Saturday 31 January 2015

First Impressions: Power Rangers Dino Charge

Power Rangers Dino Charge

While in terms of exposure the Power Rangers franchise has returned with full force since returning to Saban Brands in 2010, it's popularity with long-term fans hasn't been in the best of conditions. The target demographic seem to be enjoying it (which is arguably the most important thing), but poor direction, acting, watered down Super Sentai plots and a pretty abysmal 20th anniversary series have prevented it from winning its oder fanbase. But with Judd "Chip" Lynn returning for 2015's Power Rangers Dino Charge, hype has been at an all-time high. With Lynn behind Power Rangers in Space and the tail end of RPM - two series that vastly differed from their Sentai counterparts, many hoped that this signalled a return to the originality that was severely lacking from both Samurai and Megaforce.  Nickelodeon have now made the first episode available online ahead of it's television premiere, so at long last we can now see if this is the Power Rangers series we've been waiting for.

65 million years ago, Keeper - the guardian of the powerful Energems was pursued across the galaxy by the ruthless bounty hunter Sledge. Crash landing on Earth, Keeper entrusts the power of the Energems to the various dinosaur species roaming the planet in the hope that it will keep their power away from Sledge's forces. Despite being able to cripple Sledge's ship, as a side effect the asteroids the bounty hunter as collected as payment rain down on the Earth - causing the dinosaurs' untimely extinction.

In the present day, Tyler Navarro searches the caves of ... Bay in search of his missing father. Meanwhile, tomboy waitress Shelby sneaks on to an archaeological dig run by the museum she works at - hoping to become more involved in the study of dinosaurs. When the two come into contact with two the Energems they are immediately targeted by Sledge's forces - still on the hunt for the ultimate power source. Calling upon the power of the dinosaurs, a new force of Power Rangers is born!

Even though it doesn't always result in a high-quality series story-wise, how much effort has been put into a Power Rangers season can usually be measured by how much original footage it contains. This is the main area that Samurai and Megaforce/Super Megaforce were severely lacking in - to the point where the latter was even including pre-Zyuranger Super Sentai suits with no real context other than "because new powers". So with these two shows still fresh in everyone's memories, it's a huge shock to see that "Powers from the Past" is 100% newly filmed footage. That's right, there isn't a single Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger sequence present other than in the opening credits. Unusually for a Power Rangers opening it builds up its team slowly, only properly introducing the red and pink rangers in the episode with the blue (Koda) and black (Chase) rangers making minor cameos. Green is still nowhere in sight, and viewers are also introduced to Kendall - the museum's lead scientist whose future with the rangers is still yet to be revealed.

So instead this episode focuses heavily on backstory - documenting the events that occurred between Keeper and Sledge way back in prehistoric times. Keeper is an odd little creature, who can only be described as the unholy spawn of Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie's Lerigot and Masked Rider's Ferbus (with a dose of E.T. thrown in for good measure). Keeper feels like he's going to be a "love him or hate him" kind of character, but as far as mentors go it's most definitely a step up from a giant tiki head glued to a cave wall.

The villains on the other hand are extremely fun. Sledge himself is a brand new Power Rangers creation, which again is always a good sign that there's real effort behind the show. Him and his fiancee Poisandra have a great Rita/Zedd dynamic going on, resulting in some fun jokes and already memorable moments. Sledge's spaceship is a beautifully designed set - chock-full of detail and a few "blink and you'll miss it" cameos Kyoryuger fans are sure to enjoy.

What we know of the rangers so far isn't very much at all, but what we do know is all a step in the right direction. Believable acting, ADR that isn't completely over the top etc. Power Rangers showing so much restraint in introducing it's main cast is an extremely rare thing - in most cases the five teens already know each other. The show is taking it's time and this is nothing but a good thing - this is an episode purely about characters and story, not shoehorning in ranger suits and zords to start advertising the toys as soon as possible.

It wasn't without it's problems though. The CGI is laughably bad even for Power Rangers standards, barely having come anywhere over the years (which makes me thankful that the franchise still primarily relies on practical effects). How exactly prehistoric Earth has modern-day formed continents is also something that probably shouldn't have slipped past the production team. The first morphed fight sequence wasn't all that impressive either, but that's definitely more forgivable since the show is making a strict point of showing that the rangers don't immediately know what they're doing once they've got their powers. You'd be surprised how refreshing that is.

Whether Powers from the Past is the greatest Power Rangers openings of all time is up for debate but one thing is certainly clear - it's definitely at least ONE of them and Power Rangers Dino Charge is off to a magnificent start. If being made up entirely of new footage wasn't enough, it's also an extremely enjoyable episode that shows great promise for what's to come in the future. Samurai lured me in simply by being the return of Saban-led Power Rangers, Megaforce lured me in with nostalgia, but unlike the others Dino Charge has left me desperate to see more.

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