Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Series REVIEW: Power Rangers Beast Morphers

Power Rangers Beast Morphers

With the amount of toys and merchandising there’s been over the last two years it’s easy to think that Power Rangers has become entrenched its latest iteration, but when it comes to the show itself it’s still very much early days. The Hasbro era truly kicked off in 2019 with the release of Power Rangers Beast Morphers, immediately commanding attention from older fans by going back a few years in the Super Sentai timeline to adapt 2012’s Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters. Additionally, while the series once again adopted the two season format used since Power Rangers Samurai, this marked the first time the latter half did not take on the “Super” prefix - remaining as simply Beast Morphers for the entirety of its run.

A Morph-X TowerThe Evox Virus

The city of Coral Harbour has adapted the Morphing Grid to create a system of unlimited clean energy, transforming it into a substance named “Morph-X” and channelling it through towers across the city. To defend this energy from potential attackers, Grid Battleforce have also devised a way to create their own team of Power Rangers - combining Morph-X with animal DNA. During the creation process Grid Battleforce is attacked by the evil computer virus Evox, leaving two of the Ranger candidates comatose while creating evil avatar clones of them at the same time.

Under the command of Grid Battleforce, Devon, Ravi and Zoey become the newest team of Power Rangers - battling against Evox’s forces with the help of Beast Bot companions. Eventually they are joined by Nate, GB’s scientific prodigy turned ranger himself, as well as Steel - a robot imbued with human DNA who also has the ability to transform into a ranger.

Devon, Zoey and RaviRangers Morphed

Power Rangers has always strived for diversity when it comes to its lead characters, and Beast Morphers immediately made an impression its ranger team. Leading the charge is Devon, a laid-back video game enthusiast who learns to step to his new role as both a leader and hero whilst also hiding his identity as a Power Ranger from his father. To his one side he has Ravi, the remaining candidate from the proposed team who has to balance working with his new teammates alongside his mother’s (the commander of Grid Battleforce) expectations of him and the stress of saving his girlfriend. To the other there’s Zoey, GB’s former laundry girl turned Jackrabbit-powered ranger – creative and proud of her work at Grid Battleforce even before becoming a ranger. The initial three member setup allows for much better character focus and development than the traditional five member setup would, and the early episodes are particularly great for seeing how the rangers adapt to their new responsibilities and working with each other. It isn’t long before they’re joined by a further two rangers, both of whom bring a lot to the dynamic even though one of them has been there since the very beginning. Given Nate’s prominence in the series and how vital he was to developing the ranger tech, watching him eventually become the Gold ranger is a crowning moment for the show – highlighting how you don’t have to be of a certain build or athletic prowess to become a ranger. He’s partnered up with his robotic half-brother Steel, an immediately loveable robot who doesn’t quite understand humans sometimes but never stops trying.

The Beast Morphers team work so well together because they feel so close-knit, and through seeing them both work together (whether it be AS rangers or simply at Grid Battleforce) and have fun together we get a great sense of their relationships. Relationships in general play a big part in the series as a whole, all of the rangers affected by either parental or romantic attachments in some way. Usually these are the kind of aspects you see in a throwaway episode, but here they’re integral parts to the characters and subjects that crop up repeatedly throughout the show. There’s even developing romantic feelings between Zoey and Nate, which is far better realised than the (already established) relationship between Hayley and Calvin in Ninja Steel. These ongoing storylines make the individual episodes feel far less episodic, and whilst there’s still very much a “story of the week” like there is in any Power Rangers show the consistency between them helps them be far more memorable as a whole.

The Beast BotsNate & Steel

It’s a shame that such high praise can’t be said for the inclusion of the Beast Bots, a staple piece from Go-Busters that Beast Morphers for the most part failed to capitalise on. The Buddyroids may have been an important part of the source material but there were ways a Power Rangers adaptation could have gotten around, though this was unlikely to be the case when they are such easy toy money. The early episodes of Beast Morphers go out of their way to give Cruise, Smash and Jax personalities and make them characters worth caring about, but all too quickly they fall into the background. Cruise shows around more often thanks to the additional gimmick of being able to turn into a motorcycle (again easy toy money), but the other two are rarely seen again outside of their Zord cockpit footage. Even when the Beast Bots become further integrated into the ranger tech for their season two power ups, very little actually changes in the dynamic. From the perspective of a Super Sentai fan it’s disappointing that the show did so little with such a unique (to this series) concept, but even if you’re unfamiliar with Go-Busters they quickly come across as wasted potential.

