Friday 5 August 2011

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue

Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue is the eighth season in the Power Rangers franchise, following on from Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Adapted from the Super Sentai series KyuuKyuu Sentai GoGo Five, it is the first Power Rangers series to be truly detached from the 'Zordon' era of the franchise, as its predecessor included several throwbacks and references to it. It is also the first series to have a team of publicly known rangers.

Lightspeed Rescue takes place in the fictitious city of Mariner Bay, which was built on top of the castle of evil demons who were imprisoned many years in the past. When these demons are accidentally awakened and rise again to restore the castle of Queen Bansheera to the surface, a government organisation named Operation Lightspeed (led by Captain William Mitchell) recruits four civilians from different backgrounds to defend the city. Carter Grayson, a fire fighter, becomes the red ranger; Chad Lee, a life guard and marine animal trainer, takes on the role of the blue ranger; stunt pilot Joel Rawlings becomes the green ranger and extreme sports junkie Kelsey Winslow becomes the yellow ranger. Dana, Lightspeed operative and Captain Mitchell's daughter, completes the team by becoming the fifth member and pink ranger. Aided by an huge arsenal created by Miss Angela Fairweather and her team of scientists and engineers, they defend the city against Queen Bansheera's subordinates.

As the series progresses, the five rangers are eventually joined by the Titanium ranger - whose identity is Captain Mitchell's long lost (presumed dead) son Ryan. Raised by Diabolico (one of Bansheera's henchmen), he is brought up to be evil and intially attacks the rangers and Lightspeed, believing his father to have abandoned him. When he learns the truth - that his father had to make a deal with a demon in order to keep him alive, he switches sides and fights alongside the rangers. The Titanium ranger is a first for Power Rangers, as he is an entirely American ranger, not appearing in KyuuKyuu Sentai GoGo Five.

The first thing to note about Lightspeed Rescue is that it has a very different style and aesthetic to the series' that preceded it. The Lightspeed Powers are completely manmade and the team operates as a rescue service just as much as they are super heroes. While the later episodes are more typical Power Rangers fare in terms of monster battles, the initial episodes really highlight these differences - with the rangers spending a reasonable portion of the episodes putting out fires and saving civilians caught in a monster rampage. Since the technology is also man-made, it also starts off a bit more primitive than you'd expect. For example, early formations of the Lightspeed Megazord involved the zords having to be hoisted into place and the zords were launched to their destination via a high speed train. As the series goes on, the scientific progression of Lightspeed is quite apparent, and feels much more logical than the "random new powers appearing just because" moments that previous series' had.

Aesthetically I'm a huge fan of Lightspeed Rescue. The suits have the right amount of white on top of the designated colours and the large visor/lack of mouthpiece on the helmets make them feel much more like practical, man-made helmets for a rescue force rather than superheroes. I also liked that the visors slid up and down on the helmets, revealing the faces with the mouth covered by some sort of breathing apparatus (so I presume). The rangers don't feel like teenagers turned super heroes - they seem pretty damn professional from the get-go and spend more time shooting first and asking questions later than using fancy martial arts. Its certainly a different dynamic to what we've seen in the past, but in this case it really works.

The series boasts a huge number of megazords (a grand total of four) each with their own pros and cons. The first megazord introduced is the aforementioned Lightspeed Megazord (made up of rescue vehicle zords), which isn't a particularly brilliant design, but still memorable in its own right. This megazord could also combine with the Titanium Ranger's zord - the Max Solarzord, a space shuttle that could also transform into a robot mode. The next is the Super Train Megazord, whose components were the Rail Rescues - the trains that brought the Lightspeed Rescue vehicles to their destinations), which is really impressive - a hulking black machine armed to the teeth with firepower. The third, the Omega Megazord (a name I'm not a huge fan off since it rolls off the tongue quite strangely) is made up of the space-styled Omega zords and by far my favourite megazord in the series. While the megazord formation has its flaws (despite its excellent body, the box head looks particularly silly), it wins points by also having a proper combined vehicle form. Sure, it may not look like much (pretty much a giant land crawler thing) the fact it was incorporated was a huge plus in my eyes. The final (and least used) Megazord, is the silly-but-literally named Lifeforce Megazord - a black, combined form only, version of the Lightspeed Solarzord that was so powerful it drained the life force of its pilots. Another interesting fact was that while there were such a large number of megazords, they all got their fair share of usage, without one replacing the other once it was introduced (if anything, the Lightspeed Megazord always stayed in centre stage).

The series main problems lied with its main cast. While as a team they gelled really well together, as did the inclusion of Captain Mitchell (who I became far more attached to than I initially expected to be) and Miss Fairweather. However the rangers individual characterisation left a lot more to be desired. The range of spotlight they got was varying - with Carter definitely take the most. While I didn't dislike Carter, I felt the series tried to push the "All-American fire figher/hero" aspect to his character a little too hard to begin with. Next came Joel, who's development never really amounted to more than him wanting being in love with Miss Fairweather (a comedic side story which was very hit and miss). Kelsey was just annoying throughout, but still received better development than Dana or Chad, who mostly stayed in the background only to have their spotlight episodes have them act either completely out of character or include love stories with a mermaid (yeah, seriously). Ryan had the potential to be an excellent sixth ranger - especially when he is cursed with a snake tattoo that moves slowly up his body every time he morphs, eventually killing him, but his introduction is extremely rushed and thus he falls completely flat. As there was no Sentai footage to reuse for the character, his role is minimal at best and leaves midway through the series only to return in the two-part finale.

The villains on the other hand start off very poorly (to the point where they don't even feel central to the story) but develop into something much more interesting. The balance of power shifts frequently throughout the show, with Diabolico, Vypra and Loki in charge first, aided by Jinxer (the show's resident monster-maker) and in the care of Impus - Queen Bansheera's infant child. When Diabolico is defeated, Impus matures into Olympius and takes centre stage for a while. When Diabolico is resurrected (followed quickly by an incapacitated Queen Bansheera), a power struggle between the villains occurs, with each trying to outdo or even kill the other while at the same time trying to gain favour with Bansheera. When Bansheera regains her body and takes active charge herself, we see just how little she cares for her subordinates - quickly offing them to increase her own power or defeat the rangers quickly. This leads to Diabolico actively turning on Bansheera and the two effectively holding a grudge against each other until the bitter end. While visually they certainly aren't the most memorable of Power Rangers villains, the level of development they got is staggering.

Finally I should discuss this season's 2-part crossover episode with the Lost Galaxy rangers. Despite my dislike of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, the story was actually pretty damn good. The first part may have had the focus in all the wrong places (like Carter helping a young girl and making her an honorary ranger) but the second part had some good team up fight sequences and an excellent finale. Bringing Trakeena back scarred and humiliated added quite a bit to her already reasonably developed character, and her mutated form in the episode's climax is arguably one of the best Sentai/Power Rangers monsters to date. Giving the Lightspeed Megazord a Lights of Orion power up was also a nice little touch too - a one off combination/power up always makes the team up episodes feel a little more special.

When I started Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue I had my doubts about it - it wasn't like any PR series I'd seen before, and in some ways it didn't really feel like Power Rangers. But as it went on I found more and more to enjoy about the series and its strengths actually lie in the fact that it was bold enough to go against the norm and be different. The lack of individual character development for the rangers and some dodgy filler episodes stop it from reaching a really high rating, but its certainly worthy of a low 4 out of 5. I would definitely consider this one of, if not the most underrated Power Rangers series' to date.

No comments: