X-Men '97 Review - An Evolution Of The Beloved Animated Series

  • First Released Mar 20, 2024
  • television
Mat Elfring on Google+

The revival of X-Men: The Animated Series has all the things you loved about the original, along with all its problems.

During the '90s, there were plenty of animated series based on comic properties, but two stood out above the rest: Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series. Both were standouts for their ability to tell stories and for their art. However, one thing X-Men had above Batman was that it was contemporary and followed the stories taking place in the comic books a bit more strictly.

Sure, the X-Men team wasn't the same as the one in the comics at the time. However, we got stories ripped from the comics: Days of Future Past, the Mojoverse, The Phoenix Saga, and even The Phalanx Covenant--which came out two years prior in the comic book format.

The Disney+ animated series picks up where the original animated series left off in September 1997. As wild as it may seem to dive back into an animated series that's been off the air for nearly 27 years, it works pretty well--and even manages to keep the trend of adapting stories from the past that keeps the comics alive.

Disclosure: GameSpot was provided review copies of Episodes 1-3 of X-Men '97 by Disney. This review entirely focuses on those episodes, without spoilers of those episodes.

Episodes 1 and 2 of X-Men '97 will air on Disney+ starting on March 20.

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The original X-Men series ended with some pretty wild moments. Once again, the X-Men were standing up for mutant rights and speaking with the government. However, the Friends of Humanity (the mutant-hating activists) was the wall the X-Men needed to metaphorically climb. Henry Peter Gyrich--one of the creators of the Sentinel program--used a sonic gun to reveal Prof. X's mutant powers to the world, which led to Xavier's death. However, Lilandra popped up and took his mind to keep it alive using the advanced medicine provided by the Shi'ar Empire. Also, Magneto was there to say goodbye to his friend/rival, Charles Xavier. It was a touching, yet bizarre way to end the series. Yes, this is all canon. Yes, it's a lot to take in.

X-Men '97 continues on from that point, and everything that happened to the X-Men in the past cartoon continues to be a part of this new series. This show could have easily thrown elements of that finale in the trash, but it rolls with the punches, which is surprising, to say the least.

The original X-Men cartoon was never truly about cool characters using their powers to fight each other--although the characters were pretty cool and so were their powers. It was always about the oppressed vs. the oppressors. It was about accepting who you are and coming to the realization that you are different, but that's okay. It was about fighting for those around you that don't have the same rights as everyone else. It was a message that has been relevant since long before the original series premiered in the '90s, and that remains the case in 2024.

The new series doesn't shy away from this underlying message. It continues to push that narrative forward while telling familiar and out-of-this world stories featuring well-beloved characters. The first three episodes lay that track down hard, featuring some familiar faces from the original series. Episodes are ripped from the comics and put onto the small screen. It's what you expect and it works.

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X-Men '97 takes place a year after the events of the original series, and a few things have changed, but ultimately, the world is still the same. The Friends of Humanity, and others, still hate mutants. The X-Men still want to make the world a better place for everyone. Do the Friends of Humanity still exist? Yes. Are they, in fact, even worse than they were in the past? From the get-go, the Friends of Humanity are still going about their business--trying to rid the world of mutants--and they're even worse off than they were before. Magneto has changed his tune, a little bit, in order to lead the X-Men. And there's a very "sinister" character that will screw with the heads of every fan of the original series.

The first two episodes that have dropped on March 20 are very distinct, pulling the viewer in different directions. The first episode deals with the introduction of a new member of the X-Men and his entanglement with the Friends of Humanity. The stories involving the mutant-hating group throughout the original became something of an "old hat," but it's a piece of the story that needs to be a part of the X-Men series because--again--this show is all about the struggle for equal rights. Secondly, this episode really serves the purpose of transitioning between the old series and its continuation, without info-dumping exposition on the viewer in the beginning of the episode. It's a great way to get more people on board with the new show, without having them go back and watch every episode of the new series. A few small things are introduced in the first episode in order to move forward, like a new mutant and some important details regarding what has happened to certain X-Men in the meantime, which will become story points later on. Is it the perfect start to this series? No, but its purpose is to move things forward without completely focusing on the past.

