By Stephen Harber
This “mega” special edition of Lost on Saturday Morning is dedicated to reviewing Power Rangers Megaforce, the 20th season in the longest running franchise about spandex and sparks. Yes, that’s right. Power Rangers has been on the air for twenty years now. And, yes, there were more seasons than just the original Mighty Morphin, which will always be in the public’s mind as the only Power Rangers evarrrr! Most of you haven’t noticed because you’ve been out getting laid. Well let me be the one to say that the joke’s on you: you’ve ALL been missing out! ALL of you!
While you were away twerking and tweeting, there were a shitload of giant monsters that needed to be destroyed by a piss-ton of giant robots. There were, like, thousands of gratuitous pyrotechnic effects you missed out on. And there were a million different Rangers you didn’t get to see! Like, the ones that had magic powers and capes (because they were so magical) and flew around on jet powered brooms. Pssshoooow! Or the ninja Rangers who had a talking hamster as a sensei. Or the kung fu Rangers that had a werewolf as a sensei. Or the Rangers with car powers. Or the other Rangers with car powers!
What I’m trying to tell the world right now is…a lot has happened. Those of you reading this who have stuck around all these years, good job. Those of you who haven’t and are slightly uncomfortable with where this is going, your time might be better spent reading about more adult superheroes like the X-Men because they are like, so deep and mature in their multicolored spandex onesies. We’re here today to talk about the superheroes that blow shit up…and turn, and pose.
Power Rangers Megaforce is the 20th anniversary season, which means that it better be damn good, amirite? How would you go about celebrating 20 years of a TV show that no one admits to watching outside of 1994? Well, design it to be as similar to its 1994 incarnation as possible, naturally. Saban Brands (sometimes confused with Shysters, Inc.) knows that MMPR is the only recognizable face of the Power Rangers franchise, so they took as much from its formula as they could get away with rehashing and threw it into the mega stew that was simmering atop their mega stove sitting in their decidedly un-mega sized kitchen.
Now, some of the uninitiated will ask themselves, “Why don’t they just bring back the original Power Rangers and remake it instead of cranking out more weird new shit again this time?” Well, believe me. If they could, they would. But still, even if they could, Saban Brands is – honestly – too cheap to do such a thing. (Sorry Saban!)
For those of you who don’t know any better, Power Rangers is adapted from what is called Super Sentai – a separate Japanese hero franchise that has been on the air since the 1970s. Each Super Sentai series is only on for one year, and airs around 50-something episodes. Shortly after the new year begins, a new Super Sentai team debuts and another staggering tidal wave of merchandise is released. Power Rangers, in turn, is an adaptation of each Super Sentai that comes out for western audiences. In fact, Saban Brands has a contractual obligation with Toei (the parent studio) to adapt every sentai, never skipping one, in order to release all of its related merchandise.
You with me so far? Good. You probably already sort of knew that Power Rangers isn’t an American show. Yes, it has been filmed in America before, but most of its action sequences have always been spliced-in Japanese footage. For the past decade, however, Power Rangers has filmed its own original material with its own actors in New Zealand because it’s more cost-effective and the scenery matches better with the atmosphere of Sentai’s filming locations. And, also, because Disney owned it for a decade, but that’s a whole different story that would require me to make an infographic to fully tell.
So, yes, Saban would love to bring your original Power Rangers back, I’m sure, especially since it would make them more money. Because of all this contractual hooey, though, and that Super Sentai thing, we have Megaforce, a rather complicated “anniversary” series that shares the same color scheme as the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers but not much else. Hey, whatever! It still counts!
The story of Megaforce is, at first, simple and very much like MMPR. Five teens (without attitude this time) are chosen to save the world from evil aliens. Gosei, some random metal face with glowing eyes mounted onto the wall of a beach cave, and his little robotic assistant Wall-E – uh, no, I mean Johnny Fi- er, Tensou! Yes, Tensou. Where was I? Oh, right. Like Zordon and Alpha before them, this odd couple picked out the teens, teleported them to their secret Command Center, and forced them to compulsively transform into Japanese stunt men to fight evil rubber stuff and make with the ‘splodey.
