Power Rangers Once and Always Review: Netflix Doesn’t Just Play the Hits
Unlike other nostalgia fueled reunions, Power Rangers wisely tells a genuine story about its characters that isn't just one-note jokes and references.
This Power Rangers: Once and Always review contains spoilers.
Power Rangers: Once and Always, with a brisk hour-long runtime, does the impossible for a nostalgia focused special. It isn’t concerned with playing solely to cheap memories and easy jokes for casual fans, and isn’t obsessed with deep fan lore, either. Its primary focus is instead on just being the next entry in these characters’ lives. It’s doing something new and not just playing the hits.
The special most closely follows Blue Ranger Billy (David Yost) and Black Ranger Zack (Walter Emanuel Jones). We check in on their lives and see them in new situations. After the death of Yellow Ranger Trini, Zack takes on guardianship of her daughter, Minh (Charlie Kersh). It’s a wonderful new side of Zack that still highlights the character’s familiar warmth and charm. His interactions with Minh are the best part of the special, the two sharing a genuine bond that makes us instantly care for her.
On the flip side, Billy struggles with Minh focusing all her blame on him for the death of her mom. Billy acknowledges this but, critically, he doesn’t wallow in it. A year has passed since Trini’s death and while there is still some guilt there, he’s done his best to move on. Is there anything in Billy’s character from the original show that points to this level of maturity and ability to process emotions? Not really, but that’s what makes this storyline so great. It’s been so long, it only makes sense to see some growth from each character.
The same goes for Rocky (Steve Cardenas) and Kat (Catherine Sutherland). Kat blessedly doesn’t have to give up all her screen time screaming for Tommy. Rocky’s become a firefighter but I’m more interested in his intense need for those noodles he wanted for lunch. Some longtime fans will cry out that Rocky never loved noodles like this before but it really works. It gives me something new to associate with Rocky. The dude loves noodles! It’s charming in a way that feels like the Rocky of old but also different. Rocky being a firefighter and Kat helping her son with karate camp are also great ways to subtly remind the audience that yes, they are still in shape and can fight, and avoids the tired “ha ha they’re old jokes.”
This doesn’t mean Once and Always doesn’t have callbacks or easter eggs sprinkled throughout, but it knows when to breeze past these. It quickly references Billy’s alien friend Cestria but wisely doesn’t get caught up in whether he married a fish. It’s explains how Kat can use the dino powers but doesn’t get bogged down with how everyone got their dino powers back. But it’s all in service of propelling a new adventure forward.
In this way, Once and Always plays to the casual fans as well. They just want to see their childhood heroes run into action, kick butt, and do the morph. And man, they do those so well! The action in this special is light years ahead of what Power Rangers can normally accomplish on its very small budget. Drone footage is expertly utilized to give the fights a new scale and the location shooting in New Zealand is put on full display. It’s even better that the Rangers get to do a lot of unmorphed fighting, a hallmark of the original series that helped make it so unique when it first premiered.
Minh works not just as a way for the story to be a moving tribute to Trini actress Thuy Trang, but also works reasonably well as a surrogate character for the kids watching. She’s the teenager, one who’s desperate to fight alongside these heroes she’s known all her life. Even in a special that’s all about celebrating the past, Minh keep the intended target audience of Power Rangers in mind.
The special isn’t flawless. Rita’s (Barbara Goodson) plan to travel back in time, which gets a big reveal towards the climax, doesn’t go anywhere, making it feel like there’s a missing piece of the story where the Rangers did time travel. Also, no matter how long it’s been, I can never believe Billy would actually say “catch these hands,” mixing in modern slang doesn’t always work during this walk down memory lane. It would have also been nice to see Aisha and Adam given a little more to do, especially considering Aisha hasn’t returned to the franchise since her original departure.
Power Rangers: Once and Always somehow catered to all possible audiences while also pulling off a story that will surprise all of them. It’s a moving tribute to the actors who’ve sadly left us while also giving us an adventure with our childhood heroes that isn’t solely content with reminiscing about the good old days. It lets the characters grow, change, but still retains the core of who they were. In that, it’s a triumph.