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X-Men ’97 Review | The Mutants Are Back and Better Than Ever

March 20, 2024 - Movies

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X-Men ’97 is a revival of the beloved X-Men: The Animated Series, which ran from 1992 to 1996. Despite the almost 30-year gap between the original series and the revival, the series swings back in an epic fashion that perfectly captures the spirit of the original series while updating the visuals and storytelling to fit a modern audience.




X-Men ’97 is familiar but fresh, and instead of feeling like a cheap nostalgic cash grab, it uses its 1990s setting to shine a light on modern-day political issues, highlighting what has and has not changed in the years past. Moreover, the series’ first three episodes (which were available to review) are so great they remind viewers not only why the X-Men have endured for so long, but also feel like a mission statement: after years of Marvel pushing the characters to the sidelines, the X-Men are back, and better than ever.

The series picks up one year after the supposed death of Professor X; the remaining X-Men are left to pick up the pieces. Cyclops (Ray Chase) and his pregnant wife Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale) are deciding what to do about their future in the X-Men while preparing for the arrival of their child. Jubilee (Holly Chou) welcomes newcomer Roberto DeCosta (Gui Agustini) to the team after he is captured by the mutant-hating group, The Friends of Humanity. Beast (George Burza) is attempting to help Bishop (Isaac Robinson-Smith) repair his time machine so that he can return home.


Meanwhile, Wolverine (Cal Dodd), Storm (Alison Sealy-Smith), Rogue (Lenore Zann), Gambit (A.J. LoCasico), and Morph (J.P. Karliak) are all dealing with their own personal issues, all while Magneto (Matthew Waterson) grapples with living up to being the better man Professor X imagined for him. The X-Men will then face threats from humans and other mutants to protect a world that hates and fears them.


Many Stories, Astonishing Writing

X-Men '97

X-Men ’97

Release Date
March 20, 2024

Cast
Jennifer Hale , Chris Potter , Ray Chase , George Buza , Catherine Disher , JP Karliak

Seasons
1

Studio
Marvel Studios

Pros

  • A perfect update that speaks to our times, for better or worse.
  • Crisp, clean animation brings the X-Men to life better than any other adaptation.
  • Dense narratives, great characters, and lots of dramatic action.

If that sounds like a lot, it certainly is, but X-Men ’97 certainly hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. Each episode is filled with character development, spectacular action, and story development. They are able to fit a lot into just 30 minutes and feel just as epic as any live-action Marvel movie.


The recent firing of series writer and producer Beau DeMayo just a week before the series premiere certainly raised some red flags, but based on the first three episodes, it is clear it was not a writing issue because the scripts are astonishing. The scripts manage to fit a lot of stories into each episode, but it never feels rushed. If anything, it feels refreshing in an age where most comic book adaptations will stretch out a storyline far beyond its original intent.

While the comics and storylines that X-Men ’97 draws from were part of a long-running serialized storyline, what made the Chris Claremont era great was that multiple storylines were being laid out, sometimes with a new plot or character appearing during a current ongoing story. The first three episodes draw from comics that the original series never got around to but were already published, which leaves interesting questions if X-Men ’97 will put its own spin on storylines that debuted after 1997, like Grant Morrison’s New X-Men or the Krokan era that Jonathan Hickman ushered in.


Related: Every Season of the ’90s X-Men Animated Series, Ranked

X-Men ’97 Looks Like How You Dreamed X-Men Always Looked

What X-Men ’97 perfectly captures is the feeling of the original animated series, and what fans remember of it. The original X-Men: Animated Series is a beloved part of the legacy of the franchise with a passionate fanbase, but even its biggest fans can admit the original series had shortcomings. The limited animation budget meant that some character animation could be stiff, and some of the action could never live up to the epic scope of the opening titles. Here, though, they have Disney’s money, and every dollar is on the screen. The action is fluid and feels like something no other animated superhero television show can compete with.


The animation is gorgeous, as the detailed, fluid 2D animation makes it a visual treat unlike anything currently on television. The colors are bold and vibrant, making the series truly look like a beautiful comic book brought to life. The show mimics how millions of children may have imagined X-Men when they watched it as kids, even if the actual show never had the budget to pull it off like they wanted. It summons our superior memory of a flawed past and makes it a reality.

The best point of comparison is how J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film gave the 1960s Star Trek series the big scope and spectacle fans could always see and imagine but were not always able to communicate due to its limited budget.