Throughout the 20 episode season, the Megaforce Rangers make all sorts of monsters go boom, accumulate a silly amount of zords and power-ups, and share more than just a few awkward (for us) moments.
The series runs on the fumes of MMPR nostalgia for all about 1.4 episodes combined. This is both frustrating and liberating at the same time. Frustrating because it further contributes to that general feeling of unrealized potential that haunts Megaforce, and liberating because it has room to establish its own identity apart from its mighty morphin ancestor in order to tell its own stories its own way.
Or does it really? Many would say, “Hell to the no.” Most of Megaforce’s running time is obsessed with burning through its Super Sentai source material, hitting all of the same story beats in order to introduce every crazy new toy that needs to be advertised. This means that, although we get a new power or weapon in literally every episode, we don’t get enough time to see them used in action in the long run, and therefore it all becomes overwhelmingly, meaninglessly gratuitous. There are no stakes most of the time.
Remember when Ranger teams of the past only received new powers after going through a tough time, in both their personal and explosive spandex lives? (Please say yes.) This has always been the storytelling bread and butter of the PR franchise. It does a great job with tying character development to the introduction of new toys which gives the products a distinct yet effective emotional branding component.
In Megaforce, each power-up and shiny new addition to the Mega Rangers’ massive arsenal is just thrown at us during any old battle. They can be fighting douchebag monsters of the week and be given a brand new zord because their “bravery” has unlocked it. (Gosei’s words, not mine.) True, there are definitely moments in which they need them to get by, and I suppose one could fanwank that these new villains are much stronger than previous threats to the earth and all of its abandoned warehouse districts, stadiums, and rock quarries, but we barely feel that, narratively speaking.
As the series goes along, the Megaforce Rangers battle the evil Warstar Empire, which are alien insectoids whose plot for world domination consists of chilling in their spaceship above earth and occasionally sending down one solitary monster at a time to the same city over and over again, always experiencing the same result.
Eventually our heroes discover Robo Knight, a mysterious new ally that Gosei built, programmed, and ditched in a glacier somewhere for a few thousand years. (How this is not a red flag for the Rangers?!) He is the “protector of the environment”, so that means he stands around on top of skyscrapers and ignores the littering happening down below, as well as those noxious emissions from all the cars driving around.
The Megaforce Rangers soon become mostly preoccupied with making sure he feels included in the team by educating him on humans and why they should be saved, even though they’re, you know, warming up the globe and stuff. They’re still worth it because they have hopes and dreams, and they create thousands of non-biodegradable action figures and other unsustainable mass merchandise every year just to make a buck. Humans are totally worth it, Robo Knight!
As Robo Knight learns more about people and their confusing place in the ecosystem, Vrak, the slightly traitorous general person thing of Warstar, works with a couple random Toxic Beasts on earth that were created from human pollution named Bigs and Bluefur, all behind Malkor’s back. Although the character designs for these two certainly are a trip, the muties are only around for maybe a couple of episodes before they’re quickly blown the fuck up.
After this mediocre defeat, Vrak then builds his own glamorous top-secret lab beneath the sea to focus on manufacturing his own a robot invasion – again, behind Malkor’s back. Vrak creates Metal Alice, a femme-bot fatale that likes to wear vines and make her evil iPad turn into a badass iSword. (Apple, if you’re reading this, make it happen!)
Metal Alice and Vrak are more successful in providing a threat to the Rangers than any other baddies that went boom this season. Their schemes actually stress them out a little. You can tell the Rangers think about almost sweating just a teeny bit, but of course they don’t because they must look perfect in the same exact outfit for the whole year.
Eventually, Admiral Malkor says “Fuck all y’all!” and hides away in his space cocoon for a couple of weeks, presumably to catch up with all those reruns of Wendy Williams that are eating up space on his Tivo. After he finishes, he climbs out and goes down to earth to tear some mega ass while Vrak finally tries to land their ship. After a truly gripping battle, the Rangers manage to destroy both Malkor and his base while Robo Knight raps. I am being completely serious.
