speaking of David Yost, I absolutely love that fact that Billy functions as the group’s de facto leader in this special. Considering Yost’s sudden, awkward and unceremonious exit from the franchise in 1996, it is great to see his return be in a prominent role, as opposed to more of a background character. Morphenomenal!
- Of course, there is a Bulk & Skull reference! The pair of bullies turned adorable comic relief foils are revealed to have a sandwich company in Angel Grove during the special, because of course they do. Unfortunately, their billboard is destroyed during one of the Power Rangers’ battles, so business might slow down a bit.
- While the timing of Billy’s return to earth from Aquitar isn’t answered, we do learn that space travel to faraway planets is apparently super normal in this universe? Adam and Aisha’s cameo reveals that they could travel from half a galaxy away in just a matter of hours, so I guess another space vacation for Billy isn’t out of the question.
What are your thoughts on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always? If you’ve been waiting on pins and needles to see this epic cast together on screen again for the first time in nearly three decades, were your expectations met? As you’ll see from my score below, this is everything I was looking for and more. Until the next time, fellow Ranger fans, “may the power protect you!”
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'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always' Special Review'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always' Special Review
- Original cast doesn't miss a beat!
- Touching tributes to Thuy Trang & JDF
- Great story & intro of new character
- CGI Zords were pretty bad
- Could have been about 15-20 minutes longer!