X-Men '97: Season 1 Review - IGN (2024)

Warning: this review contains full spoilers for X-Men ’97: Season 1!

There’s a lot that could have gone wrong with X-Men ’97. This is a series built around the fond feelings for the original X-Men: The Animated Series, but there’s always a danger in a new project leaning too heavily on nostalgia. The challenge is to craft a follow-up that’s as good as we remember, not necessarily as good as the original actually was. That’s something X-Men ’97 succeeds at admirably. It’s a worthy continuation of the original series while also riding high on its own merits.

Despite effectively being X-Men: The Animated Series - Season 6, X-Men ’97 functions perfectly well as a gateway into this animated universe. All newcomers really need to know is that Charles Xavier has left Earth to recover from injuries sustained in the original series finale, leaving Cyclops and the X-Men to chart a new course forward without him. This quickly leads to all sorts of engrossing conflicts, particularly involving the return of Magneto and the question of whether the self-styled Master of Magnetism can live up to the responsibility placed on his shoulders. It also sparks deep themes of family and responsibility for Cyclops and Jean Grey, which are robustly explored over the course of the season.

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X-Men ’97 is nothing if not densely packed and extremely fast-paced. Like its predecessor, it borrows liberally from the comics, adapting storylines like “The Trial of Magneto,” “Lifedeath,” “Fatal Attractions” and “Operation: Zero Tolerance” within the span of a 10-episode first season. It’s surprising how elegantly these often sprawling comic events have been distilled into animated form. Episode 3 manages to condense the entire “Inferno” crossover into half an hour, trimming the unnecessary fat and honing in on the core conflict between a grieving Madelyne Pryor and the X-Men. X-Men ’97 wastes no time.

This focus on character amid all the larger-than-life spectacle and drama is one of X-Men ’97’s greatest strengths. It leans into the mutant soap opera taking place within the X-Mansion and ensures that the human stakes remain as captivating as the superhero conflicts. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Episode 5, which pays off on the ongoing love triangle between Magneto, Rogue, and Gambit even as it delivers a crushing blow to mutantkind via the destruction of Genosha.

A majority of the core team experiences their own rich character arc over the course of Season 1. Often, those arcs push our heroes in unexpected and sometimes painful new directions. The best of these belongs to Magneto, who faces a powerful test of his resolve to become the man Xavier saw in him. Cyclops, arguably the most bland lead in the original series, frequently shines as a man confronting fatherhood and the prospect of a life after the X-Men. Storm grapples with the loss of her powers and the long, painful road to physical and psychological recovery. Rogue gets several standout moments in the latter half of the season as the Genosha tragedy pushes her closer to the brink. Through it all, X-Men ’97 adds compelling new layers to these old favorites. It even dodges one of the pitfalls of the old cartoon, avoiding becoming overly preoccupied with Wolverine.

This breakneck storytelling approach has its occasional drawbacks. Not every character is given the attention they deserve, with Morph, Beast, and particularly Bishop (who abruptly drops out of the picture after three episodes) getting short shrift compared to the rest of the team. The “Lifedeath” episodes are also a rare example of the storytelling outpacing the emotions, resulting in the romance between Storm and Forge feeling somewhat rushed. There’s not enough time in certain episodes to let the plot breathe; some characters go underutilized as a result.

Fortunately, these are minor problems compared to everything X-Men ’97 does right. Season 1 adapts so many iconic Marvel storylines, doing justice to most of them – and, in some cases, improving on the comics. Main villain Bastion is a far more fascinating and nuanced villain here than he ever was in “Operation: Zero Tolerance.” X-Men ’97 shows a knack for both honoring the comics and putting its own, unique spin on that material.

In terms of both look and sound, X-Men ’97 is a fantastic extension of the original series. The animation style evokes the classic cartoon with its vivid colors and low frame rate, but dials the action and battle scenes up several notches. Here, the animators lean on everything from the Marvel vs. Capcom games to Japanese anime for inspiration, resulting in a steady stream of dynamic, highly entertaining fight scenes. Whether it’s Cyclops using his optic blasts as a parachute or Rogue unleashing her full fury on the battlefield, X-Men ’97 just plain looks cool.

The voice cast also proves invaluable when it comes to blending superhero spectacle with introspective character drama. X-Men ’97 brings back some of the surviving cast members from the original series, including Cal Dodd as Wolverine, Alison Sealy-Smith as Storm, Lenora Zann as Rogue and George Buza as Beast, and all help strengthen the nostalgic link to X-Men: The Animated Series. The newcomers are equally strong, with actors like Ray Chase, Jennifer Hale, and Matthew Waterson faithfully channeling the voices we know so well. Theo James’ Bastion is also a highlight late in Season 1, and it’s his performance that helps bring such depth and humanity to this all-powerful Sentinel villain.

X-Men '97: Season 1 Review - IGN (2024)
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