Power Rangers has been going on for nearly 30 years. It’s an amazing accomplishment for a series constantly facing budget issues, different owners and holding onto the Super Sentai license from Japan. There’s few series out there that mix superhero action, giant robots and interpersonal relationships in live action. However every long runner has it’s ups and downs. Today we take a look at the wild and wonderful world of spandex. To see which one’s stand up and which one’s flail away surrounded by explosions.
Number 5 Worst: Power Rangers Mystic Force
Mystic Force came well into the Disney era, a time when things were at least somewhat stable. Mystic Force itself isn’t terrible but it has a few things that hold it back. For one, the characters, Power Rangers has to balance having five main characters, they are a team after all. Mystic Force, doomed by its connection to original show Magiranger has to give the vast majority of its plot focus to the Red Ranger. While every other character does get a moment to define themselves, ultimately they’re reduced to quirks. Some storylines even disappear. There’s a romance sub-plot between two characters that is seen in the first and last episode with nothing in between.
The show is also not subtle about why it exists. Arriving at the peak of Pottermania, with plenty of epic fantasy settings. This does show flashes of why Power Rangers is fun though. Brightly coloured wizards in colourful supersuits with wands that are phones. Magic creatures that are also giant robots and brooms that are motorcycles. However it’s failings as a team hold it back…
Plus the theme song is terrible, the start of Power Rangers terrible rap songs
Number 5 Best: Might Morphin Power Rangers
The original is still one of the best. Mighty Morphin (No “G” because they weren’t cool in the 90’s) layed the groundwork that all other series followed. It however isn’t here for being the most mature or well written, this is pure camp, which makes it the most fun. This show combined the monster of the week action with Saved by the Bell teen angst. As the long run progressed the show added more suspense and drama. The villains changed, the iconic but ultimately silly Rita Repulsa being replaced by the horrific Lord Zedd. Well, horrific for a kids show. The Rangers even lost battles… Mainly because the show had run out of Japanese footage and needed an excuse to use new stuff. (Here’s a guide for where the footage came from)
Easiliy the peak of Ranger popularity, the show was big enough to get an entire theatrical movie just as weirdly charming. There’s a lot of filler, and one character takes over most of the plot himself. This does become the Tommy Oliver/Green Ranger show. But, this show also has a rapping Jack-O-Lantern monster. Any issues are kind of invalid when confronted with that level of insanity. If you want to see this series taken a bit more seriously though, I can’t recommend the comics by Boom Studios enough.
Number 4 Worst: Power Rangers Samurai
It feels wrong placing this series on this side of the list. Power Rangers Samurai is very important to the franchise. It was the first post-Disney season, with the rights back home under Saban. It was in HD and widescreen for the first time. However Samurai falls into a problem because of troubled production and its source material. Shinkenger was a cool Samurai action series that despite everything, took it’s Samurai theming completely seriously. Samurai was rushed into development when Saban got the rights so a lot of this show was copy and pasted over while also bringing back the teenagers with attitude premise. This lead to an awkward story where instead of discplined warriors fighting for the world, it’s reluctant teenagers who appear to be being forced into their duty. This also has the effect of turning the effect of turning the Red Ranger into a plank of wood.
There is a fair amount that this show gets right. The action is good, the theming is great, and the return of OG cast member Bulk is a fun throwback. But it can’t make up for the uneven and awkward storytelling. This is also the series that introduces “Super” seasons. Because of Nickelodeon there now was a hard limit to episodes per season. This was turned into the “Super” season gimmick, typically signified by some powerup. What does this mean for the show? Nothing really, it would carry on as normal. Power Rangers is best when it has it’s own distinct flavour of weird fun. But this show tries to have that and be a straight adaptation of the Sentai. It’s a balance it ultimately fails to meet.
