Wednesday, March 27, 2024

TV Review: X-Men '97

A nostalgic return to the addictive X-Men adventures of the '90s

Back in the '90s—before iPhones and streaming apps—a long week of work or school would be rewarded with a lazy Saturday morning of sugary breakfast cereal and X-Men cartoons. The original X-Men: The Animated Series stood out from the other Saturday morning entertainment because of its diverse characters, edgy storylines, heavy social justice commentary, and soap-opera-level romantic entanglements. Although X-Men comics had been around for decades, the weekly episodes brought the adventures of billionaire mentor Charles Xavier and his team of sarcastic, imperfect, stressed-out superheroes to a wider audience.

The original Saturday morning animated series ran from 1992 to 1996. Eventually, three feature films were made, followed by other animated X-Men shows and even more feature films. However, after all the expansions in film, television, and comics, Disney+’s X-Men '97 instead returns to the retro format of the 1990s series and picks up where the '90s show left off. X-Men '97 is not a reboot, adaptation, or sequel. It is a continuation. Watching it feels like stepping back in time. X-Men '97 assumes viewers know the entire previous backstory of the characters, so viewers who have never consumed X-Men in any form may need to skim a few episodes of the original show (also conveniently available on Disney+).

Here’s a quick refresher: Charles Xavier is a powerful telepath who runs a school for “gifted” children in an era when humanity is evolving to a new level of superhuman capabilities. “Gifted” means mutated into having some sort of superpower. (Younger viewers can think of the story as a precursor to My Hero Academia.) Contrary to other superhero stories, in X-Men those with special powers (mutants) are hated and feared by the rest of humanity. As a result, they often hide their true nature or must face overt racism and abuse. Xavier builds a school where young mutants can learn in safety and hone their special powers. As the students grow up, they become X-Men, a team of superbeings who act as guardians and protectors from various villains while still trying to live their day-to-day lives. Each member of the team has their own terrifying power, tragic backstory, and complicated emotional baggage to navigate as they learn to trust each other while battling powerful villains. A primary antagonist in the show is Xavier’s lifelong best friend/frenemy, Erik Lehnsherr a/k/a Magnus (a/k/a Magneto). Magnus wants to violently confront the oppression mutants face from humans while Xavier wants to pursue peaceful co-existence. The struggle is a general allegory of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Throughout the series, the two philosophies battle as Magneto wreaks havoc and Xavier tries to save and protect. In the finale of the first series, a critically injured Charles Xavier says an emotional goodbye to his young students, leaving original X-Man, Scott (Cyclops) as de facto leader.

X-Men '97 opens in the post-Xavier era. A well-armed hate group, the Friends of Humanity, is using newly acquired weapons to hunt down, neutralize, and kill those with special powers. Scott struggles to lead the team in Xavier’s absence while also dealing with the rise in hate crimes against mutants and dealing with his wife Jean’s pregnancy. Telepath Jean wants Scott to abandon the X-Men so they can raise their child in peace. But things take a turn when long-time adversary Magneto appears with a startling message from Xavier.

As in the original series, the core members of the team are the focus of the show. The new show particularly focuses on Scott, Jean Grey, and Storm/Ororo, who can manipulate the weather. Also featured is Rogue, a southerner who debilitatingly absorbs the powers and memories of anyone she touches, so she spends her life avoiding direct contact with others. This complicates her romantic entanglement with Remy (Gambit), a Louisiana native who can charge objects with energy and use them as weapons. Additional returning characters are fan-favorite Wolverine, Beast, Jubilee, Bishop, and Morph.

Despite the advances in animation since 1996, X-Men '97 maintains the old, slightly stiff animation style of the '90s show. The show also maintains the original visual design and voice style of the characters, which further draws viewers into the retro effect. Many of the characters, including Rogue, Storm, and Wolverine, have the same voice actors from the original series. For those looking for nostalgia, this will be a welcome surprise. Although the character design for most of the X-Men remains the same, a few are slightly changed. Jubilee’s face and eye design is updated; and Morph, the shapeshifter, now has a pale, helmet-like head versus the regular, average human face he had in the original series. Morph is also used as a gateway to brief visuals of other X-Men when he momentarily shapeshifts into offscreen heroes, including Colossus, Angel, and Psylock. His flash transformations into familiar old characters are a fun surprise each time.

The initial episodes of X-Men '97 each end with great plot twists to hook viewers, especially if they’ve never read the comics. Wild plot twists and mature themes were a defining element of the original series, making it a gateway for future animated stories like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Naruto, and other animated series that move beyond surface fights and adventures and dig into emotions and relationships. X-Men '97 continues to lean into that original storytelling strategy, and will fill a nostalgic place in the hearts of long-time viewers. And, with the intense and expansive source material to draw from, X-Men '97 should have plenty of complicated and emotional plot twists to maintain the new show for as long as needed.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10.


  • Lots of nerdy nostalgia
  • Old-fashioned art design and animation
  • Strong social commentary and great plot twists

POSTED BY: Ann Michelle Harris – Multitasking, fiction writing Trekkie currently dreaming of her next beach vacation.