A similar sentiment could be said about Blaze and Roxy, the initial Ranger candidates turned into Evox’s evil avatar enforcers. The setup for these characters is brilliant - episode one immediately sets up a loose rivalry between the serious Blaze and the more carefree Devon, whilst Roxy brings more personal stakes to the fight with her existing romantic relationship with Ravi. The setup is there, and throughout the first series there’s an obvious struggle as the Rangers constantly battle against copies of the very people they are trying to save. It also helps that Colby Strong and Liana Ramirez are utterly brilliant in the roles. The problem however starts to surface in the second season, which creates a completely different dynamic between the Rangers, the real Blaze and Roxy and their avatar versions. The show takes away the urgency of having the real versions comatose, but instead of doing something interesting with the dynamic (Blaze coming to terms with not being a ranger for example), they’re practically written out of the show entirely. This could be due to Strong and Ramirez not being able to film both the civilian and action scenes since they were done concurrently, but it’s such a waste to have evil doppelgänger villains and then proceed to barely use that hook. It takes until the penultimate episode for the avatar Blaze to even attempt walking into the base pretending to be the real one, which in every other scenario would be the first thing the villain tries.

Blaze & RoxyEvox & Scrozzle

Evox himself is another strong entry to the legion of Power Rangers villains, even before the story drops a huge bombshell about his origin in the penultimate episode. Giving him a body halfway through the story was the perfect way to go, letting him be both the shouty general who stays behind at the base and one who eventually goes out and gets the job done himself. Also working alongside him is Scrozzle, an original Power Rangers creation who’s just an absolute joy. The mad monster maker archetype, Scrozzle is both a really fun character and has a great costume design. Even without the hook of Goldar and Heckyl (though the former feels mostly in name only) appearing later during season two’s crossover special, Beast Morphers has plenty to offer when it comes to the bad guys.

The "defence force" organisation set up also allows Beast Morphers to boast an impressive line-up of supporting cast members as well. As mentioned previously most are strategically given specific relationships and/or dynamics with individual rangers to give them more story potential, and little of it is wasted. Adam Daniels, Devon's father and Mayor of Coral Harbour, is a big part of two major storylines. Ravi's mother Commander Shaw works as both mentor and commander, and though it's a shame we don't get to see her out in the field more often her presence in the series doesn't feel wasted. There's even the obligatory Power Rangers double-act comedy in the form of Ben and Betty – two gifted yet hapless Grid Battleforce workers who get into all manner of slapstick scenarios. Though the comedy can be hit or miss, the characters (as well as the actors themselves) are endearing enough to carry it through.

But ultimately the big topic this series will be remembered for is continuity. Ever since the casual name dropping of Rita Repulsa in the first episode, Beast Morphers made a conscientious effort to tie to itself to the wider Power Rangers universe. This became even more apparent in its second season, featuring a number of cameos and references in the lead up to its big crossover before dropping a finale which finally gave an answer to an unresolved cliffhanger from 11 years ago. It didn’t always make sense (Why can a Mystic Morpher be reverse engineered the same way as a tech-based Morpher? And if Nate could experiment with a Gosei Morpher as a child just how far in the future is this series set?), but the attention to detail and attempt to create a shared narrative was far beyond anything the show has tried to the past decade or so - even moreso than anniversary seasons like Super Megaforce. Although these are the kind of moves that’ll win over longtime fans though, there is an argument that questions just how much they benefit both the story. The twist itself is great, but without a proper crossover to facilitate the inclusion into the story it immediately loses a lot of impact. With the Power Rangers franchise on the verge of a huge shakeup in the next few years, it’ll be interesting to see if this is truly the revival of a shared universe between series or simply a last hurrah before it moves onto new (and potentially bigger) things.