Number 4 Best: Power Rangers Dino Charge
Much like the previous entry it feels wrong putting this season on this side of the list. However, I can’t deny just how fun Dino Charge is… for 99% of the show. This series has one glaring issue that unfortunately would take us into spoiler territory. However this one issue is surprisingly acceptable when taken with the whole. This show brings back the campy fun of the original though with it’s tongue more firmly in cheek. There are few casts as charismatic in the franchise with Brennan Maijia as the red Ranger and Ryan Carter as Heckyl being stand outs. Even the big gruff generic bad guy Sledge gets a bit more character as a brow beaten fiancee.
The plot has some good twists and turns while never losing focus. The focus stays on the characters the entire time, which is the shows strength. Every character gets what feels like the right amount of exposure, even with this being the largest Power Rangers roster to date. If you’re able to look past a pretty noticable plot hole or two this is very fun, easy watching.
Number 3 Worst: Power Rangers Turbo
Something a lot of people forget is that there are actually three Power Rangers theatrical movies. While the original and the reboot are technically self contained films, this is fully immersed in the canon. The fact that saying this is probably the msot interesting thing about Turbo might say a lot. The third main series after MMPR and Power Rangers Zeo, Turbo has the team ditch their magical powers for cars. A major issue with this show is tonal consistency. The Sentai it’s based on, Carranger, is a full parody of the franchise credited with bringing ratings back up. Turbo had to deal with having silly footage while continuing with it’s more dramatic stories. One episode would have the Rangers deal with personal issues, the next would see them baked into a giant pizza.
Not helping was the addition of a new Blue Ranger who instead of being a teenager with attitude, was instead a 12 year old boy named Justin. He was meant to serve as a self insert character for the children watching. Instead fans see him as a pandering goodie two-shoes (Whether or not the character was actually a problem). The villain also suffered. From goofy but threatening evil sorcerors and robot armies to a rather hammy Space Pirate. The best thing to come out of this was the ending, which went all out to offer a suspensful conclusion… Which happened to lead into…
Number 3 Best: Power Rangers In Space & Lost Galaxy
This is very much cheating as these shows shouldn’t really be connected. Lost Galaxy was the first season to abandon a continuous plot to have a seperate team each time, which continues today. Putting the two feels right however as the former still flows nicely into the latter. Both of Power Rangers space themed seasons, with the budget slashed the hokey effects took a turn for the super hokey. However both of these run into the same truth. Kids love Space. Despite neither Sentai actually being based around space at all (Megaranger was tech themed and Gingaman was animal themed) both found work arounds.
One thing that can’t be understated is the importance that both series have to the franchise. In Space in particular was the ending of what has been called the “Zordon Era” finishing the storylines set up from the very first episode. Lost Galaxy, while also a bit of a mess production wise, tackled darker subjects never seen before, even death. Both Ranger teams even had a team-up that served as a continuation of In Space. This allowed even more character development while not taking the Lost Galaxy teams thunder. The best part though? The crossover with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, one of the strangest TV events ever conceived.
Number 2 Worst: Power Rangers Operation Overdrive
Any Power Rangers fan reading this probably new what the worst 1 and 2 were going to be. The question is in which order. For my money Operation Overdive had less potential from the source material so it gets number 2. Operation Overdrive was an anniversary season, something Power Rangers appears to have issues with. The scope was large, meant to be a globe trotting adventure. It was also to be a treasure hunt with multiple villains where each episode would lead into the next. Unfortunately budget got in the way, with Disney reportedly not caring much for the series. A pyramid in Egypt became an office hallway with some cobwebs.
