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 X-Men ’97 Review: A victory for Marvel & Animation

X-Men '97

Marvel’s X-Men ’97 is a brilliant revival of a beloved 90s series with an epic storyline, awesome characters, and gorgeous animation.

When Marvel first announced a revival of X-Men: The Animated Series, which originally ran from 1992 to 1997, you can forgive me for being a tad skeptical even though I was excited. Revivals of beloved properties remain all the rage and not all of them have been executed properly. The original X-Men series holds a special place in my heart, even if I only caught it during reruns. The same is true for a lot of folks my age and older. Marvel had a tall order, making sure that X-Men ’97 lived up to our Saturday morning cartoon watching memories.

Rewatching the previous series for the first time in years prior to the release of this revival was the correct decision for me, even though I would not call it necessary. That rewatch only allowed me to better appreciate what Beau DeMayo and the team at Marvel Animation have done with  X-Men ’97. This series continues the original show beautifully and understands how to capture its spirit without getting stuck in the past. That last sentence is ironic when you consider that this narrative takes place in the 90s.

Set a year after the finale of the 90s animated series, X-Men ’97 sees the X-Men continue Professor Charles Xavier’s (voiced by Ross Marquand, of Invincible) dream of defending mutants and humans alike. Together, they face new challenges following the attempt on Xavier’s life and his departure to the alien Shi’ar Empire for healing. This includes the fact that Xavier left them and his school for those with superhuman abilities under the leadership of their old adversary, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Matthew Waterson).

DeMayo wastes no time creating something that feels new and yet different with this narrative. One of the only complaints I have is that he and his co-writers take a particular arc from the comics and adapt it too quickly. That does not mean it is bad, especially since the 90s series did the same thing, but it was a little jarring until I got the full scope of what X-Men ’97 was doing story wise. Adapting it as quickly as they did in service of the greater goals for these characters and the narrative wound up making perfect sense.

Audiences are given all the action they can handle by Beau DeMayo and supervising director Jake Castorena, and boy is it cool to watch, but this narrative also is dramatic and unafraid to tackle serious issues. One thing that I noticed during my rewatch of the original series is just how relevant the issues they discussed remain. X-Men ’97 furthers that point and emphasizes that we cannot continue to ignore them. The series does not overly preach to children or viewers that grew up with the 90s show, but rather showcases real problems through a fictional lens, just as Marvel’s original comics created by Stan Lee and others did. The goal here seems to be to inform and inspire viewers to take away what they wish and go out and leave their mark on the world all while telling an excellent story.

X-Men '97
X-Men ’97 (Disney Plus)

Speaking of, this is indeed quite a tale and one that you won’t be able to get enough of. Each character is done justice, receiving arcs of various sizes that develop in tandem with the larger story. Some of them do fall back into the traps that the 90s series set simply for being too powerful, but the fact is that if all the characters were at full strength for an entire season, there would be nowhere for them or the narrative to go. As a major Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale) fan, her arc had me floored throughout. The character is put through so much and it is inspiring to see her find the heart to continue.

Another highlight is A. J. LoCascio as Remy LeBeau/Gambit, a mutant and former thief who charges up objects with explosive kinetic energy. Gambit has an arc that you will truly never see coming and really comes into his own as a character in ways that other X-Men adaptations that I have seen never really allowed him to. Each member of the team is given a bit of the spotlight at one point or another and it is organic to the ongoing storyline as opposed to forced. When you consider that so many adaptations of these characters have sometimes tended to put too much of the spotlight on Logan/Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd, who returns from the original series), you will appreciate X-Men ’97 spreading the wealth even more.

That is not to say that everyone’s favorite hotheaded Canadian mutant gets left out in the cold, he gets some stellar moments, but this narrative is considerably less dependent on him. X-Men ’97 also ditches villains of the week for the most part, preferring to tell a more streamlined story centered on a battle against a few different major antagonists. In terms of weaving together a proper storyline, this series is more successful than either season of What If…? wound up being. This is a Marvel series that establishes its identity early on and builds something satisfying around that. 

The animation of X-Men ’97, provided by Studio Mir and Tiger Animation, really pops. It gives these characters a more modern look, but they are smoother than the designs featured in What If…? seasons 1 and 2. Everyone looks realistic without dipping too far into the uncanny valley and a lot of their powers look downright beautiful. This is most evident during any of the fight sequences, which induce a sense of worry but will often leave you in awe thanks to the use of various colors and the animators’ ability to capture how fierce the attacks of our various heroes are. The backgrounds are also remarkable, making the world feel more lived in and alive, which is not always the easiest task for an animated series.

Before I get out of here, I must talk about the excellent score of X-Men ’97 composed by The Newton Brothers (Andy Grush and Taylor Stewart). Everyone, even if you have never seen the original series, has probably heard Haim Saban and Shuki Levy theme for it. While the iconic theme returns, I love that The Newton Brothers did not seem intimidated by having to pick up this torch. Their version of the theme is a banger and Grush and Stewart deliver backing tracks for each episode that feel in line with that, but with their own sort of flavor. The most emotional moments that this series has to offer are made much more impactful by the sensational music playing underneath them.

X-Men ’97 is Marvel’s best Disney+ animated series to date and serves as a testament to how powerful Animation can be. The team behind this series set out to continue and honor what came before while putting their own stamp on these amazing characters. Whether you grew up watching X-Men: The Animated Series or are part of a younger generation just discovering it, this will be a totally awesome treat.

X-Men ’97 is now available to watch on Disney Plus.

X-Men ’97: Trailer (Disney Plus)
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