The Spool / Reviews
X-Men ’97 forces your childhood to grow up on Disney+
Disney revives the fan-favorite Fox cartoon for its now-adult fans, running headfirst into grown-up issues and anime-inspired action.
NetworkDisney+
SimilarBatman, Batman: The Animated Series, Birds of Prey, Captain Midnight, Deadly Class, Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, Flash Gordon, Gekisou Sentai Carranger, GoGo Sentai Boukenger, Inazuman, Invincible, Justice League Mirai Sentai Timeranger, Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger, Power Rangers, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Avengers: United They Stand, The Flash, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men: Evolution,
8.5
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As the saying goes, only ’90s kids will remember the severe cultural impact X-Men: The Animated Series had on a particular strain of latchkey millennials. For many, the show, which ran from 1992-97 on the Fox Kids programming block, was the arguable apex of the Marvel superhero team’s on-screen representations. It was thrilling, exciting, and for the time, surprisingly mature in its handling of the sociopolitical issues that spawned the comics in the first place — racism, xenophobia, homophobia. It carried an element of serialized storytelling that was rare for kids’ TV and took its characters and their respective issues seriously. Plus, that theme song just slammed.

Disney+, in its infinite wisdom, knows how to keep the franchise going while they anxiously figure out how to incorporate the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Deadpool & Wolverine should give us a portent, however grim) — and to keep the ’90s kids satiated with a heaping helping of nostalgia while we wait. So goes X-Men ’97, a straightforward continuation of The Animated Series that updates its “too sophisticated for kids” remit all the way to the present day and lands on something interesting, if far from perfect, in the process.

Picking up months after the original series’ finale, X-Men ’97 shows a world reeling from the death of Charles Xavier in the final episode of the animated series: Mutants are mistrusted more than ever, and a growing fifth column of right-wing human militants called the Friends of Humanity are gathering up mutants and taking them down with stolen Sentinel technology. Naturally, it’s up to the X-Men to stop them — if they can pull themselves together and work as a team. Scott Summers (Ray Chase) is the next natural choice for leader, but he’s torn between his duty to his fellow X-Men and his desire to start a family with Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale), a move that has ol’ Wolverine (Cal Dodd) itching with jealousy.

What’s more, Xavier’s last will and testament shockingly hands control of the X-Men to his best friend and bitter rival, Magneto (Matthew Waterson), who’ll have to reconcile the team’s past animosities (and his own past crimes) with his newfound desire to honor Charles’ wishes. That’s all while handling the various robots, beasties, and ill-tempered paramilitaries the mutants have to contend with on a weekly basis.

X-Men '97 (Disney+) Review
(L-R): Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Jubilee (voiced by Holly Chou), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Beast (voiced by George Buza), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), and Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith) in Marvel Animation’s X-MEN ’97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

Make no mistake, X-Men ’97 is aimed squarely at the nearly fortysomethings who grew up with the series, remembered how well it held up, and demanded something sufficiently grown-up from a revival. It’s not quite as bloody or rated R as Prime Video’s Invincible, but its adult themes — and the anime-inspired art style that feels somewhere between the ’90s show and Prime’s gritty superhero darling — definitely pin this as a superhero show for adults. Characters deal realistically with loss, regret, anger, and even motherhood; in the case of Jean Grey, it might just be all four. (While the first two episodes are already available on Disney+, the upcoming third episode is a remarkably sophisticated focus on Jean and her fragmented sense of identity as a woman, a mother, and an X-Man.)

That’s not to say that it doesn’t still scratch the adolescent itch for superhero action: the show’s title sequence is lovingly recreated, along with a more percussive version of the theme tune courtesy of The Newton Brothers. The action is decently staged, though the art style takes some getting used to: it works best when it leans hardcore into the Vampire Hunter D/Ninja Scroll-level malleability of animated action, like Cyclops landing from a great height using his optic blast or Gambit charging Wolverine’s claws with kinetic energy while riding his back. Some fights are more exciting than others, but when it works, it works.

Where the show gets messier is its characters and the unfortunate need to juggle so many at once. In the three episodes reviewed prior to release, the show’s focus stays fairly steadily on Cyclops, Jean, and Magneto, with a few asides to Jubilee and Gambit wherever possible. The rest of the team, from Beast to Bishop to even Storm, tend to fade into the background, popping up only when there’s a rare B-side moment to shine. Even Wolverine, a fan-favorite character, feels very much pushed to the background ( though considering the character’s primacy in the public imagination where the X-Men are concerned, it’s almost a blessing in disguise).

X-Men '97 (Disney+) Review
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.

Hearing many of the original voice actors return is a treat; Alison Sealy-Smith, for instance, continues to imbue Storm with a Shakespearean gravitas. But with so many characters to handle, many take quite some time to make an impression. (As the season progresses, one hopes future episodes will continue to give individual characters proper focus.)

Despite this shagginess, the show stays firm on one of the animated series’ commitment to exploring the comics’ take on inequality and discrimination. The outside world still hates and fears mutants — even more so now — encapsulated by a second episode that literally puts Magneto on trial at the UN for his crimes. What follows is a powerful half-hour exploring Magneto’s complicated road to contrition and the limits of seeking justice for crimes of the past. “Justice is overdue, but so is healing,” Magneto argues, in an episode that feels aptly timed, considering the atrocities happening in Gaza at the time of airing. Is it just to take an eye for an eye and to visit the sins of a few in the past upon an entire people?

The future for X-Men ’97 already appears grim — just a week before the series premiered, creator Beau DeMayo was suddenly, reportedly fired from the series for as-yet-undisclosed reasons. As of now, we don’t necessarily know the reasons behind his departure or who will replace him as the show moves into an already-announced second season. But whatever the show’s fate, X-Men ’97 is off to a good start, updating a classic show for its now-adult fanbase in a way that takes them seriously without feeling dark and gritty for its own sake.

X-Men ’97 airs new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.

X-Men ’97 Trailer:

NetworkDisney+
SimilarBatman, Batman: The Animated Series, Birds of Prey, Captain Midnight, Deadly Class, Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, Flash Gordon, Gekisou Sentai Carranger, GoGo Sentai Boukenger, Inazuman, Invincible, Justice League Mirai Sentai Timeranger, Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger, Power Rangers, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Avengers: United They Stand, The Flash, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men: Evolution,