THE ANIMATED SERIES [And] An EXtraordinary Epic”

X-Men: The Animated Series is beloved in the eyes of many longtime Marvel devotees, but may be considered little more than an “old” TV show for some of you. So, who exactly is X-Men ’97 made for? As it happens, Marvel Studios’ long-awaited revival proves itself a perfect entry point for new fans and a must-watch for those of you who tuned into the original series every Saturday morning.

It can be jarring at times to see the mix of new animation with the familiar retro aesthetic, while the cheesy line delivery is both endearing and occasionally cringeworthy. Paying homage to the past isn’t necessarily detrimental to the show, but it will be interesting to see if younger viewers find it a turn-off. What’s ultimately crucial is that X-Men ’97 gets these characters right, and watching the heroes interact on screen (whether it’s battling Sentinels or hanging out in the X-Mansion) proves to be the biggest source of joy in the opening three episodes.

There are plenty of references to the past for die-hards and a deepening of the relationships between these heroes which proves immensely satisfying. However, even if you’ve never watched so much as a single episode of X-Men: The Animated Series, then you’ll still be able to have a blast seeing the team assemble. The show’s fight scenes are an undeniable highlight which we can only hope translates to live-action when the X-Men make their MCU debut. From Cyclops using his optic beam to cushion his fall from the X-Jet to the way this team combine powers to take down their foes, you won’t be able to take your eyes off what plays out on screen. 

The voice performances are strong across the board, even if some cast members perhaps sound a little too old for their respective roles. The first few episodes largely highlight Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Magneto – the latter proves a phenomenal addition to X-Men ’97 as the team’s new leader – meaning the likes of Wolverine and Jubilee don’t get as much time to shine as expected. Of course, there’s plenty of time for that to change in this 10-episode first season and even those with minor roles prove compelling. Morph transforming into various X-Men characters – Colossus, for example – is fun, but we’d like the real versions to show up at some point too. If not, it runs the risk of feeling like lazy fan service to throw these characters into the mix for a fight scene or two, only for them to never get any significant screentime. 

Each of the three episodes we watched ended with cliffhangers, and X-Men ’97 left us wanting more when the credits rolled. It’s surprising how much is successfully crammed into these 30-minute instalments, with entire comic book arcs playing out in a way that satisfies thanks to them hitting all the right beats. At the same time, there’s an overarching narrative which promises to deepen these characters and lead them to some exciting and interesting places as X-Men ’97 continues. 

Free of having to tie into Marvel Studios’ Multiverse Saga, X-Men ’97 is only weighed down by having to follow what came before. The moment that iconic theme song kicks in, though, you’ll be transported back to your childhood for a revival which is nothing short of an extravaganza for longtime fans. The mix of animation styles and new and returning actors robs the show of its own identity in some respects, leaving it in a strange limbo that exists between “sequel” and “reboot.” By the end of this first season, it will hopefully have a more definitive place in the MCU and, if this strong start is any indication, it could be Marvel’s best animated series yet.

It’s hard in some respects to watch X-Men ’97 and not wish Marvel Studios would just hurry up and get their X-Men reboot into theaters already. This particular roster is so iconic, that watching them head into battle together is a dream come true, particularly for those who grew up on X-Men: The Animated Series. Like What If…?, there are times when the animation doesn’t look as strong as it does elsewhere and this particular style takes some getting used to. Honestly, as fun as the nostalgia factor can be, in season 2, it probably wouldn’t hurt these mutants to enter the 2000s, get some new costumes, and move on from the past. For now, X-Men ’97 is a ‘90s-soaked delight that finally brings mutants back to our screens to usher in a marvellous new era of storytelling.

A triumphant return for X-Men: The Animated Series, X-Men ’97 is an eXtraordinary epic which, while a little overreliant on nostalgia, should satisfy fans of the original show and serve as an eXcellent entry point for newcomers. [⭐⭐⭐⭐/5]