Home Reviews ‘X-Men ’97’ Review: This Is How You Do Marvel Nostalgia

‘X-Men ’97’ Review: This Is How You Do Marvel Nostalgia

‘X-Men ’97’ Review: This Is How You Do Marvel Nostalgia

Viewed today on Disney+, the ’90s X-Men animated series doesn’t look like much. The animation, which was pretty good by the standards of its era, appears rough and crude through 2024 eyes. The material is pretty familiar these days, too, thanks to seven live-action X-Men, and who knows how many other Marvel films and series. I learned this lesson first-hand; I tried showing X-Men: The Animated Series to my kids a few months ago after they started showing more interest in superheroes. They met the first episode with a shrug and asked to watch something else.

X-Men ’97, the new sequel series to the old show, might make my daughters rethink that decision. While the show is clearly designed to tug at nostalgic adults’ heartstrings by recreating the look and feel of its predecessor, it simultaneously improves upon X-Men: The Animated Series in almost every technical respect. The character designs may remain roughly the same, but X-Men ’97’s animation is as sleek and glossy as a stealth Blackbird jet. By recapturing the heart of the original series and combining it with modern visuals, it’s transformed X-Men into the kinetic visual feast that Marvel-starved kids imagined they were watching back in the 1990s.

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As suggested by the updated title, the new series begins about one year after the events of X-Men: The Animated Series, which concluded with the apparent death of Professor Xavier. (He’s “apparently” died more than once in X-Men comics, too, so I wouldn’t shed too many tears over his departure.) As the remaining X-Men struggle to defend their late founder’s dream of peaceful co-existence between powerful mutants and ordinary humans, Cyclops (Ray Chase) and Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale) await the birth of their first child.

X-Men ’97’s first episode, “To Me, My X-Men,” is littered with callbacks to X-Men: The Animated Series’ pilot, “Night of the Sentinels.” Once again, the X-Men square off with those robotic mutant hunters while rescuing a new mutant (in this case, the solar-powered Sunspot, voiced by Gui Agustini). Plus, for reasons they can’t quite fathom, they’ve got to contend with their new boss, as it turns out Xavier bequeathed his school and estate (and with them, control of the X-Men) to his arch-nemesis Magneto (Matthew Waterson).

Some X-Men welcome Magneto’s arrival; others want him gone. And the sudden addition of a (possibly) reformed villain to the group’s lineup does not go unnoticed by the world at large. That sets up new potential battles, both with super-villains and with the human world’s legal system.

The former mutant terrorist’s presence shakes up all of the team’s fractious dynamics. As Jubilee (Holly Chou) even acknowledges in the pilot, the X-Men are less of a school than a family — one that squabbles with each other as much as they do with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. If Cyclops annoyed Wolverine (Cal Dodd) before, he infuriates him now that he’s become the team’s leader and is about to start a family with Jean (who Wolverine none-too-secretly carries a torch for).

If some of the cast members’ names sound familiar, that’s because several of them returned from X-Men: The Animated Series to reprise their characters, including Dodd, Leonre Zann (Rogue), George Buza (Beast), and Alison Sealy-Smith, whose Shakespearean performance as Storm has never been topped by anyone in any medium. Other former X-Men voice actors return in new roles. (Catherine Disher, for example, used to play Jean and now co-stars as the X-Men’s government liason, Val Cooper.)

The new actors do a fine job of replicating the vibes of the old show. (Ray Chase does a pitch-perfect impression of Norm Spencer, the original voice of Cyclops, who passed away in 2020.) Between the voices and the iconic X-Men: The Animated Series theme song, there’s a real sonic continuity between the old and new shows. And that sense of continuity across the decades extends to the storylines as well, which were overseen by show creator Beau DeMayo (who Marvel reportedly fired shortly before the series’ premiere).

X-MEN ’97
Marvel Animation

The old show took its visual cues from contemporary X-Men comics — the characters’ costumes were all based on their then-current looks by artist Jim Lee — but it drew on, and sometimes blended together, decades of X-Men comics to inspire its plots. True to that ethos, X-Men ’97’s first episodes include elements from Uncanny X-Men #185, 200, 201, 240, and Annual #17, among others. It can be fun for hardcore nerds to catch the mix of influences in these threads, but they should work just as well if you only know the old X-Men show and none of the comics.

It’s not new for Marvel Studios to make something as a deliberate callback to the company’s past, and to deploy such a creation as a deliberate play for older audiences’ affections. But little of Marvel’s current work manages to honor the past while updating the core property as successfully as the first episodes of X-Men ’97 do. It’s enough to make you hope they make X-Men ’98’992000 and beyond.

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Content Source: screencrush.com


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