Sunday, 3 February 2013

Power Rangers Megaforce - Episode 1 Review

I'm a 24 year old man (25 in a couple weeks...) with a full-time job and a university degree. I am also a big fan of the Power Rangers franchise. I know that the show is aimed primarily at the pre-teen demographic. More specifically, the series is a cash cow whose main purpose is to serve as a commercial for selling lots of toys, much like Transformers and GI Joe before it. Even knowing this, I still love Power Rangers. On a basic level, it's a show about superheroes beating up bad guys and piloting giant robots. On a philosophical level, it's about good vs evil and the belief that the good guys always win in the end. It's idealistic, but as a kid I imprinted on that lesson and it became part of my own ideology.

For those who aren't aware, Power Rangers is a television series that started in 1993 with "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers". It's an adaptation of the Japanese "Super Sentai" series, and primarily utilizes action footage from that series as a cost-saving measure. Every year it's a new team with a new set of suits and a new enemy to face. Every few years it faces cancellation, but between a devoted fanbase and a significant financial return, it's never gone for long. We're now at the 20th anniversary of the franchise, and production company Saban has gone to length to commemorate the series' legacy with Power Rangers Megaforce.

So, what do I think of the premiere episode, "Mega Mission"? Oh man...
Guys, I think in this case, it's okay to skip straight to Megazord time.
It opens with an explosion of badass as we see hundreds of Power Rangers engaged in a massive battle. All of the previous teams are here, and a couple we haven't seen before. It lasts fifteen seconds, then we fade out to reveal it's a dream in the head of Troy, the new kid in school and our future Red Ranger. We also get to meet the rest of the team as they sit through a Science class lesson. The only one who makes much of an impression is Noah, the Blue Ranger and our designated nerd. Naturally he's got thick glasses, a polo shirt, and a desperate need to be the smartest kid in the room. Unfortunately, he's not even that. When asked a speculative question in class, he gives us an impossible and ridiculous answer that only serves to annoy the audience.
"Wrong, wrong, wrong!" God, someone wedgie this kid...
Troy enters and gives his own idealistic answer to the question, and everyone falls silent in awe of his natural charisma and leadership-- *snore*. It's a pet peeve of mine, but I really don't like this school setting. Not that I don't like A school setting, just this one. The class has about a dozen kids in it, the room and halls are all spotless, everyone's smiling and happy. I know it's nothing unusual considering how schools are depicted in television, but it's distracting. It's all way too perfect, and I don't even see a garbage can. You'd think it was a private school that they just built yesterday.

We're then introduced to our new villains. They're giant bugs from outer space. "Humans are weak", "this planet will be ours", you know the drill. Sadly they're more of the same rubber-suited monsters with no noticeable depth or character beyond being evil conquerors. It's not hard to come up with villains with interesting motivations and complex personalities. See: Astronema (In Space), Ransik (Time Force), Mesogog (Dino Thunder). They may be evil, but they have personal history and interesting goals. If we don't care about the villains, it's not as significant when the Rangers finally defeat them.

The theme music kicks in and--hey, that's a pretty cool new music sting! Let's see if it can keep that energy throughout... wait a second, you're just copying the theme from the last series, Samurai! You honestly couldn't come up with a new theme? It's even worse because the Samurai theme is itself a cover of the original Mighty Morphin' theme. I accepted it for Samurai because it was Saban's first series after re-acquiring the franchise from Disney, but now it's just lazy. Saban, just go back to Ron Wasserman and beg him to start writing your music again. He's beloved by the fans and he's responsible for all your best music. Don't pull a Star Trek and fire your best composer when he's the one bringing in the fans. Tell him you're sorry, you didn't mean the things you said, and you want to make this marriage work. Flowers and chocolates might help.

A swooping landscape shot of the beach (hello, New Zealand!) leads us to the Ranger headquarters and home of the ancient being Gosei, and his robot assistant Tensou. Tensou looks like the love child of the Mars Rover and Wall-E, and Gosei...well...he's a giant Tiki head on the wall.
"I've gathered you here to save the world from-- Why are you laughing?"
He later claims he chose this form as one that humans would find comfortable, which indicates to me that he's never met one before. He is aware of the arrival of the aliens and instructs Tensou to find "energetic and unstoppable" heroes. To sum it up: Teenagers. Of course. Gosei tells Tensou to pick five kids with talent and attitude and bring them here. We cut to three of those teens as they enter "Ernie's Brain Freeze" ice cream shop. Yup, it seems that Ernie's Gym and Juice Bar is a thing of the past, and Ernie himself seems to have changed over the years, having become a short Indian man-- Oh, different guy? Never mind then. (Editor's Note: The original actor who played Ernie, Richard Genelle, tragically passed away in 2008. I'd like to think this is a tribute to his contribution to the show.)

