X-Men ’97 Review: A Confident, Kinetic Follow-Up to Original Animated Series

X-Men ’97, now streaming its first two 30-minute episodes on Disney+, achieves a retro/modern binary many revivals strive for but can’t quite nail.

Everything about it — from its opening credits and energetic theme music to its cheesy quips and character-specific idiosyncrasies — denotes a love for the material rivaling that of the most ardent X-philes, and for good reason. The people behind this belated continuation adore the comics and their various translations and incarnations.

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Like X-Men: The Animated Series, this spirited follow-up pulses and pops with kinetic delights. The action is more fun and more fluid than ever, and the Newton Brothers’ catchy, up-and-at-’em score infuses the proceedings with a liveliness we’ve sorely missed.

X-Men: The Animated Series' Top 20 Episodes, Ranked
X-Men: The Animated Series' Top 20 Episodes, Ranked

X-Men: Animated Series Episodes, Ranked

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Kicking off after Professor X’s death, X-Men ’97 follows the eponymous team of mutants (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Wolverine, Morph, Rogue, Beast, Gambit, Jubilee and Bishop) as they contend with rising anti-mutant sentiment, fight new foes with old quibbles, and investigate the nefarious Mr. Sinister. Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase) tries to lead them, but a surprise visit from Magneto (Matthew Waterson) threatens to tear the team apart before any real progress can be made.

Working with a 10-episode season order, X-Men ’97 wastes no time and has no trouble reminding us why this corner of the Marvel Universe warrants revisiting. For starters, it’s difficult not to get swept up in the dynamics that help define these characters. Gambit (AJ LaCascio) talking in the third-person as he flirts with just about everyone. Wolverine (Cal Dodd) tacking “bub” onto declarations that don’t call for it. Magneto’s complex history with Charles Xavier. It’s all back, and as brilliant as ever.

But series creator Beau DeMayo (who very recently parted ways with Marvel), along with director Larry Houston and original series showrunners Eric and Julia Lewald, proves himself an enthusiastic practitioner of “yes, and” storytelling. It isn’t enough that the characters retain themselves and indulge in silly, offbeat digs at one another’s expense; DeMayo & Co. wanted what happens to these people to matter, and they wanted to thrill us all to bits in the process. Well, mission accomplished. The writers front-load this season with dizzyingly well-placed twists (and a dash of body horror), and because only the first three episodes were screened for critics, it’s evident that they are prepping us for even crazier surprises.

Circling back to the action: An especially thrilling sequence in the first episode emphasizes the fluidity of its various fight sequences. Cyclops and friends confronting the dastardly Bolivar Trask in a Sentinel graveyard? Yes, please. Gambit hurling Wolverine through a Sentinel? Um, do you have to ask?

Luckily, DeMayo’s firing, days before the premiere, doesn’t appear quality-related in the slightest (which only adds to the mystery of that whole news beat). X-Men ’97 is confident and charming and bolstered by some excellent voice acting; everything Marvel has shown us so far suggests this long-awaited revival will be one for the books.

X-Men ’97 takes a beloved ’90s cartoon and, instead of sacrificing its charm on the altar of all things shiny and new, gleefully meshes vintage Marvel with real-world strife in an organic, unassuming way. It’s the follow-up the original series always deserved — and we can’t wait for what’s next.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: X-Men ’97 goes all-in on the requisite campiness, high-stakes action, and potent parallels that made the original, as well as the comics that inspired it, so much fun.

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