Metal Alice salvages Vrak’s body from the wreckage and turns his remains into a destructive cyborg that has virtually no memory of who he is (pun intended). As the Rangers battle this new and tougher form, a messenger from the approaching armada arrives to announce that earth is about to be invaded, yo. Our heroes blow up Metal Alice and The Messenger, eventually, and Robo Knight uses up his energy in said battle. Exhausted from all the fighting and the booming going on, the team are caught off guard by the sudden massive invasion that is unleashed upon the world while Robo Knight disappears. This is a legit cliffhanger that leads us into Super Megaforce, which is going to feature older suits and true anniversary stuff thanks to the Gokaiger footage. (Look it up.)
The Good Guys
Megaforce Rangers, we hardly knew ye.
After the abysmal dreck that the Samurai/Super Samurai cast was, this team is a breath of mega fresh air. Their acting abilities, while admittedly not Golden Globe caliber, are a huge improvement over the embarrassing line deliveries and awkward characterization of the Samurai ensemble that it’s such a damn shame that we never get to spend much quality time with them outside of morphed action.
Since 96% of each episode is chewed up by Goseiger footage, Troy and the gang are seldom seen interacting with their helmets off – or with anyone else, for that matter. Why is this? Each Ranger has a defined, if not superficial, personality base. Jake is the funny guy, Gia is a tough minx, Emma is a sensitive flower, Noah is an inquisitive explorer, and Troy is…well, Troy’s just, um, Troy.
Troy’s character seems to embody a new kind of trope that Saban Brands is trying to push in this new era of PR: the mysterious and solemn team leader. Similar to Samurai’s Jayden, Megaforce’s Red Ranger seems to have a secret too. It involves his brief (and highly intermittent) flash-forwards (or flashbacks?) to the big “Legendary Battle” featuring all past Rangers from the upcoming Super Megaforce. He also barely cracks a smile.
Okay, fine. He smiled a few times. But they were smirks more than anything else. When he actually did give us a smile, it was scary.
Unlike Jayden’s super obvious secret (if you were a Shinkenger fan), Troy’s big mystery is actually, well, somewhat intriguing. Because Megaforce has just a smidgen of originality to it that distinguishes it from Goseiger, the hardcore fan base doesn’t really know what to expect from the big reveal in the sequel series. (Then again, it might not be a mystery at all. You can never tell these days.)
Jake and Gia are definitely the show stealers this season. Their cutesy but snappy dynamic takes the (somehow) popular formula of Mike/Emily from Samurai and gives it a sense of humor delivered with authentic charm. Both characters steal the show by themselves in their own right, regardless of their coupling. But there’s a certain charm in watching Jake chase after Gia, and as a running gag, it works surprisingly better than it should. This probably is, again, due to the fact that we hardly ever get to see these kids out of suit, and any scenes in which we see them, however fleeting, we must savor.
Noah makes a great Blue Ranger. He fits the archetypal MMPR role of the brainy “Billy” character nicely but does his own thing with it. He comes across as playful and imaginative, which fits more in line with the tone of Power Rangers anyway, since it has never played well with any sort of hard science.
Emma…well, I like Emma. She is an adequate Pink Ranger, a true spiritual successor to Kimberly’s sunny character. Maybe a bit too idealistic, unfortunately, but this brand of naiveté is common to find in most of Saban’s Rangers. She really hearts dirt-biking and the environment and pink short shorts. Ow ow!
She even belts out a Disney Princess musical number about her love of nature in an episode you should never ever watch. Is she much of a character though? No, but like the rest of the Megaforce crew, she’s fun to look at.
Robo Knight: is he really a Ranger? Toei, Saban, and Ban Dai (the toy company) would say yes. Me on the other hand…
I get that he morphs into a Zord. That’s cool. No one else really did that. Okay, okay, fine, Magna Defender did too. But – Magna Defender had a civilian identity at one point. Robo Knight does not. He’s a robot. And a knight. Read the name again if you’re missing something.