These issues are small compared to the plot and characters. The series attempted to have fun call backs to the previous series that are a bit clumsy. The plot tends to not favour the lead characters so while it tries fun things the characters come across as one note. One of the major episodes saw the return of several previous Rangers who overshadowed the actual team the season focused on. This was an issue In Space and Lost Galaxy avoided. Even some of the silly insanity came across as more head-tilting, like a child of Lord Zedd and Rita who’s apparently ancient, even though the two got together in the 1990’s. Operation Overdrive is a good set up with a major anniversary squandered. Also the theme song is an even worse rap than Mystic Force
Number 2 Best: Power Rangers SPD
Now this is how you do episode to episode story-telling correctly. Unlike a lot of seasons SPD spend a fair amount of time dedicated to worldbuilding. Not all of it pays off (I’m still not entirely sure what the main villains whole deal was) but enough does. This series follows the exploits of a team of future cops protecting Earth from Alien Invaders. The interesting twist is that, in the future, humans and aliens are already peacfully cohabiting. It’s a refreshingly optimistic take on the idea, which follows to the rangers. As opposed to nearly every other team the main characters here are considered second best. Seeing their journey from rag tag bunch of misfits to a well oiled machine is a story told often but it is done very well here.
Unique yet familiar is the perfect way to describe SPD. Every piece is familar but the combination and the characters send it over the edge. Every character has a point and even an arc, including the comic relief. Combine that with some fun (If explosion heavy) action and X-Men like powers and you’re on for a winner. Also Doggie Crueger is the best mentor in the series, even with his weird dog head.
Number 1 Worst: Power Rangers (Super) Megaforce
It felt important to note both the regular and “Super” version of Megaforce. Unlike every other series with the gimmick Megaforce actually completely changes the powers between the two. This was another major anniversary series. With it came the ability to use Gokaiger, the anniversary series of Super Sentai. This series gift-wrapped hype for Power Rangers. A team of pirates who can change into any Ranger they want at will, often crossing over with previous characters. It all lead up to a massive battle where every team got involved in a monster battle. An absolute slam dunk for Power Rangers one would think…
However before they could use that footage Saban had to use the previous series Goseiger. It was a fun if not overly impressive show. Saban decided to merge the shows together to make sure that big fight happened on the 20th anniversary. Megaforce is just bad with not much to say except for one great scene of overacting from the Red Ranger. Super Megaforce got confusing. Instead of new powers they were treated as a power-up, meaning the team suddenly shifted into different locations with different mannerisms.
The crossovers were also treated poorly, very few actors returned outside of the finale. The main issue though was trying to adapt Super Sentai’s anniversary instead of celebrating Power Rangers. Instead of just focusing on Power Rangers teams Megaforce made the weird decision of showing teams never before seen in the west. The amount of gymanistics they have to do to have this make sense is a sight to behold. This all comes at the expense of the characters who are cardboard copies of the original teenagers with attitude who were 90’s archetypes to begin with. I would say more about them… But there isn’t much more to say. Super Megaforce is a confused, disappointing mess, when it should be the easiest series to make in the world.
Number 1 Best: Power Rangers RPM
It’s not a hot take to say that RPM is really good. Pitched to Disney as a darker series for older kids, only to be presented with Go-Onger, one of the goofier Sentai in a while. RPM came out as one of the darkest yet most endearing seasons in franchise history. Set during what is essentially the future of Terminator there’s a deeper feeling of being on edge as the Rangers fight for the last bastion of humanity. The show doesn’t pull punches with the set-up, it very much displays how society has to change when faced with extinction. However the show displays this in a surprisingly fun way.
In what is possibly the weirdest tonal combination in the series (and that says a lot), RPM is equal parts darker action show and sitcom. The tongue is firmly in cheek with RPM, making jokes at the costumes, zords and even the concept of morphing.
Despite this edgy tone and self-referential humour, the show never takes being Power Rangers as anything to laugh at, only with. Once again each character gets their time to shine, with an origin episode detailing where each person was when the world ended. There is an awkward transition because, naturally, turning a goofy car show into a dark apocalypse action series costs a lot of money. However in the end RPM manages to stick the landing well. Even today people reference RPM as the one really good season of Power Rangers, one that goes above being a silly action show for kids. Plus it gave us the canon explanation for spandex. I’m not going to spoil that, it’s too good.