X-Men ’97 TV Review

Marvel’s X-Men return for a bold and action-packed continuation of the original animated series with X-Men ’97.

Plot: Professor Charles Xavier is dead, and his Children of X, led by Cyclops and Jean Grey, honor his memory by ushering the X-Men into a new era. When Magneto reveals that Charles left him everything, including the Xavier Institute and a fractured team of mourning mutants, the two sides must work together to overcome adversity and fulfill a promise to their fallen father figure and friend to strive for peace and equality in a broken world.

Review: Please fetch me my flannel, a chain wallet, and a pair of 18-hole Oxblood Dr. Martens because it’s the ’90s all over again! When Marvel Studios announced plans to revive its classic X-Men animated series, childhoods trembled inside fragile minds. Can Marvel recapture the feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning, a respite from educational prisons, to fight for equality alongside mutantkind? Is this series nothing more than a nostalgia play as Marvel hopes to win back fans exhausted by the Marvel Cinematic Universe? I’m pleased to say that fans will pop their claws for X-Men ’97, and there are many reasons to be excited about this revival.

Before we get too deep in the weeds, I’ve only seen the first three episodes of X-Men ’97 Season 1 at the time of this review. I would have happily watched more, but three action-packed episodes were all Disney sent to press outlets. Thankfully, I only needed two episodes to become convinced that what Marvel is doing with X-Men ’97 is nothing short of love letter brilliance.

Smartly, X-Men ’97 is a continuation of the original series. The classic X-Men theme song from the jump transports you back to 1997, when the fifth and “final” season concluded. While not a one-to-one recreation of the original, the art retains the original show’s ’90s aesthetic, though characters and environments are polished. The mixture of hand-drawn art and CGI is seamless, giving the series a look and feel that complements the original presentation. Overall, X-Men ’97 displays a vibrancy the original series could not achieve due to technological restrictions.

For better or worse, the characters look, act, and sound like you would expect or remember. I say “for worse” because I find some personalities grating, like Cyclops’ “boy scout” routine or Morph’s inability to read a room. Still, this is who those characters are, and the writing team does an excellent job of capturing what makes each member of the X-Men iconic, if overtly dramatic, at all times. If you think villain monologuing is obnoxious, wait until Cyclops (Ray Chase) regales you with woes about managing the X-Men in Xavier’s stead. Or, how about Morph (JP Karliak) lecturing you as your dead mentor and father figure before your morning cup of coffee?

The first episode, “To Me, My X-Men,” onboards new viewers, with Roberto da Costa (Sunspot) as a conduit for those who might not be familiar with the mutant struggle. In some ways, X-Men ’97 assumes you’ve seen the original series. The decision to pick up the story where things left off in 1997 was a blessing and a curse. Yes, you can stream X-Men on Disney+, but what about audiences looking to dive directly into the new stuff or young audiences who missed the original series entirely? I was shocked that Disney failed to provide a recap of pivotal events from the original series before diving into the revival, though maybe that’s part of the official Disney+ launch.

While X-Men ’97 is big on superhero spectacle, personality clashes, and societal strife, it also shares a gripping story about othering, meaning how some people treat others as intrinsically different from themselves. X-Men, at their core, are an allegory for racism and nonconformity. Despite their numbers (which are forever in jeopardy), mutants represent the minority, the individuals who wish to coexist without prejudice and hatred haunting their every step. X-Men ’97 embraces the mutant struggle and confronts it head-on via Roberto’s fear of rejection or Magneto walking a new path based on a promise to a fallen friend.

The show also takes time to get personal with some mutants and touch on their inner turmoil. Whether we’re exploring the depths of Rogue’s loneliness and desire to experience physical touch, the nerfing of Storm (you’ll see), or Jean’s identity crisis (again, you’ll see), X-Men ’97 lets characters breathe and develop beyond their part in the ongoing war for equality. There’s also plenty of relationship drama, which I greatly enjoy. Who doesn’t love a toxic mutant love triangle? I can’t tell you how many times I shouted, “Just bone already,” at my monitor. That’s the good stuff.

Speaking of Magneto (Matthew Watterson), the move to position the Master of Magnetism as the new leader of the X-Men and owner of Xavier’s institute is fantastic. Here is a mutant born from rage and hatred who feels honor-bound to his greatest frenemy and all the change that oath brings. Not only must Magneto prove his sincerity to the X-Men, but he must also prove it to himself. This dynamic presents some excellent pathos as Magneto’s memories of genocide and near-extinction stobe inside his skull.

Other members of the team featured in X-Men ’97 include Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale), Rogue (Lenore Zann), Gambit (A.J. LoCascio), Wolverine (Cal Dodd), Beast (George Buza), Bishop (Isaac Robinson-Smith), Jubille (Holly Chou), and Storm (Allison Sealy-Smith), so far. I can appreciate why some fans would take umbrage with select voice actors from the original series not returning for X-Men ’97, though the cast does bring a unique flare to each character. At least Dodd, Sealy-Smith, and Zann return, alongside a handful of others.

Another outstanding aspect of X-Men ’97 is the action. The synergistic displays of power during combat had me smiling from ear to ear. Here’s an example: During a fight, Wolverine imbues his claws with Gambit’s pure light kinetic energy, then modifies the classic “Fast Ball Special” attack into a deadly display of explosive power. It’s a real “Holy sh*t” moment, and there’s plenty of them.

When you combine X-Men ’97‘s synthesized ’90s-inspired score with an ambitious team able to reproduce the look and feel of the original show, you have something special. While I hope X-Men ’97 takes more narrative risks as the story continues, I’m somewhat astonished by what the creative team achieved with this revival. It’s rare for a project this risky to arrive as polished and on-point as I view it to be. The series is off to a solid start, with much room to grow and give everyone a taste of what they want. I’ll definitely tune in for the remainder of the season when it drops onto Disney+, and I look forward to seeing how fans react when one of their most beloved animated series returns for more mutant-related mayhem and sociopolitical commentary.

8

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/x-men-97-review-disney-plus-tv-series/

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