Netflix’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers special, ‘Once & Always’ is now available on streaming devices everywhere and if there is one takeaway from it, it’s this: we will always be fans of the MMPR era, and this unique return to where it all started down in Angel Grove strengthens that sentiment even further.
When Netflix announced this special was in the works, with much of the original cast from the first couple of seasons returning, we were excited to see what a high-value production of MMPR would look like. But if that is what you are looking for, then you may want to just stick to the 1995 film. Because if there is one thing you need to know about Once & Always before diving into it, it’s that it desperately sticks close to its roots, even after thirty years.
Within the first few minutes of Once & Always, it becomes incredibly obvious that the production team did everything they could to retain the magic of the campiness from the original series. The acting is cheesy, the fight scenes are silly, and the dialogue is so tongue-in-cheek dorky, that it really feels like another episode from the 90s era without missing a beat. And it is perfect in all those ways.
The story of Once & Always is fairly obvious, especially from the teaser trailers leading into it. Rita Repulsa is back and after she kills one of the Rangers, she captures Tommy, Jason, and Kim to absorb their energy for her master plan, leaving only Billy and Zack to fight back and save their teammates. But they are not without other Rangers friends, as Rocky and Kat arrive as backup Rangers Red and Pink, respectively.
From there, the plot expands into interesting territory, seemingly retconning a lot of what we saw from the MMPR era, likely pulling from various comic book source materials. However, these changes felt a little jarring at first and left a handful of questions unanswered for those who are only familiar with the show.
- How did Jason, Kim, Trini, and Zack return as Rangers?
- Why is Tommy still the Green Ranger and not the White?
- Have the original MMP Rangers been active as Rangers over the last 30 years?
- If multiple Ranger teams exist and are currently operating on earth, why didn’t any come to help stop Rita? What were they doing the whole time?
These are just a few immediate questions off of the top of our heads without thinking too far into it but therein lies the solution. The Power Rangers series of any era, any season, never did a great job with the writing, especially with plot logic. Such little effort went into that aspect that you probably don’t want to expect too much from that now. Just accept it for what it is and you’ll find enjoyment in it. Expect too much and it may frustrate the hell out of you but that can also be said of literally any episode at any point in the franchise, including present day.
What Once & Always does, almost to an impressive fault, is lean heavily into what made the original series special. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it sends a positive message about justice, hope, friendship, and the myriad of other tropes the Rangers are known for.
At a certain point, you have to keep your expectations in check, because Once & Always does not deliver theatre-grade visuals, nor does it even attempt to go for stunning performances from its cast. And while the film feels cheap for a 2023 release backed by Netflix money, you have to look at it through quite a different lens to appreciate what is going on here.
Sure, the Netflix team could have treated this like a huge blockbuster if they wanted to but instead, they did something that seems even more difficult- they stayed true to the source material in literally every way imaginable. The suits were unchanged in design, zippers exposed and all, and the writing was eye-roll inducing each and every step of the way. In fact, only Water Jones seemed to deliver a halfway believable performance. But that is not a bad thing as Once & Always feels just like another episode from the first or second season, which had to have been either extremely difficult or extremely easy to pull off. In either case, it felt delightful to be overwhelmed by such levels of nostalgia.
Curiously, Amy Jo Johnson, Austin St. John, the late Thuy Trang, and the late Jason David Frank all lend their voices to their Ranger counterparts, presumably as re-used audio from the original series. None of them show their faces (aside from a flashback or two) nor do they have any actual spoken words that we noticed, but their iconic grunts and battle cries rang across our screens and speakers and into our ears like a symphony of nostalgia.
Overall, Once & Always is without a doubt the most source material accurate continuation we have ever seen. And while that is not saying much, considering the show was low-budget to begin with, you have to hand it to Netflix for bringing back a bunch of older Rangers in a story that was fun to experience. Because, in all honesty, Once & Always was exactly what it set out to be- a fun Ranger adventure overflowing with the campy nostalgia we have loved since the 90s.