Monday 21 November 2016

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Dino Charge

Power Rangers Dino Charge

Saban’s new era of Power Rangers hasn’t gotten off to the best start when it comes to appeasing long time fans of the franchise. Power Rangers Samurai’s “follow the Sentai footage as closely as possible” approach was met with criticism, and the less said about Power Rangers Megaforce/Super Megaforce’s attempt at a 20th anniversary celebration the better. However things immediately looked up when Power Rangers Dino Charge (rebranded Power Rangers Dino Supercharge for its second season) was announced, with veteran writer Judd “Chip” Lynn (head writer for Turbo through to Time Force, as well as a writer and executive producer for Jungle Fury and RPM respectively) at the helm. Dino Charge also marks the first time a Super Sentai series has been completely skipped over, with Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters passed up in favour of its successor Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger. After all, if there’s anything that’s bound to be a sure hit with Power Rangers its dinosaurs.

The cast of Power Rangers Dino Charge
Longer lasting (Dino) batteries

Millions of years ago, an alien known as Keeper was shot down over Earth by the intergalactic bounty hunter Sledge. Wishing to keep the Energems, ten different coloured gems that he was sworn to protect, safe from Sledge, Keeper entrusts the Energems to a group of dinosaurs before crippling Sledge's ship - resulting in asteroids raining down over Earth and causing the extinction of the dinosaurs.

In the present day, Tyler Navarro and Shelby Watkins discover the red and pink Energems before being attacked by one of Sledge's captive monsters. After transforming into Power Rangers and meeting their dinosaur zord partners, they also discover that Keeper has been working alongside archeologist Kendall Morgan to retrieve the Energems. Tyler and Shelby are joined by the blue ranger Koda (a caveman frozen in ice and kept alive by the power of his Energem), black ranger Chase and green ranger Riley. Together they fight against Sledge and his monsters, who has returned to finish the job he started millennia ago. Eventually they are also joined by Ivan - an ancient knight from the land of Zandar who wields the power of the gold energem. With six of the gems in their possession, its a race against time for the rangers to find the remaining four before Sledge does.

After Sledge is seemingly defeated at the end of Dino Charge, a new threat quickly arrives in his place to finish what he started - Heckyl, a humanoid alien who shares a body with the ferocious fighter Snide. With even tougher opponents, the rangers call upon new powers, zords and allies in Dino Supercharge.

Armour Shrek

When the first episode of Power Rangers Dino Charge aired back in January 2015, it didn’t take much for this to seem like the metaphorical kick the Power Rangers franchise needed. The premiere was comprised of almost entirely original footage, with what little it did take from Kyoryuger used in such a way that the whole thing felt fresh regardless. This great start was then built upon with a great cast of characters and an intriguing back story as well as individual episodes that brought their own originality with source footage used in clever ways. The show even made the effort to fix the Japanese names printed on stock footage sections – a detail that would have gone a long way back in Megaforce. But as much as the little details are appreciated its the cast that really make Dino Charge work. Both Koda, Ivan and Shelby especially (the former pair for their various fish-out-water actions/remarks), but even the weaker members of the cast like Chase (whose main trait is that he's from New Zealand and the show is sure to remind you that at every given opportunity) are thoroughly likeable. The ranger cast is so good that it makes it much easier to overlook the team’s one weak link – Keeper, their mentor and Energem guardian whose reputation doesn’t seem to quite match up with his onscreen actions. More importantly these characters actually develop over the course of the show as well, even when it starts to show some its more significant failings.

E.T. came home

However when Dino Supercharge rolled around, things began to decline quickly. The new season brought in several changes, few of which proved to be good ones. Sledge had barely been developed as a credible villain before Dino Charge was over, and then he was replaced with the double team of Heckyl and Snide. Both characters vied for screen time just as they did a body, with neither getting enough before they were later usurped by Lord Arcanon – who was in turn dealt with swiftly so that Sledge could return for the finale. It’s at this point the writing also takes a bizarre turn, with crucial story moments constantly taking a back seat to what should be each individual episode’s secondary plot (i.e. the non-ranger related one). Example – Chase struggling to make a pavlova for a food critic shouldn’t be taking priority over Arcanon's debut. Important plot points are thrown in purely as exposition just before Supercharge launches into a two-part finale that isn’t just anti-climactic, its resolution is just downright surreal. From disregarding continuity to time travel and alternate universe headaches, the show sadly ends on a note that isn't the bang those early episodes deserved.

