"RPM! Get in Gear!"
Is this the last season of the Power Rangers? Well, maybe it should be.... Buena Vista Home Entertainment (that's Disney) has released Power Rangers RPM Volume 2: Race for Corinth, the second installment of five episodes from the 17th season of The Power Rangers (which apparently is also the most current). Episodes 6 through 10 are: Ranger Green, Ranger Red, Yellow Ranger, Pt. 1, Yellow Ranger, Pt. 2, and Ranger Blue. I've read conflicting reports that this may or may not be the final season of the series, but honestly, after enjoying quite a bit the last few outings, I was disappointed by the current direction of this particular season. Granted, I'm coming in five episodes late (we didn't receive the first volume here at DVDTalk), so I may not be properly attuned to the series yet, but I've seen enough Power Rangers episodes in my life to know when something's slightly...off.
After doing a little digging on the net (to get up to speed on the episodes I missed), and then watching these shows, the story of Power Rangers RPM seemed a little more clear. Under the domed city of Corinth, the last human survivors of Earth gather, marshalling their forces to fight the dreaded Attack Bots manufactured by Venjix, the computer virus that has subjugated all of Earth's computers. Hell-bent on destroying the remaining humans under the dome, Venjix, in addition to his robotic Attack Bots, has employed Tenaya 7 (Adelaide Kane), a sultry Generation Seven Venjix Human Infiltration Attack Bot to worm her way into the domed city to facilitate its destruction. Naturally, the powers-that-be in Corinth have other ideas, with the Power Rangers team headed up by uber-geek, Dr. K (Olivia Tennet), a humorless wonk who spares no feelings when it comes to organizing a team capable of defeating Venjix and his army. New team members this go-around include Red Ranger and authority-bucking leader, Scott Truman (Eka Darville), a former Air Force pilot who lost his brother in a Venjix attack; Blue Ranger Flynn McAllister (Ari Boyland), a Scottish mechanic and war hero who saves a busload of refugees; Yellow Ranger Summer Landsdown (Rose McIver), once a spoiled, rich diva who "got religion" when her beloved servant died during a Venjix attack; Black Ranger Dillon (Daniel Ewing), a human/Venjix hybrid loner who, at least during these five episodes, has little to do with either the other Rangers or anyone else; and oddball Green Ranger Ziggy Grover (Milo Cawthorne), the comic relief of the bunch who earns the right to be a Power Ranger when it's revealed that he stole black market drugs for needed Corinth orphans.
It's always difficult to jump into a series after it's already begun, particularly since five episodes have passed - ones that set up the entire storyline and tone of the series. Still, this is episodic TV, and viewers coming and going is to be expected, and planned for; not every viewer can start a series from the beginning and religiously stick with it through the end. So I can only judge Power Rangers RPM based on what I've seen, and rather surprisingly, I found it more than a little wanting. I've written several times before about various Power Ranger series (you can click here to read those reviews), and I've always enjoyed these modern updates of the classic tokusatsu I enjoyed as a kid, such as Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot and Ultraman (and of course, all the endless viewings of the kaiju Godzillas and the like). But Power Rangers RPM seemed curiously leaden, with a central story that seemed too familiar, the lack of a compelling villain, Power Ranger characters that didn't interest me, and scaled-back production values that hampered the series' main attraction - the fight scenes.
Someone connected with Power Rangers RPM knows their movies, with subtle references to films like Pulp Fiction (Ziggy's and Benny's black suits) and not-so-subtle references such as naming a character "Fresno Bob" from Carpenter's Escape From New York. And throughout the five episodes I watched, characters are frequently indulging in self-reflexive moments, commenting ironically on Power Rangers conventions, such as Ziggy and Scott discussing "hero one-liners," or Ziggy questioning the explosions that always seem to appear whenever he morphs, or if the team really needs to say, "Get in Gear!" before each morph. All of that is okay for the long-time PR fan, but the central story of Power Rangers RPM - a band of humans in a domed city, fighting off a wave of attack robots lead by a malignant computer virus - seems fairly tame and familiar to most fans of this and similar genres. Ditto the clichéd "military father loses older son and doesn't believe in younger, more rebellious son," or the "spoiled rich girl who learns her lesson and becomes a caring person" subplot. I've seen both of those ad nauseum. At one point, in what I assume was a writer trying to sound comically ironic, Tenaya 7 asks the Blue Ranger what cliché he embodies - not a smart move when the characters truly are clichés. And boring ones, at that.
And for the first time with a Power Rangers series, I was disappointed by the production design. Most of the action - at least for these five episodes - were restricted to nondescript urban locales that lacked the visual interest of previous urban settings for the series. Even more troubling, there appeared to be a scaling back with the special effects - not nearly as many explosions or "wire work" during the fight scenes, and few if any monsters (the final Zord battle sequences seemed abbreviated and unimaginative, and I didn't get a sense at all of how the car-morphing fit in with the Rangers' morphing, as well). Equally unremarkable were the villains of the piece - always the key to success with the Power Rangers series. Tenaya 7 is remarkably undistinguished as the standard sultry female villain (the actress portraying her is anything but magnetic), while Venjix itself is manifested in a ridiculously unimpressive manner: he looks like nothing more than a large painted PVC sewer pipe. That's supposed to scare my little five-year-old son? If this is indeed the last season of The Power Rangers, perhaps that's justified considering the stale ideas and half-hearted execution here.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.