Character Drama Just as Exciting as Any Action Scene

X-Men 97 Characters
Marvel Animation


The original series would make up for its limited animation by investing heavily in the character dynamics and personal drama between the team. The X-Men ’97 creators know that audiences were tuning in each week to see the love triangle between Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine or the budding romance between Gambit and Rogue, just as much as they were watching for adaptations of popular X-Men storylines.

X-Men ’97 certainly delivers on the drama. There is betrayal, remorse, love, passion, and longing between various characters that draw the viewer in. Despite being a Disney series, the show actually features a bit more adult subtext than one would expect and more than the original series could get away with, including more blood than you’d think.

Related: X-Men: All the Movies in Chronological Order


This is what separates The X-Men from The Fantastic Four and The Avengers. The Fantastic Four are a traditional family unit, while The Avengers are very much close work friends, but the X-Men, by the nature of being set at a school, have the dynamic of college. People in college have complicated histories with one another, troubled romances and love triangles, bitter rivalries, deep regrets, and close bonds that lead to a lot of great drama that is as exciting as the action. X-Men are a messy found family.

It’s this character-centric storytelling that made X-Men a popular franchise to begin with, as heroes become villains and villains become heroes and various romances and hidden family relationships. The X-Men work best when they embrace the soap opera nature of the material, and X-Men ’97 does not sacrifice character work in favor of big action.


Episode two’s final moments will leave audiences wanting more, not only because of the epic action but also because of how various character dynamics are flipped on their head. This is something the X-Men movies often fail to deliver, but this development in the series will likely delight longtime fans while creating a whole new group of fans who will invest in their own ‘ships, feuds, and potential storylines.

Related: Essential X-Men Animated Series Episodes to Watch Before X-Men ’97

The individual X-Men characters are all vibrant, with each being so unique everyone will likely have their own personal favorite if they don’t already. The first three episodes certainly put the most spotlight on Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Magneto, Wolverine, and newcomer Sunspot, but the rest of the team are given their own little moments both in dialogue and action that allow them to stand out. Everyone will certainly have a favorite X-Men character, with Morph likely to become a scene-stealer and a new fan favorite.


The X-Men’s Return Is More Timely Than Ever

Like anything, superhero comics have always had a political edge to them, and the Marvel age of the 1960s, in particular, has always had a sociopolitical component to it, as the heroes emerged in the midst of the counterculture movement. The X-Men were always the most political. Originally meant to be a stand-in for the civil rights movement, each new decade expanded the message of what would be known as the mutant metaphor, which has come to encompass sexuality, gender, religion, and ethnicity.


Anyone who has ever felt persecuted for who they are can relate to the X-Men. The X-Men’s main mission to fight and save a world filled with people who hate and fear them and strive for a better world for all mutants made them the original social justice warriors, an idea that, for some reason, people consider to be a bad thing.

The Friends of Humanity, a militia hate group in the animated series, might have been seen as a relic of past decades in the 1990s but now feels all too real to a modern audience. It is a reminder that hatred and bigotry can endure. This makes the X-Men’s return more timely than ever. It is hard to see a group of humans storm the United Nations, led by an anti-mutant-hating armed villain named the X-Cutioner, who vents about how mutants whine about everything, and not be reminded of the insurrection on January 6, 2021. While the scene has parallels, the scary part is this was a threat the X-Men faced back in the original series. For as much as we want to think times have changed, sadly, some things have remained the same and become more relevant.


The Best X-Men in a Decade or More

X-Men ’97 is the ideal continuation of a franchise. Similar to Netflix’s revival of both Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Masters of the Universe: Revolution, it drops the viewer back in as if no time has passed and captures the tone and spirit while also being accessible to new audiences who have no connection to the original material. It captivates with lively animation that truly captures the visual marvel of a comic book and puts a spotlight on these wonderful characters that look to the past to tell a timely story of the present in these days of future’s past.


X-Men ’97 brings the mutant heroes back into the mainstream at a time when the world needs them most to teach their lesson of tolerance and acceptance to a new generation. Maybe they’ll remind certain people who lost the message along the way that they are not acting like the heroic X-Men but instead the villainous Friends of Humanity.

This is easily the biggest and most important the X-Men have felt on screen in a decade since the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014. This new animated series would work great with a big bowl of cereal early in the morning, but can also stand up as an exciting piece of appointment prime-time television. X-Men ’97 hearkens back to a time before Marvel put the emphasis on The Avengers, when the X-Men were Marvel’s most popular team comic. Following this series, they have a chance to be once again.

Episodes 1 & 2 of X-Men ’97 are streaming on Disney+ now through the link below:

Watch X-Men ’97

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