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X-Men ’97 is more than just nostalgia bait

Published Mar 20th, 2024 3:01AM EDT
(L-R): Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.
Image: Marvel Animation

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If you’re looking for insight into Marvel’s X-Men ’97 from a diehard fan of X-Men: The Animated Series, you won’t find it here. I sporadically watched episodes of the ’90s cartoon as a kid, but I never went back to binge the whole series. While I have no doubt there are countless fans who have been waiting decades for a continuation of that beloved show, I wanted to know if X-Men ’97 would be a good jumping-on point for a relative newcomer.

After watching the first three episodes, here’s my noncommittal answer: “Sure!”

Again, I am not an expert on the original Fox Kids series, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I hit the ground running. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the X-Men, you’d probably be better off either watching The Animated Series first or at least finding a solid recap on YouTube, but X-Men ’97 does an admirable job of getting you up to speed without bogging the first few episodes down with endless exposition about previous events.

That said, the show does pick up one year after the finale of X-Men: The Animated Series, and everything that happened throughout that show’s five-season run impacts the stories being told in X-Men ’97. Professor X is dead, Cyclops is the new leader of the X-Men, and following years of conflict, humans and mutants have reached an uneasy peace.

What immediately stands out about this Marvel Animation series is how little it has in common with any of Marvel’s other Disney+ shows. Much like the Fox Kids series, X-Men ’97 is episodic, so the stories are generally resolved by the end of every episode.

I’ve become so accustomed to the serialized nature of the MCU (as well as so much of prestige TV nowadays) that I was somewhat surprised to see a new storyline introduced at the beginning of an episode and concluded just 30 minutes later.

(L-R): Beast (voiced by George Buza), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), and Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.
(L-R): Beast (voiced by George Buza), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), and Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith) in Marvel Animation’s X-MEN ’97. Image source: Marvel Animation

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot points of the first three episodes (because Disney might send me to The Raft), but I am taken by how willing the show is to broach real-life issues. So much of the MCU feels disconnected from our reality, even when it tries to offer meaningful commentary, but X-Men ’97 doesn’t pull its punches. Some of the subject matter is also far darker than just about anything we’ve seen in the MCU to date.

As for the animation, I’m conflicted. An effort was clearly made to put a familiar, nostalgic coat of paint over modern animation techniques, but it doesn’t always work. Fight scenes are exciting and kinetic, but when characters are standing around talking, it doesn’t always look quite right — doubly so when lines don’t match up with facial animations.

Also, once I realized how much the animation looked like Archer, I couldn’t unsee it.

Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97.
Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith) in Marvel Animation’s X-MEN ’97. Image source: Marvel Animation

Despite my lack of familiarity with the first five seasons, I was invested by the end of the third episode. The depth of all these characters is apparent, with dozens of episodes in the backlog dedicated to their growth and development. That shines through, and the voice actors generally do an impressive job of bringing these characters to life once again.

Most of all, as a long-time fan of X-Men comics and movies, I was just content spending more time with Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Gray, Rogue, Gambit, Beast, and the rest of the X-Men after all these years. It has been five years since Fox effectively killed a franchise with the disastrous Dark Phoenix, but X-Men ’97 should remind fans just how much fun it is to watch these heroes when they’re done justice. That alone will pull me through this season.

X-Men ’97 begins streaming on Disney+ on March 20, 2024.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.