Perhaps I’m being bias against robots by making such a statement. I apologize to any of the cybernetic beings out there I’m offending. It’s just, Power Rangers Megaforce really has it out against you folk. Robo Knight doesn’t count, apparently, because he’s been partially integrated into human culture, but the rest of the robots are despised and portrayed as all being evil. Not all cybernetic beings are evil, Saban! What about Tensou? Alpha 5? Every zord ever? I’ve had it up to here with your bigotry.
For a non-human character (or suit actor, if you will)…mister Robo Knight somehow manages to gobble up all of the character development to himself. Oh, let’s just be real and admit that the whole season was dedicated to Robo Knight’s journey. That’s right. A robot has more personality than all of this year’s Rangers combined. Thanks Saban. Again. Really.
I actually kind of dig Robo Knight, though. He provides a nice grounding presence for the team, and serves as a great (if barely touched upon) basis for Megaforce’s broader philosophies. He’s also a great source of comic relief sometimes. Plus, he makes those whirring noises when he moves. It’s kinda fun.
Gosei is creepy as hell, though. What is he about? Who is he? I know Zordon was weird and shady sometimes, but Gosei is straight up sketch. We barely get to seem him interact with the Megaforce team. He just occasionally tells them he loves them and that’s only when he sends them magic cards like an estranged parent on the holidays. Patriarchal much?
Tensou is a nice little gadget to have around, but much like Gosei, he is barely anything more than a cameo in the series as a whole. The Short Circuit charm works, as does the Wall-E style, but he’s just another random element in a mostly disconnected season.
Ernie. Um…yeah. Horribly offensive or tolerably wacky? You be the judge.
Oh. That teacher dude. Yeah. He was around for like three minutes. He was cool I guess. Very “Back To The Future” Christopher Lloyd.
The Bad Guys
The Power Rangers franchise is nothing without its villains. Even if the Rangers themselves are annoying or poorly portrayed by their actors in any given series, you can always count on the bad guys to pick up their slack.
Take Lightspeed Rescue, for instance. The cast of heroes in that season weren’t the strongest personality wise or performance wise. In fact, when the series first began airing, I literally gave up watching Power Rangers on a regular basis because of this. But whenever I decided to tune back in out of curiosity, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the satanic treachery of Queen Bansheera and her underworld homies.
Lost Galaxy, even, was a great experimental season (and the “Deep Space Nine” of the franchise) but its major flaws were easier to swallow thanks to the spectacularly epic power plays between its villains. What true PR nerd can forget the hot drama of Trakeena and Deviot?
Megaforce forgets to stir in this ingredient for Power Ranger intrigue, which is baffling. It definitely wishes it had, and goes about pretending that it’s there. We have a dump-truck load of villains in this series. In fact, we have (technically) three different sets of bad guys! Three! So you’d think there would be some sort of compelling stuff going down. We sort of, kind of, somewhat do. We have a cliff notes version. No, actually. Not even that. We have what can be likened to a poorly written and rushed Wikipedia summary about the villains and their story.
Fact is (and, again, much like Samurai), the “evil aliens” don’t really seem to matter much when compared to the OMFG NEW TOYZ aspect of the show – and this is a real problem. Yes, Power Rangers has always been a toy commercial, but that’s just one facet of its appeal. It also happens to be an engaging martial arts fantasy/action series that has been on the air for over twenty years. Get with it, Saban Brands. Oh wait, you don’t care about me because I’m not a seven year old anymore.
But even my seven year old self would have been a bit let down by some of the bad guys this year. I’m not saying they weren’t cool looking or didn’t have fun attacks – I’m saying that the writers didn’t try to do much with them.
Until the end. The last few episodes in which the Warstar general Malkor was destroyed and Vrak whipped out his secret evil underwater base provided a sense of intensity we had been craving all season long. Even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were missing out on a lot – like there had been a few lost episodes out there that established a sustainable amount of context we needed to be totally involved in the story.