We learn a little more about our Rangers here. Jake, our Black Ranger, is a friend of Noah's and fancies himself a bit of a ladies' man, in pursuit of "the hottest girl in school" Gia, our Yellow Ranger, who we earlier saw exhibit fast reflexes in catching a falling book and now we see her dutifully studying. Just as Jake finishes paying for some ice cream (with a $20 that Ernie insists on counterfeit checking...), the three are magically teleported away. Troy is seen practicing his martial arts kata on an empty rooftop, and is about to jump kick his water bottle right off the roof when he's transported.
F**k yeah, littering!
The four show up in Gosei's cave/command centre. They meet Gosei and Tensou, who explains the situation. Aliens are coming to take over, it's Power Ranger time, suit up. He also claims that his mentor, Zordon, placed him in defense of the Earth, and he only awakens in the face of an extraordinary threat. This would be cool...if we didn't know that Zordon was destroyed to save the universe back in 1998. Which means this guy's been sitting in a cave for 15 years while all the various demons, aliens, and monsters have been attacking the Earth on a regular basis. For a supernatural guardian, he's a bit of a slacker.
Army of robots killing millions? Eh, let the little girl handle it, I'm napping.
The group is skeptical of his claims. And why shouldn't they be? It's not as if aliens have ever invaded the planet before...except for back in 1998 when the Space Rangers saved the world from an all-out attack. Or in 2000, when demons were taking over Mariner Bay and a government-sponsored Ranger team saved us. Or when aliens attacked again in 2002 and we were saved by Power Ranger Surf Ninjas. Every single time someone in this series claims to have never heard of Power Rangers, I'm utterly confused. We can't even pretend this is a new universe, because the whole point of this series is that Gosei has access to the powers of previous Ranger teams. Why are the producers so afraid of continuity? Especially now, on the 20th anniversary. Just accept the fact that the Power Rangers universe is clearly different from our own. We can breathe on the moon, for crying out loud!
And in the vacuum of space. Yes, really.
Emma, our Pink Ranger, is the last to arrive. She was in the woods taking pictures of nature when she stumbled across one of our alien insect villains taking a stroll. With photographic evidence she corroborates Gosei's claims. Personally, I'd give the giant talking head with mystical powers the benefit of the doubt. Gosei addresses each Ranger individually, praising their virtues. Emma the BMX cyclist and nature lover, Noah the scientist, Jake the enthusiastic athlete, Gia the calm perfectionist, and Troy the noble warrior. Troy's response is that "there must be some mistake. I'm new in town." ...Which means nothing, but thanks for sharing! The teens are given their morphers and instantly teleported back into the city to fight attacking monsters.
The Rangers engage, with Troy and Gia putting up the best fight due to their martial arts skill. Jake's soccer talent helps him take down a few of the minions, while Emma relies on her camera's flash to blind her opponents and Noah just stumbles around swinging with his messenger bag. Billy would be proud. Eventually they're all beaten down by superior numbers and firepower. Troy decides now is the time to try out Gosei's morphers. Incidentally, the morpher looks exactly like Gosei, and is activated by opening the mouth and cramming a trading card into the slot. This is also how the team obtains weapons in battle (complete with a Gosei voice clip). This is all pretty surreal, even by Power Ranger standards. Trading cards give you superpowers? Did I accidentally start watching Digimon?
Sometimes the card doesn't swipe, so you have to wrap it in paper or plastic.

With their new powers and weapons, the team easily defeats the minions. The insect leaders decide to send a higher-level monster, and the team summons laser handguns in response (fans will recognize this as the Carter Greyson tactic). Shooting ensues, accompanied by the series' theme music. This is a stable of the franchise, and it serves to amplify the power of a given fight scene. Even though the music in this case is just a cover of a cover of an original theme (which means Fox's "Glee" is free to steal the crap out of it), it's still a great moment as the team fully realizes their potential as superheroes. To take down the main monster, the team combines their weapons into a large cannon...which is powered by trading cards. Sigh.
Available in booster packs at your local Toys R Us, kids!
With the monster destroyed, the team returns to Gosei's cave. He tells them that their lives have changed forever, and they have become Earth's greatest heroes, the Power Rangers Megaforce. Zack tells Zordon he's uncertain because they just got lucky this time. And then Kimberly says she's not sure about being a Ranger because the helmet messes up her hair...wait a second, I meant to say Jake, Gosei, and Emma there. But didn't this exact scene happen in the original pilot too? Basically word-for-word? Eh, screw it, it's not like the target audience for this show was even alive in 1993 so they'll never notice. Go Go Megaforce!

"Mega Mission" is a very straightforward introductory episode of the series. We get to know a little about each of the Rangers, a basic rundown of the plot, and by the end we have an established status-quo to default to at the end of every episode. Where it suffers is a lack of originality. There's homage, and then there's copying. Entire scenes and even the entire plot structure are lifted straight out of "Day of the Dumpster", the Pilot episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. The theme song is an adaptation of the original theme, and the characters themselves are imitations of the classic Rangers. I'm willing to cut some slack and hope that they can develop into interesting characters over the course of the next few episodes, but so far all I want is for Noah to get smacked for being such a whiny nerd and for Troy to wake up and pretend to give a crap.
"Let's save the world...I guess...ZZZZZZZZ..."
It seems that Saban's been stalling for time with the PR series since they bought it back from Disney. They extended Samurai into two seasons so they would have access to the Japanese "Gokaiger" footage, which was Super Sentai's 35th anniversary series. This would allow them to show footage of different Ranger teams without having to film it themselves. We even got to see a short clip of the Legend War in Troy's dream, though why is still unknown. However, they instead chose to adapt Goseiger, the series prior to Gokaiger, which makes me think that we probably won't be seeing much in the way of classic team-ups until next year, when they finally get around to using that footage.

I'm not in the target demographic for this show, I'm fully aware. Looking at it objectively, I think new viewers in the right age range will love this show for the same reasons we did when we were that age. I just wish it wasn't so similar to DotD that you could run the two side by side and have it look like a mirror image (except one's in widescreen HD). Like I said, I'm almost 25, so I don't expect the show to cater to my expectations. All the elements that make this show great are still present. I've just been watching long enough that I can spot the threads.

So welcome to Power Rangers Megaforce, the 20th anniversary of the franchise! Too bad you'll probably have to wait until the 21st to see all the cool stuff they're teasing you with now. Let's all head to Ernie's Brain Freeze, I hear he's got a new black light scanner.
"$20? From a high school kid? Yeah right, like you have a job..."