Thursday 7 March 2019

First Impressions: Power Rangers Beast Morphers

Power Rangers Beast Morphers

After shaking the Power Rangers fandom with the news last year that the franchise would be leaving the hands of both Saban and Bandai of America and joining the Hasbro family, the true dawn of the Hasbro Era is finally upon us. This fourth chapter in Power Rangers history kicks off with Power Rangers Beast Morphers, a show that becomes even more interesting when you consider the Super Sentai series it was adapted from. Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters was originally released all the way back in 2012, having previously been skipped over following the completion of Power Rangers Super Megaforce in favour of the supposedly more marketable Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger (Power Rangers Dino Charge). But given that Go-Busters features transforming (in addition to combining) mecha as part of the teams arsenal, Beast Morphers seems like the perfect series for Hasbro to kick off their Power Rangers tenure.

The Morphing Grid, the energy sources which has provided the Power Rangers with their abilities for generations, has been harnessed into a clean energy source known as ‘Morph-X’. In addition Grid Battleforce, the organisation behind the Morph-X project, is also working to create a new team of Power Rangers by mixing the energy with animal DNA. Just as the three candidates are about to become rangers, GB’s systems are attacked by a computer virus known as Evox - who immediately creates evil avatar clones of two of the ranger candidates.

Also witnessing the attack are Devon Davies, the carefree son of the Coral Harbour’s mayor, and Zoey Reeves - a laundry girl at Grid Battleforce with big dreams. Joining the remaining original candidate Ravi Shaw, the three become the new Power Rangers team - utilising animal powers along with high-tech weaponry to fight Evox and his agents back.

In a rare moment of defence for the "Neo Saban" era, both the premiere episodes for Dino Charge and Ninja Steel were pretty good in regards for the amount of original footage they utilised. And while the same can certainly be said of Beast Morphers' first outing, there's also immediately a far clearer sense of direction and professionalism that go with this episode. "Beasts Unleashed" certainly crams a lot of plot into its 20 minute running time, but nothing feels especially rushed here – at least not to the point that it can't be fixed later. Proper character backgrounds and development will follow in the coming weeks, so all this episode needed to do get that initial establishment right so that there's that foundation for future episodes to build upon.

So while we don’t find out a lot about the characters themselves in this episode, it does do a good job of introducing almost every key member of the cast. Our ranger team, made up of Devon, Ravi and Zoey already has a good mix of personalities within it, and having the blue ranger be the only original candidate on the team should make for some nice leadership balancing in later episodes. On top of that there’s already a sizeable number of side characters, including Devon’s dad Adam, Ravi’s mother Commander Shaw, chief scientist Nate Silva and two comic relief security guards Betty and Ben. Then finally there’s Blaze and Roxy, the original red and yellow ranger candidates- both their original personas and their Cybervillain avatar replacements. Despite there being so much to get through there’s enough here to get a goof take on all of these characters. The episode even name drops villains from previous Power Rangers series too, properly placing it within the Power Rangers timeline right from the get-go. Even if its just a wink and a nod here or there, it shows a wider appreciation for the franchise and its (sometimes spotty) internal continuity.

After a decent amount of set up it all culminates in Evox’s first attack on Grid Battleforce, resulting in the creation of the Beast Morpher rangers and Evox’s own agents. While everything up until this point has been original footage this is where that fact becomes particularly important. Of course most of the fights are going to come from the Sentai footage eventually, but kicking things off with a strong original fight scene is the right way to go. But it isn’t just the choreography that sells the scene, it’s the ADR as well. Gone are the constant puns and quips that plagued the Neo Saban era, replaced with dialogue that actually fits the tone.

This original fight scene isn't likely to be a one-off either, especially as it confirms that the Dark Red Buster suit (which only appeared in Go-Busters for two episodes) will make a recurring appearance as Blaze's avatar form. Similarly Roxy's avatar form uses Escape's "monster" suit from Go-Busters, but in different colours. Right off the bat this tells you just how dedicated Allspark Pictures are to creating an original Power Rangers series, so much so that they recreated many of the Go-Busters monster suits themselves as the originals have degraded since 2012. Even with original characters and characters from complete different Super Sentai series appearing in previous series, that level of commitment hasn't been seen for some time and that alone is a reason to get excited about Beast Morphers.

As enjoyable as the episode was though it isn't completely without issue, at the main one being that it doesn’t sell Devon quite as well as it does Ravi or Zoey (despite the episode having far more focus on him). Relatable certainly, but the episode really amps up his carefree attitude to his detriment. Take the opening scene with the karate lesson – Blaze was in the wrong to lash out at him in the way he did but to crash a beginners' karate class, not take it seriously and the say it isn't challenging enough isn't the height of etiquette either. Bulk and Skull would be ridiculed for much less in the original series. The issues with his father pushing him to get a job are a little less egregious, but even then his attitude seems a little unfair all things considered. Further development might frame these things in a different way, but this episode makes him out to be a bit of an ass all things considered. But then maybe that's the point, and the whole experience of being a ranger will teach him some humility. That would be an excellent bit of character development, and if it is the case I'll happily rescind the complaint. But just calling it as I see it for now.

But all in all this was an extremely strong start for Power Rangers Beast Morphers. Under new management the franchise finally seems to be ridding itself of all the flaws that have been holding it back since Samurai. A premise which takes all the right pieces from the source Sentai but leaves enough room for original story, a seemingly strong (for the most part) cast of characters and most important all new footage which turns the source material completely on its head. This is the breath of fresh air Power Rangers has needed for years, and if the show can keep up this level of quality then the franchise is pretty safe in Hasbro's hands.

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