This is really frustrating, because Goseiger, the sentai Megaforce is based on, had a pretty adequate storyline template for its rotating sets of bad guys. Each group had their own themes, goals, and flaws – all of which contributed to their own undoings. The only stable member of the rogue gallery was Buedoran (named after Bladerunner) who was a self-serving trickster figure that cleverly manipulated his way into the inner circles of each team of villains. He actually turned out to be the final big bad of the series, as the last two episodes culminated with a final stand-off between him and the Gosei Angels (yes, I really did just call them that). This was a character that I was, um, “mega” looking forward to seeing adapted over, as I assumed that Saban would translate his storyline fairly closely since they tried to do that as much as possible with the Nighlok forces in Samurai.
However, his American counterpart Vrak is just a shadow – no, a poor resolution thumbnail of the sentai baddie. Gone are his Machiavellian tendencies, swapped out with plastic action figure fiendishness. Instead of wandering from group to group carrying his secret agenda with him, Vrak stumbles around without any sort of long-term plan. He is portrayed as a character who develops his schemes spontaneously, through pompous and sinister luck. He’s not very crafty or a good organizer, but he’s royalty, it looks like, and just so happens to be related to the invading empire of Super Megaforce, so he’s the only villain that totally serves a purpose. (And the thing where he snaps his fingers to summon the Zombats is rad.)
Metal Alice, on the other hand, is probably the best bad Megaforce had to offer. She posed a threat to the Rangers – and the citizens – that you actually felt. Her villainy could literally be classified as terrorism. Yes, monsters have always torn shit up on a daily basis in PR, but there was a distinct menace to Metal Alice’s schemes that gave them a flavor of real world danger. Like when she disrupted the public train systems. Or when she held a building full of people hostage at missile-point. These kind of situations would never have been shown on Power Rangers ten years ago within the sensitive framework of post-9/11 American culture. Now, though, it’s like whatever, kids. Here you go.
Another attribute about Metal Alice that made her a standout baddie was her overzealous devotion to Vrak. She was extremely loyal to “her master” and came across as a fanatic – again, displaying behavior of a cliche terrorist.
Add into the mix that strong theme of humans vs. robots (again grafted on from Goseiger) and you have what makes for an odd subtext. “Man Vs. Machine” totally eclipses any contradictory environmental themes that the series forces on us. In fact, it completely hijacks the focus for the last half of the show. I know this storyline was lifted directly from the sentai (for the most part), but come on. There could be more justification for it.
The very first episode is a great update of “Day of the Dumpster” (much like Dino Thunder’s “Day of the Dino”) and features quick pacing, mega action, super surprises, and that sense of wonder and excitement that any first episode of Power Rangers should make you feel. The teleportation effects are well done, and, oddly enough, weren’t seen again. This premiere gets the job done well and pumps you up for the season ahead, making you say “fuck yeah”. To yourself. Quietly. So no one else hears you. Shh. No, quieter than that.
True, the debut episode for the Ultra Mode power-ups may be rushed like every other Megaforce episode, but at least there are stakes involved. Granted, not the highest stakes ever, but when they receive Ultra Mode, you can feel how powerful it is. Plus, there’s this cute mini scene of Command Center party time at the end, with shots of Troy gazing moodily at the Ranger Keys, giving us a frustrating taste of what we’re missing by having sentai footage take up most of the running time.
-Staying on Track-
Yes, this one. A simple episode. One that involves innocence and cheese – but with a real sense of danger, thanks to Metal Alice’s crazy terrorist plot to making sure public railways are, y’know, terrorized. What’s effective about this ep is the way it portrays the suspense from a child’s point of view – having your mommy stuck on a train stopped midway due to life-threatening issues is scary, okay! – and also by showing how relentless Metal Alice is in making sure the train wrecks and people get ouchies.
