X-Men ‘97 Review: Disney+’s animated Marvel series is a nostalgic blast for the whole family

You don’t need to watch five seasons of X-Men: The Animated Series, or even know the X-Men to enjoy this new show.

(L-R): Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.
(L-R): Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL. /
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Let me admit something up front in this X-Men ‘97 review. I’m a lifelong comic book fan who first fell in love with comics reading Marvel’s X-Men. Yet somehow, other than the first episode of X-Men: The Animated Series, I’ve never watched the original show, which ran for five seasons from 1993-1997. So believe me when I say that based on the three episodes provided for review by critics, you and your family really don’t need to know anything about the original series to have an absolute blast watching Marvel Studios’ reboot.

In case you’ve somehow not only missed the ‘90s animated series, the live-action movie series, or any of the spinoffs, comic books, and video games, here’s the gist. Mutants are the next evolution of the human species, granted fantastic powers that make them hated and feared by regular humans. Professor Charles Xavier has put together a special school for mutants, anchored by his team, the X-Men, who are there to prove mutants can be good and helpful. On the opposite side is Magneto, a former friend of Xavier who believes mutants and humans can’t co-exist; so mutants might as well rule.

There’s a lot more that’s going on with the characters, including fan favorites like Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Beast. And a ton of plot has gone down in the first five seasons - nay, in every episode of the series. But it honestly doesn’t matter. The opening credits, which include probably the most awesome cartoon theme song of all time, get you up to speed on who the characters are, what their powers are, and what the general plot is in under a minute. You don’t need to know anything to hop in and enjoy the first two episodes, titled “To Me, My X-Men” and “Mutant Liberation Begins.” It’s all right there on screen.

And not only that, even with complicated plotlines like the death of Professor X in the previous series, or some things that go down in episode 3 that are insane even by X-Men standards, the characters always helpfully give you the minimum amount of info you need to understand what’s going on.

X-MEN '97
(L-R): Jubilee (voiced by Holly Chou), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Jean Grey (voiced by Jennifer Hale), Gambit (voiced by AJ LaCascio), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), and Beast (voiced by George Buza) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL. /

To wax poetic for a moment, back in the day we were less stringent about starting at the beginning of something. With comics, nobody said, “Well, have to go back and read Action Comics #1 to understand what’s happening in Superman #236.” Same thing with TV… Given things mostly ran on TV once, if you didn’t tape it or catch a repeat, you missed an episode, and that was fine - you’d just catch up next week. There was, in all forms of serialized media, more of an attempt to make sure this sort of catch-up was baked in, something we’ve gotten away from in the modern era where everything is on demand at all times.

X-Men ‘97 favorably harkens back to that. There are approximately one million complex storylines going on in the first episode alone because X-Men is nothing if not an ongoing superhero soap opera. There are shifting family dynamics, love triangles, shocking births, and characters who return from the dead. But what keeps it anchored and interesting, and never feeling dense is the breezy way the 30-minute episodes rip through plot, jokes, and action.

I will say, it took me about half of the first episode to get into the animation style, which splits the difference between the more stilted action of ‘90s animation, and the thick lines of more modern adult animation like Archer. The fact of the matter is that most of the cartoons of the time may hit those nostalgia buttons, but they are actively bad, and they look bad. It takes a moment for X-Men ‘97 to get going, but it is definitively not bad; there’s not a lot that's modern about it, but the creators figure out how to make the visual style work for them. There’s a ton of emotion that comes out through the characters, and the action is killer, if not as fluid as modern audiences might expect.

X-MEN '97
Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd) and Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL. /

And is it cheesy? For sure. But again, the show leans into this, straight-facedly having the main character Cyclops drop a “not!” joke about thirty years after they were in vogue, or Gambit prancing around in a cut-off tee and referring to himself in the third person. Credit to the folks behind the scenes for understanding that this sort of thing is part and parcel with the X-Men… They are earnest to a fault. Everything is the end of the world, all the time. And that includes the jokes, which hit more often in these episodes than they miss.

To give you a sense of how this show actually does work regardless of your familiarity with the X-Men… I’ve detailed my history already. My wife has seen some of the movies but hasn’t really read the comics, or watched the animated show. My daughter (14) has watched three of the movies but doesn’t really have any familiarity with X-Men otherwise. And my son (9) is absolutely obsessed with all of it, watched every episode of every X-Men animated series ever made, most of the movies (no Logan or Deadpool for him yet), and constantly reads the comics. So a gamut of ages and experiences, right? Everyone had an absolute blast, and when one episode ended, begged to watch the next one.

So while some folks might write off X-Men ‘97 as nostalgia bait for aging fans, and frankly that’s probably the best Marvel Studios was hoping for with this show, they’ve miraculously made something better than that; an animated action show the whole family can enjoy that works as a perfect introduction to what makes the X-Men so special.

The first two episodes of X-Men ‘97 are streaming on Disney+ now.

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