X-Men '97 Is a Pleasant Surprise! | Review

Adapted from Random Reaction Super Show #13, originally released April 6, 2024.

Like many nerds of my generation, the 1992 premiere of X-Men: The Animated Series was a childhood-defining moment. I became instantly obsessed with the show and never missed an episode in its five-year run. Consequently, when Disney announced the X-Men ’97 sequel series back in 2022, I was thrilled. As the quality of Marvel properties soon began dipping, however, I became a little nervous. When the series trailer finally dropped earlier this year, I filmed a reaction to it, and, as I said in the reaction, I was not particularly impressed by what I saw. Now that the series is out and I’ve watched the first four episodes, I must say…I’ve been pleasantly surprised!

The animation is much smoother than it appeared in the trailer, and the style strikes the perfect balance between retro and modern. The series is also animated in widescreen, giving it a cinematic quality. The first three episodes were inspired by the mid-’80s run of the comics, which gives us an era of X-Men we’ve never seen adapted on screen before. From opening to closing credits, there are plenty of callbacks to the original series that are sure to delight fans. For me, however, the best way to watch the series is not to think of it as a direct continuation of the original show.

When Wolverine and the X-Men, another animated iteration, debuted 15 years ago, I remember thinking, “It would be cool if they used the old series as the general backstory for this, then did their own thing.” Well, that’s exactly what the makers of X-Men ’97 have done. While the show references big moments and displays all the trappings of the original, the makers aren’t afraid to break continuity when it serves the plot of the new show. 

A few cases in point [SPOILERS]:

In the finale of the original series, Xavier survives Henry Gyrich’s assassination attempt by being transported to space by his alien girlfriend, Lilandra. In ’97, the X-Men repeatedly state that Xavier is dead. Not just “gone.” Dead. Specifically, assassinated by Gyrich. 

In ’97, time traveler Bishop is inexplicably trapped in the past and apparently has been for some time. Are we supposed to presume he’s been with the X-Men since the season 4 finale of the original series? If so, why was he absent in season 5?

In episode 3 of the original, Xavier defeats Magneto with telepathy, easily penetrating Magneto’s helmet. In episode 2 of ’97, Magneto states the purpose of his helmet was to deflect Xavier’s powers, implying he no longer needs to wear it now that Xavier is dead.

In ’97, Rogue and Magneto are supposed to have been romantically involved in the past. There is no way this squares with their relationship or either characters’ backstories in the original series.

In the original, mutant tech genius Forge worked with the X-Men on a couple of occasions. In episode 3 of ’97, Forge meets Storm and has to explain who he is. Even if Storm hadn’t met Forge in person, it’s unrealistic that she wouldn’t have heard of him if his appearances on the old show are canon in the new.

There are other examples, but these are only really an issue for continuity sticklers like me if we’re watching '97 as a direct continuation and not giving the series room to make its own backstory.

Another thing that makes this feel like a separate series is the voice cast. A couple of the original actors have passed away. Others have been moved to voicing supporting roles, presumably because they couldn’t come close enough to reproducing their voices from the original series. Meanwhile, most of the cast that has returned in their original roles don’t quite sound the same because of the natural progression of age. So, ultimately, it’s more like an homage than a direct continuation, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I do have a few quibbles, however, and I’ll just the biggest ones below: 

In the first episode, the X-Men seem to be overpowered. They’re using their abilities in ways that we’ve never seen before, which significantly lowers the stakes in a fight, and the climactic battle of the first episode seems to be designed solely to “top” nearly every battle we ever saw in the original show. 

There’s also a tendency in the dialogue to “tell not show,” which flies in the face of optimal storytelling for visual media. And this isn’t just a problem with this show. The art of subtlety and nuance seems to have been diminishing in film and TV over the last few years, and I’ll give you an example in X-Men ’97:

In episode 2, there’s this big scene where Magneto delivers a speech at the UN, and it’s so heavy handed that it’s just one step below the character breaking the fourth wall and saying, “Okay, everybody, this is the main point we want you to get out of this episode.” 

There’s also a level of cheesiness to some of the dialogue, which is another homage to the original show. The cheese worked in the original series because that show was made for kids. The problem here? The new show is made for the adults who were kids 30 years ago, and we’ve grown beyond the cheese.

This brings me to my biggest beef with the show. Because it is made for adults, it pushes the envelope a little bit too much for my own kids to watch it like they do the original series. For instance, Wolverine curses in the first episode. It’s mild, but not something I want the 4-year-old repeating. In episode 3, a jealous Gambit is subjected to a psychic attack which gives him a vision of a steamy rendezvous between Rogue and Magneto. Again, it’s not particularly graphic, but it’s not something that I can watch with my kids without censoring or that I can let them watch alone. And, as a fan of the original series who enjoys sharing these properties with my children, that’s disappointing. 

While the fourth episode featured a bit a drop-off in quality, overall, I’m enjoying the series and am still curious to see where it goes to stick with it for the time being.

Subjective Rating: 6/10.

Objective Rating: 7/10.

Cole Powell is an award-winning singer/songwriter and Z-list YouTuber and podcast host. Armed with degrees in computer technology and liberal arts and sciences, Powell seeks to pontificate his pitiful opinions to the masses through any means the internet allows.

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