X-Men ‘97 Reveals the Incredible Potential of Marvel’s Mutant Team

There’s some serious ambition here — but it’s hiding beneath a seemingly shallow surface.

X-Men 97
Inverse Reviews

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. And when it comes to superhero movies and shows, we seem to be operating at peak nostalgia right now, as studios dig into the back of their closets for anything familiar enough to boost box office sales.

The multiverse, while initially a promising narrative vehicle, was really just a way to bring back old versions of beloved superheroes like Michael Keaton’s Batman and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Marvel Studio’s best bet for the future lies in resurrecting already established franchises like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four (DC is following a similar path with a hard reboot focused on its heaviest hitters). But before any of that can happen, Marvel will give fans a straight injection of nostalgia with X-Men ‘97, a direct sequel to the iconic X-Men: The Animated Series.

X-Men ‘97 feels like a guaranteed hit — and it probably will be — but in trying to imitate the original while lacking its hand-drawn rough edges and charm, ‘97 becomes a sad imitation. Ironically, it’s only when this reboot breaks the mold, with stories and visual styles the Animated Series never dared, that it manages to slip those restrictions and become an exciting hint at the future of the beloved superhero team.

X-Men ‘97 somehow looks like a cheaper imitation of The Animated Series, but the explosive plot more than makes up for it.


X-Men ‘97 picks up exactly where the original X-Men: The Animated Series left off on September 20, 1997 (hence the name). As the series begins, we learn that Professor Charles Xavier is dead (sidenote: he actually isn’t, and I’m sure that will come back around eventually), leaving the X-Men to pick up the pieces. After a revenge mission that pits them against an army of Mutant-murdering robot Sentinels in a nice nod to the Animated Series pilot, Magneto shows up wielding Xavier’s last will and testament, which gives the (allegedly) reformed supervillain total control over the X-Men.

The next two episodes put us on familiar footing with an adventure-of-the-week formula — before veering wildly in a direction that may shock the casual X-Men fans among us. It’s best to go into Episode 3 knowing as little as possible, but i’ll discuss it a tiny bit more further down. But first, we need to talk about the animation.

X-Men, assemble!


Ask any animator and they’ll probably tell you X-Men: The Animated Series represents a low bar for superhero animation. The studio notoriously slashed budgets wherever it could, leading to simple cel animation and plenty of scenes where the characters talk to each other while standing perfectly with their mouths making shapes that have zero connection the the sounds coming out of them. But as anyone who grew up in the ‘90s watching X-Men can tell you, none of that matters. It didn’t matter then, when X-Men was the coolest thing on TV, and it doesn’t matter now, when you go to boot up an old episode on Disney+.

In other words, the bar is pretty low for X-Men ‘97. All the series had to do was copy a famously cheap animation style and fans would be satisfied. Unfortunately, X-Men ‘97 fails pretty dramatically. The animation still looks cheap and the costumes have similar color schemes, but that’s where the similarities end. While the new show remains hand-drawn (with CG used for “layout” and “overly complicated vehicles or ships,” according to head director Jake Castorena) it’s lacking the charm of the original. Every line is too clean and every edge is too neat. It’s like someone asked a robot to recreate the Animated Series. The result isn’t technically any worse than what’s being copied, but it’s got no soul.

Compare this X-Men ‘97 screenshot to the Animated Series image below. Look at Cyclops’ hair or the shading around his visor. There’s a level of detail in the original show that’s missing from the reboot’s sleek lines.


A screenshot from X-Men: The Animated Series.


The voice acting is also iffy at best. Again, I’m not going to pretend the original was perfect — far from it! — but voice acting is one place X-Men ‘97 might have stepped things up with minimal effort. Instead, we get some very uneven performances. Most of the time it’s easy enough to ignore, but whenever things get serious and the X-Men pair off for a heart-to-heart conversion, it’s easy to remember you’re watching a show originally created to sell breakfast cereal and action figures.

But thankfully, once X-Men ‘97 really gets going, none of the above gripes really matters. While Episode 2, “Mutant Liberation Begins,” is relatively tame by X-Men standards (the United Nations puts Magneto on trial, leading to an anti-Mutant riot) it ends with a gut-punch of a twist that may send fans reeling.

Episode 3, “Fire Made Flesh,” is where things really pick up in a Jean Grey-focused story that dives deep into X-Men lore. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the episode features iconic X-Men villain Sinister and draws from some wild influences. “Fire Made Flesh” pushes the X-Men franchise to new limits, transforming the iconic Xavier Institute into a demonic hellscape that would seem more at home in a John Carpenter movie than a kids’ cartoon. It’s wild stuff, and it has me excited that Marvel Studios may be willing to go further with the X-Men franchise than we’ve seen before — both in animation and live action — by tapping into some of the weirder comic book plot lines.

This is probably the best version of Storm we’ve seen since X-Men: The Animated Series.


As the MCU’s first official foray into X-Men storytelling, X-Men ‘97 is uneven at best. While the animation and acting both feel like disappointing pastiches of a 27-year-old cartoon that only looks good through nostalgia-tined glasses, there’s some serious ambition hiding beneath a somewhat basic surface.

Marvel Studios clearly knows it needs the X-Men to save its once-great cinematic universe from fading into irrelevance. And if X-Men ‘97 is any indication, everyone’s favorite gang of Mutants might just have what it takes to conquer Hollywood all over again.

X-Men ‘97 airs weekly each Wednesday on Disney+.

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