Ben & BettyJason & the Dino Charge Team

However you may feel about Beast Morphers’ love for the history of Power Rangers, it’s hard not to at least crack a smile at some of the returning faces. The return of Austin St John as Jason is naturally the big one, but moments like seeing Olivia Tennet as Dr K again feel just as noteworthy since that’s the kind of character you’d never expect to see again. The Dino Charge cast might not have been gone anywhere near as long as those two by comparison, but they were such a strong group that it’s a joy to see them onscreen again even when it’s only a fraction of them.

Power Rangers in no way needs prior knowledge of the source material to enjoy the adaptation, but for fans that have seen both its always interesting to what changes are made or how it stringently it relies on the pre-existing footage. Beast Morphers walks a very healthy balance, bringing the best of Go-Busters to new audiences while also offering plenty of new material as well. Between the introduction of brand new weapons and forms as well as repurposing bit-part villains in the series mainstays, there are just as many differences between Beast Morphers and Go-Busters as there are similarities. And although it often relies on the same low-brow comic relief as the most recent instalments in the franchise, it also shows a marked improvement on them in regards to focus - both in and out of the ranger suits. It’s certainly far from perfect though - no matter how you look at it turning the Gold Rangers motif from a beetle to a mantis just doesn’t make sense, because no child is ever going to confuse the two not is a beetle any less “cool” than a mantis). Decisions like adapting the Space Sheriff Gavan crossover episodes of Go-Busters are also a little strange, but fun nonetheless. Between this and the appearance of “Sheriff Skyfire” in Ninja Steel, Power Rangers seems to be growing a healthy little Metal Heroes cast even beyond the days of VR Troopers.

Dr K returnsFury Mode

Whether it’s indicative of the franchise’s future or simply a lucky first attempt, Power Rangers Beast Morphers is a solid start to the Hasbro era. There may have been character and story issues that could have easily worked through, but overall Beast Morphers delivered a solid series that paid homage to the history of Power Rangers whilst also setting it up for the future. The fact they went back to adapt a 2013 Super Sentai series (and are now immediately following it up with a show from 2018) means the franchise has become a lot less predictable - and at the very least that’s something it has sorely needed for years.

3 comments:

Kenny said...

Before season was announced, I thought Hasbro would adapt Kyuranger, consider the fact, they been skipping every other years (ToQger, ZyuOhger), so I did not expect Hasbro would go back 7 years for Go-busters (which came out in 2012; NOT 2013).

The season was definitely a step up from previous years that consist mostly lackluster to decent.
The rangers were well written, even though their “weakness” felt awkward.
Ben and Betty were better comedic relief than recent years, which is relief.
The villains were also memorable, particularly Scrozzle, a Power Rangers original, which is always delightful to see. Evox reveal was quite a shock, though it’s been speculated (sort of), ever since Go-busters was airing.

I agree with lackluster treatment of Beast Bots, where they were barely present and often forgotten; which I find it strange, since Chip loves Go-busters, so you would think he would have given them more character development.

I was really surprised with amount of crossover and reference to past seasons, including Metal Hero, Gavan (or Gavan Type-G) as Chaku, which I didn’t see it coming. It was also nice to see someone other than Tommy (JDF) to represent MMPR, which was refreshing for once.
It makes me wonder if this season would have worked better as anniversary season; certainly better than Super Megaforce and Super Ninja Steel.

While this might be minor, but I like how clip shows were handled, where unlike previous years of 2 Halloweens and Christmas, this time there were variety such as Villain and Sports Special, which was refreshing change.

Overall, it wasn’t as good or impactful as Dino Charge (particularly first half), it was nice that Hasbro put some efforts and showed creativity through the season.
To give rating from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), I would probably give 7.
A very good start for a new era of franchise under Hasbro; better beginning than Samurai for Saban Brands. It’s also a good exit for Chip Lynn who steps down as executive producer, replacing with Jonathan Entwistle
I’m looking forward to see how franchise moves on from now, especially for rumored animated show and movies.

Great review.

Alex said...

Ah good catch on the year. My bad - I was thinking of the year it finished!

Thanks for the comment and feedback!

Lucas said...

A few shortcomings here and there, but overall a worthy adaptation of my favorite Super Sentai season.