The second episode of the new series is directly ripped from an issue of the comic book. As seen at the end of the original series, Magneto hasn't necessarily aligned himself with the X-Men, but he's open to change. This is an episode about overcoming cognitive dissonance. Magneto has always been the one to face adversity by using his powers in order to defend himself and his beliefs, but now that he's found himself in that same position, after Xavier's death, that same way of thinking doesn't resonate with him anymore. So how do you change? Outside of Magneto being in one his best costumes--the one from the mid-'80s--it's one of the better episodes of the entire series, new and old. Again, much like the first episode, this is a transitional story, setting the tone for the rest of Season 1. It's a game of catch-up without feeling like a game of catch-up, and an even better example of the episode that came before it.

Episode 3 changes its tone entirely. It also changes the landscape of the show entirely. While we can't get into specifics, Episode 3 of X-Men '97 is straight-up horror. It's easily the most disturbing episode of the entire series, thus far. That's right: Two of the three episodes in the X-Men '97 series that were available for review are two of the best in the entirety of the series. The show isn't without its flaws though.

The show has a problem introducing characters and elements that the viewers get invested in and then not exploring them further in the following episode. Characters disappear with no explanation. It's a huge disappointment. These people are part of the X-Men team, so why isn't there an explanation for their disappearance during a major conflict in the following episode? It is frustrating to say the least.

One of the confusing things is why Bishop is back on the team, which, very quickly, is revealed, and it's a bit of a bummer. He essentially serves as a MacGuffin for a later episode, which we can't discuss the details of here. Look, Bishop is a fantastic character, and he has a less-mullet-y haircut here--thankfully. But his purpose of being back on the team is to literally progress the plot point of another character. He has a minor interest to go back to his time, but the character and motivations feel as flat as cardboard compared to everything else happening in the opening episodes.

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X-Men '97 can be chaotic and fast-paced, and every story wraps up into a nice, neat package by the end of each episode, but again, there's a bit of that issue with follow-up in the following episodes available for review. Episodes 1-3 play out like the majority of '90s television. However, it's 2024, and in a world of largely serialized shows, featuring multiple storylines weaving into each other with each episode like an old extension cord you can unravel, X-Men '97 is a breath of fresh air. This is a bit contradictory to characters disappearing for various episodes, but there needs to be a bit more cohesion to the show as a whole. While, yes, there is still an overarching story happening here, each singular episode is a "villain of the week" type of storytelling. X-Men '97 feels like a refreshing--yet old-fashioned--form of TV that's a nice break from everything else happening in modern entertainment. It's a show that knows exactly what it is and embraces it like a furry hug from Beast (I'm assuming Beast's hugs are wonderful).

One important aspect of this show is "Does it look like the original X-Men cartoon?" The answer to this is a resounding "yes." The major difference between this series and the original is that it's in widescreen and not the classic 4:3 aspect ratio, which is a delightful change. The art style is similar, using the original design of the show, and there even feels like a light '90s filter put over the screen. There aren't CRT scanlines or anything, but something gives the HD animation that overly-familiar fuzzy look that TVs used to have, which is incredibly endearing. And yes, the amazing theme song is still there, with new animations updating viewers about the members of the team.

There's still the same balance of drama and action of the original series. While many people remember the original X-Men as a show filled to the brim with action, it never really was. It was always a show about the betterment of mankind, united as one, and talking those ideas out, rather than using your powers to get into large battles. Don't worry, though. There's still some awesome and intense action sequences in the early episodes. Professor X and the X-Men were always about talking things out first, using violence as a last resort, while Magneto was always about springing into action right away, then talking things out.

X-Men '97 is what you expect it to be. It's a fun continuation of a series that was beloved. X-Men '97 has the exact same problems as the original. It's chaotic, storylines are wrapped up too quickly, and characters tend to disappear with no explanation. However, the first three episodes of the series prove to be a great start for a show that many people wanted to see return, and it's a great kickoff, with two of those episodes being the best in the entirety of the series. For those who haven't read many X-Men comics but love the X-Men, this is exactly what they need.

Mat Elfring on Google+
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The Good

  • Looks and feels like the classic X-Men cartoon
  • The theme song is still a delight
  • Episodic structure is refreshing in a world of serialized storytelling
  • Two of the episodes reviewed are some of the best of the series

The Bad

  • Stories can be a bit too fast-paced and chaotic
  • Characters just disappear with no explanation

About the Author

Mat Elfring is a contributing writer to GameSpot, and his mutant power is enhanced intentional nodding. He was provided X-Men '97 Episodes 1-3 of the Disney+ series for review ahead of its release.