The point in which Megaforce gets really good – and it’s the next to last episode! What makes this an improvement over the eighteen others that came before it? The creative use of footage, for one. The emotional intensity, the horror factor, and the overall impression that something mega is about to go down. Metal Alice resurrects Vrak from the spaceship crash with cyborg technology, giving us the heebee jeebies. “The Messenger” arrives, (another robot, of course) and the actual master plan of the Megaforce/Super Megaforce transition is fully underway.
The final episode of the series consists mostly of sentai action (shocking), but boy, is it good. We witness the gory demise of the evil robots, Kentucky fried morphers, and an inexplicably shirtless Troy. After twenty minutes jam-packed with desperate power struggles that create an effectively foreboding atmosphere, we are surprised by a massive alien invasion unleashed upon the earth – and so are the Rangers. A suitably climactic (if not rushed) cliffhanger that gets us ready for Super Megaforce.
Everything wrong with Megaforce packed into a half an hour. Bad pacing, no flavor, zero emotion. The Toxic Beasts Blue Foot and Bigs harass the Rangers enough for them to be gifted a brand new zord, the Gosei Ultimate Command Ship. They literally bond with Gosei and the command center to save the day. This would have been more thrilling if they had adapted the Goseiger episodes more faithfully, but, instead, we get a big forgettable pile of gooey whatever. Far too rushed, too corny, with too much talking in all the wrong places. And to think I was looking forward to this one.
-Harmony and Dizchord-
Although this episode is a historical landmark for the franchise for being the first to show a monster flatuate, and even though it’s supposed to be about comedy, it’s simply not funny. Period. Exclamation point. Exclamation point. Exclamation point.
The Holiday Specials:
Okay, so I don’t know why this is, but for some reason Saban insists on making their holiday specials follow a clip show format. To save time and money maybe? Whatever the case, this Halloween special manages to be half clip show and half a regular Megaforce episode, with a generous helping of candy corniness. The Rangers visit a psychic Jawa who is really a monster of the week in disguise. Lots of clips from earlier episodes are thrown in our faces during the first half, but I didn’t mind them so much because they were all action clips that I had enjoyed sitting through the first time I saw them. Nice cast interactions here, some cute Jake/Gia moments, and Troy suddenly becomes comic relief-y for some reason. The second half showcases more previously unseen sentai action, featuring a strange moment in which Emma rams the monster in the balls with her Mechazord. Yeah. Anyway, this was overall a pretty decent Halloween special, even if it didn’t have much Halloweeniness to it.
-The Robo Knight Before Christmas-
Monopolizing most of the story of the Megaforce series just wasn’t enough for Robo Knight, so he decided to hog the Christmas special all to himself as well. After agreeing to stand still at a gift display at the mall for 24 hours after a discussion with Noah about what Christmas is, Robo Knight winds up getting shipped off as a toy to “teh poor kidz in Africa”. While there, he decides to lecture them about how Christmas is really about a poorly edited mess of microwaved clips from prior Power Rangers Megaforce episodes. Way to force your culturally exclusive holiday onto the world, you damn dirty robot. Whoops! Saban! Look at what you made me do.
Megaforce is a mega mixed bag. It has cool gizmos, flashy suits, classic designs, and a powerfully energetic mood. Although it keeps all of the wow and the bang of what Power Rangers is known for, it falls short of giving the fan base the narrative experience that they were hoping for.
The creative design for the suits and weapons are noble in appearance and highly imaginative. The battles feel extra explosive, thanks to the amazing sound editing and the fantastic atmosphere of the Goseiger footage. The video quality is superb, lending a new level of sheen to Power Rangers that it needs to pop and lock. The zords, although arguably one of the most juvenile elements of Megaforce, are fun to watch duke it out with the silly scary baddies. Plus, they have those super trippy summoning intros. All in all, this series has the power to turn you into an 8 year-old and say, “Cooooool!”
Megaforce has both what makes Power Rangers so awesome to behold – and so embarrassing to watch. Some episodes were thrilling and supercharged, others were candy coated nonsense. In short, this was a Saban season. Super Megaforce might live up to the anniversary experience that some were expecting. Even if not, this was a fun season to watch on its own.