Wednesday 27 April 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Wild Force

Power Rangers Wild Force is the 10th entry in the Power Rangers franchise, following on from Power Rangers Time Force. It is the last season to have involvement from Saban until 2011’s Power Rangers Samurai, and the last season to be filmed in the US. Closely based on the Super Sentai series Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger, the story follows Cole Evans – a young man who has lived with a jungle tribe for many years, until they send him out to find his destiny – with only a picture of his biological parents and a mysterious red orb. As he arrives in Turtle Cove, he meets the rest of the Wild Force Power Rangers - Alyssa EnrilĂ© (The White Tiger Ranger), Danny Delgado (Black Bison), Max Cooper (Blue Shark) and their leader Taylor Earhardt (Yellow Eagle). They take Cole to the Animarium, a floating island in the sky shaped like a turtle, where they meet Princess Shayla – the guardian of the Animarium who serves as the series’ mentor character. She explains they have all been chosen by their respective animals to protect the world from the threat of the Orgs and their leader, Master Org. Cole becomes the red lion ranger and the leader of the Power Rangers Wild Force. They are later joined by Merrick, and Animarium warrior from 3000 years was trapped by the spirit of Zen-Aku – an evil wolf whose power is contained in a mask. After shedding Zen-Aku, Merrick becomes the Lunar Wolf ranger.

The core cast is strong, even if some of their roles are rather one dimensional. As the main protagonist, Cole gets the most development throughout the series, growing from a rookie ranger to spearheading one of the best last stands in Power Rangers history. Taylor starts off as being irritating (shouting most of her lines) but eventually grows into a more likeable character. Alyssa is one of the more diverse rangers in the series (and my favourite of the group) but never really gets much time to develop. Max is presented as being insecure about his age (referred to as a kid by the other rangers, particularly Taylor) and Danny….doesn’t really do anything at all. The villains aren’t much better – Master Org, while having a decent back story, is rather bland in his early appearances and then temporarily killed off when his origins are revealed. His replacement Retinax (and most of the other Org Generals in fact) is even worse. The true stars are without a doubt Toxica and Jindrax, the two subordinate characters who develop from comic relief into some of the more interesting Power Rangers villains. The Zen-Aku story arc is extremely well written and draws a lot of parallels to ‘Green with Evil’ from the very first season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, only instead of getting an evil ranger from the beginning Merrick’s ranger form comes from his monster Zen- Aku form, something that is much more visually appealing.

The wild zords are excellent – them being sentient provides a nice twist on their usual use as fighting tools and an integral part of the story. Aside from one exception (which is expanded on further below) I have no complains and the four Megazords (The Wild Force Megazord, KongaZord, Isis Megazord and the Marrick’s PredaZord) are all excellent. The rangers handheld weapons vary a bit more, their initial weapons are terrible (and include a baton of all things) and their combined form isn’t much of an improvement. Their second set of weapons are better, but are only really used in their combined form. The biggest waste of potential though, is the claws each ranger is shown to have when morphed. Using these as weapons would have been a far more unique take for animal-themed Power Rangers, but as the series progresses they are used less and less, really only appearing in call out sequences following morphing.

And then of course there’s Forever Red – the 10th anniversary Power Rangers episode that included every red power ranger than had come so far (save for Rocky DeSantos). The episode itself is full of plot holes, continuity errors, physics which is ridiculous for even Power Rangers standards and its ending is incredibly underwhelming. But as far as a 10th anniversary episode goes, it is fantastic. Amidst the continuity problems are some of the best fight sequences of Wild Force, including an excellent unmorphed fight between most of the red rangers and the cogs. Its full of homages – including not only red rangers but also the Machine Empire, Serpentera and the Astro Megaship. Seeing all the rangers together is nothing short of epic, and makes me wish that more epic crossovers had been done in the following series. The Time Force crossover is also excellent, and not only helps to further develop the Wild Force cast but also provide a satisfying conclusion to the Time Force arc.

But there are several things that bug me about Wild Force, and they really bug me. The first thing is the aforementioned Armadillo zord, who’s entire purpose in the whole series is to be….used as a football. Yeah, seriously. As if that wasn’t bad enough on its own, several of its uses are also coupled with some stock footage of the Wild Force Megazord in a (badly done) CGI football stadium doing some football skills, complete with cheering crowds. My second problem (and the one that stayed apparent throughout the series) is the morphing sequence. Wild Force (and Gaoranger) started the trend in which most PR/Sentai teams that followed had mobile-phone like devices in order to morph, but in this instance it really doesn’t feel right. Finally is the Wolf Ranger’s finishing move, in which he….plays pool with his animal spirits. Well, I suppose it is a change from the usual ‘gun that turns into sword and vice versa’ finishers we usually get and it does later bring on some nice development between Merrick and an elderly bar owner but the problem here is the same thing as with the others – it simply doesn’t fit the aesthetic. I’m not one to think Power Rangers should be a strictly serious affair, but none of these fit the ‘wild animal’ aesthetic I liked about Wild Force. The rangers’ base of operation is a very mystical looking floating island in the sky and then they use mobile phones for morphing? That being said I did like the animal gems, which were very reminiscent of MMPR’s power coins.

There are a couple of other things that bug me about the series but they are far more nitpicky. For example - if the rangers are supposed to be maintaining secret identities, why do they each were jackets that coincidentally have the slogans each ranger calls out when they morph (noble tiger, soaring eagle etc.) emblazoned on them? Why does Merrick switch between between the ‘Lunar’ wolf and the ‘Howling’ wolf on a regular basis? And finally, since these rangers don’t seem to have the ability to teleport, just how exactly do they get back and forth to the Animarium? (Although in the final episode the Animarium is shown to have the ability to teleport people on-board, but even then it’s in a far closer range of said person).

Power Rangers Wild Force is not by any stretch of the imagination a bad series – in many ways it really does feel like the true spiritual successor to the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, but at the same time it lacks a lot of the things that made that series truly special. There’s a lot to like about it – the core ranger cast is particularly strong, power struggles between the antagonists, superb ranger costumes which display each animal motif perfectly, excellent zords/megazords that aren’t hampered by the increasing use of CGI and most importantly two brilliant team-up stories. However there’s just as much to dislike about the series – the dialogue is often clunky, Princess Shayla, the fact the writers weren’t quite sure what to do with Merrick (one minute he’s adamant he works alone, the next he’s the best of friends with the rangers) a lead villain that is completely outclassed by his comedy relief henchmen and preachy environmental messages. It’s not as bad as some of the seasons that preceded it, nor is it as bad as some of the seasons that followed – but as visually pleasing as it may be, its flaws prevent it from gaining the recognition it could have had.


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Anonymous said...

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