X-Men ’97 Season 1 Sees MCU Make a Great Comeback to the Superhero Genre

The first season of this animated series is available on Disney+ Hotstar.
X-Men ’97 Season 1 Sees MCU Make a Great Comeback to the Superhero Genre

There’s not a lot more that can be said about a comic book animated show that’s already taken the global geekdom by storm and is both a critical and commercial success. Let us all take a moment to celebrate how a tiny, animated tour-de-force has brought authenticity and great storytelling back to the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU). Happy for you, Kevin. Let’s continue this maybe?  

This year — after a decade — we don’t have a big screen MCU opener for the summer. Instead, X-Men ‘97 came in to fill the gap with its 10-episode run starting early April on Disney+ Hotstar. The show is directed primarily by Chase Conley and Emi Yonemura, with writing from Beau DeMayo and Charley Feldman. I was initially dismissive of the show, considering it (like many others) as another Fiege/Disney nostalgia cash-grab.

I am glad, however, that I was proven wrong.

A still from X-Men ’97
A still from X-Men ’97

The very first episode “To Me My X-Men” sets the stage and stakes for a season that while occasionally uneven in its pacing, always makes daring choices. The series picks up a year after an assassination attempt on Professor Charles Xavier (Ross Marquand) leaves the world believing that X-Men’s leader is now dead. While the first episode focuses on the core mutants X-Men Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale), Cyclops (Ray Chase), Rogue (Lenore Zann) and Jubilee (Holly Chou) and their quest to find Bolivar Trask, the man behind the Mutant hunting technology the Sentinel Program.  The major first episode twist comes in the form of Prof. Xavier bequeathing the leadership of the X-Men to their arch nemesis and Xavier’s former friend Magneto (Matthew Waterson).

From the first episode’s “What the hell…”; to the gut-wrenching ‘Remember it’ episode and finally to the “Magneto is right…” of "Tolerance is Extinction” (three-part finale), X-Men ‘97 doesn’t hold back. The plot picks up the greatest hits moments from Grant Morrison and Chris Claremont’s runs in the X-Men comics and deploys them rapidly and effectively. By the time the finale comes around, we are looking at that infamous Wolverine vs. Magneto scene from the Ultimate X-Men comics run. 

A still from X-Men ’97
A still from X-Men ’97

Where X-Men ‘97 delivers is where Fox’s movie run failed. X-Men as a franchise is deeply political – it is about race, refugees, persecution and human apathy. We’ve had nearly 20 years of X-Men movies before this and barring four of them – X-Men, X-Men: Days of the Future Past, X-Men: First Class and  — these themes rarely find measured screen-time in the movies. In comparison, X-Men ‘97 is a breath of fresh air – it isn’t scared of hitting the big boom moments and neither is it shy of hitting the weirdness of the Madelyne Pryor/Jean Grey relationship with Cyclops. In fact, they make Cyclops great again (#winning).

That said, taking the time out to tell a longer story with a multitude of plots and sub-plots and remaining within the Disney PG-13 remit means some things will be sacrificed. Like, pacing and Wolverine, for example. Wolverine doesn’t have much to do until the final few episodes and even his epic scene with Magneto is robbed of its consequences in the finale’s sequel baiting.

Final verdict? X-Men ‘97 is probably of the highest quality that we’ve seen coming out of Marvel’s stable in a very long time. With great voice acting, solid animation, nuanced handling of complex themes that are both true to source and relevant in today’s world and some great action set pieces, X-Men ‘97 is everything the big-screen franchise should have been after the soft-reboot in X-Men: First Class. Does the finale lose some of its steam because of sequel-baiting? Sure. But is the show still one of the best in the Marvel superhero genre post-Endgame? Yes.

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