Those goggles are the closest to an American Enter we'll ever get

While these are pretty big faults, Supercharge still gets points for trying. Although the use of Kyoryuger footage gets a little more slapdash (as in, plots revolve around the available footage rather than making the footage work for the plot) but the show is still very much its own thing and not a carbon copy of Kyoryuger. Even if you're a Power Rangers fan unfamiliar with the source material, the overall presentation is very different between a near-word for word adaptation and one such as Dino Charge. Samurai and Megaforce are shows that have their plot and actors stick to a pretty rigid checklist and it really shows. With Dino Charge everything feels a lot less forced, and this makes it a pleasure to watch even when it isn't at its best.

With a total of ten rangers Power Rangers Dino Charge features the biggest recurring team in the franchise to date, however as usual it is the main six that are the most prominent. With the way that Kyoryuger utilised its additional heroes it was unlikely that the Graphite, Violet, Aqua and Silver rangers were ever going to be integrated into the main team, but even so Dino Charge frequently displayed missed opportunities when it came to them. Kyoryuger made it abundantly clear why these characters were often on the sidelines or elsewhere, but Dino Charge in comparison either gives flimsy excuses or no excuse at all. As the ruler of an entire country Albert (the Graphite Ranger) has a reasonable excuse, but the rest are fairly pitiful. Kendall is a main character yet appearances as the Violet Ranger are minimal, while James makes his debut as the Cyan Ranger and then almost immediately disappears off again – despite Tyler searching for his father being such a huge part of the first season. Zenowing/the Silver Ranger comes in far too late to really make a memorable impression, but at the very least once he turns up he sticks around for the most part. But perhaps the biggest misfire is the lack of the Talon Ranger – a name which turned up on the DX Morpher toy and refers to Kyoryuger’s movie exclusive evil ranger Deathryuger. All the pieces were in place to include the character as part of Dino Charge – a dark Energem, a suitable candidate, the use of the Spinosaurus Zord – yet the show inexplicably failed to capitalise on any of it. Even to those unfamiliar with Kyoryuger it feels like something is missing.

Dino Charge's addtional rangers
The B Squad

Dino Charge’s villains were a particularly interesting bunch, not only featuring a completely American creation but also characters that were bunch far flung from their Sentai counterparts as well as ones that were essentially watered down versions of them. Although Sledge’s stake in the show often goes beyond that of simply a bounty hunter he’s a good villain nonetheless – fearsome enough to pose a threat but also a good source of comic relief (he and Poisonandra are very reminiscent of Rita and Zedd). Heckyl and Snide are also great characters, but they feel even more ill-fitting in the command post than Sledge does. Their limited screen time also means minimal development, especially in Heckyl’s case who all of sudden goes from a charismatic villain to a sympathetic defector once some quick back story is thrown in at the last second. Arcanon is barely a footnote in the grand scheme of things, and the rest of Sledge’s merry crew (Poisandra, Wrench, Fury, Curio) are all respectable side villains in their own right.

The zord action is fairly run-of-the-mill for Power Rangers, and with no new mecha footage to speak of any praise/complaints in this area should be directed at Kyoryuger rather than Dino Charge. Curiously as was the case with Samurai there are also the oddities that are the American-exclusive Megazord cockpit modes. These take a couple of forms in Dino Charge, first as the fairly standard Dino Drive mode and then as the more elaborate Super Dino Drive mode. What sets these apart from their Samurai predecessors though is that these actually look like natural extensions of the suits general aesthetic, rather than a strange new version of it. It still doesn't really answer the fact that these things would probably be far more beneficial in combat than they would be piloting a zord, but at least they're nice to look at.

Super Dino Drive mode

Dino Charge gets off to such a fantastic start, but the huge decline when it comes to Supercharge is sadly enough for stop it from being one of the franchise's all-time greats. However despite the dip in quality, it's originality is more than enough to secure its place as one of the more notable entries in Power Rangers history. With original villains and storylines, even when at its worst it still makes for a far more engaging watch that anything since RPM and a much better foundation for this new chapter in the franchise to go on. The little known about Power Rangers Ninja Steel so far suggests that conceptually it’ll be even further detached from its Sentai counterpart than this, so hopefully it’ll also learn from Dino Charge’s mistakes when it comes to consistency too.


Lucas said...

Personally, i couldn't bring myself to watch Dino Change for two reasons:

The fact that Super Megaforce could have been this good if Judd Lynn came in time and the fact that they skipped my favorite Sentai season. I'm still pissed becuase of that.

Stephen Cassat said...

Dino Charge and Supercharge were great seasons. No other Neo Saban season can pass it.