I watched Marvel’s X-Men 97 on Disney Plus, and it made me feel like a carefree kid again

I watched Marvel’s X-Men 97 on Disney Plus, and it made me feel like a carefree kid again
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Full spoilers follow for X-Men: The Animated Series.

I love a good nostalgia trip – especially when it comes to movies and shows from my youth. Turn on the TV and put The Lion King, Power Rangers, Pokémon, or any other 90s-era entertainment on, and I’ll immediately be transported back to a time where adult problems – bills and a lack of sleep, am I right? – seemed eons away.

So when Marvel announced it was developing X-Men 97, a Disney Plus revival of X-Men: The Animated Series (X:TAS) – a beloved childhood show of mine – you can bet I was excited. That anticipation, though, was laced with apprehension. Sure, the comic book giant enjoyed plenty of success with its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise. But, after numerous less well-received movies and series, including the mixed reception to What If…?, Marvel Studios’ first in-house animated offering, I could be forgiven for expecting the worst.

I need not have worried. Based on its first three episodes, X-Men 97 is everything I wanted from a Disney Plus sequel to one of my favorite animated programs. An old-school series with a modern twist, it’s a worthy successor that packs a sentimental punch. At least from what I’ve seen, it’ll not only appeal to X:TAS veterans and established MCU fans alike, but also to those looking for an easy entry point to Marvel’s expansive cinematic franchise.

To me, my X-Men

A screenshot from the X-Men 97 trailer showing Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, and other mutants in the Marvel Disney Plus animated show

X-Men 97 picks up several months after its predecessor. (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

X-Men 97 begins several months after X:TAS‘ finale. The world believes Charles Xavier/Professor X, the X-Men‘s telepathic and empathetic leader, is dead (he’s not, but just go with it) after he was fatally wounded by Henry Gyrich, a US government liaison officer with a severe aversion to mutant kind, in the original show’s 76th and concluding chapter.

Xavier’s sacrifice has led most ordinary humans to view mutants in a sympathetic light and largely accept their place in the ‘present’ (1997 being the in-universe ‘present day’). However, in Professor X’s absence, the X-Men grapple with how – or, rather if – they’ll continue to move forward as a team. Scott Summers/Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase) and Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale), for instance, wonder if it’s time to put their unborn son first; a decision that suggests an inevitable parting of the ways with their found family.

X-Men 97 is a delightful reference- and cameo-filled sequel befitting its 90s heyday predecessor

Unsurprisingly, that potential exit, among other best laid plans for Scott and Jean’s fellow superheroes, doesn’t materialize. Whether it’s the re-emergence of Bolivar Trask – the scientist who created the mutant-killing weapons known as Sentinels – or the revelation that Xavier bequeathed leadership of the X-Men to complicated villain Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Matthew Waterson), there’s plenty for everyone to deal with in the immediate term.

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Given the aforementioned ties to X:TAS, you’ll be pleased (as I was) with the continuity that X-Men 97 exhibits through its episodic and overarching storylines. This isn’t a hard reset. Rather a soft reboot that pursues unresolved plot threads, as well as building on established character arcs, left over from X:TAS. In a world where remakes are commonplace, I was relieved and delighted to see that Marvel had the courage and conviction to pick up where things left off, rather than retell X:TAS‘ five-season story with updated visuals.

Rogue, Jubilee, Storm, Wolverine, Beast, Morph, and Bishop stand on a basketball court in X-Men 97

X-Men 97 doesn’t disregard its predecessor’s storylines. (Image credit: Marvel Animation)

X-Men 97 also delivers on honoring what Beau DeMayo, its showrunner who was surprisingly fired by Marvel, previously described as the “earnestness and emotional sincerity” of the original series.

Indeed, X:TAS‘ thematic resonance and topical exploration have been preserved with the requisite respect and care – the examination of racial segregation, a staple of the X-Men‘s 60-plus year history, chief among them. Other important talking points – legacy, loss of self-identity, and authentic LGBTQ-plus representation (team member Morph identifies as non-binary) to name three – are also as pleasingly prominent; the latter particularly so in light of X-Men 97‘s progressive, present day take on Marvel’s source material.

X-Men 97 delivers its fair share of somber story beats that’ll leave a lump in the throat

Equally gratifying is Marvel’s decision not to tie X-Men 97 into the wider MCU. To paraphrase prog-rock band Pink Floyd, it’s not just another brick in the MCU wall – indeed, like Moon Knight, X-Men 97 exists as a standalone entity unshackled by the MCU’s unwieldy makeup. 

Of course, with seven more episodes to come in X-Men 97‘s first season, it could still become part of Marvel’s cinematic tapestry. There are loose connections to other universes – the MCU or otherwise – in episodes one through three that suggest it might do so, too, if Marvel deems it necessary. However, given X:TAS predated the MCU, via 2008’s Iron Man, by 16 years, I’d like to see X-Men 97 kept separate from the elaborate multiversal tale that’s currently weighing Marvel’s cinematic juggernaut down.

A close-up shot of Storm's face as she uses her powers in X-Men 97 on Disney Plus

I hope X-Men 97 gives some characters, including Storm, more screen time throughout season 1’s other episodes. (Image credit: Marvel Animation)

If I have one small grievance with X-Men 97, it’s that it primarily focuses on Scott and Jean in its early installments, with the pair placed front and center of the Marvel Phase 5 series’ embryonic storylines. That’s to be expected, what with X-Men 97 recreating classic narratives from the comics involving Nathaniel Essex/Mr. Sinister (Christopher Britton) and a certain famous clone saga (no, not that maligned Spider-Man one).

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It’s a three-part series opening that puts Scott and Jean through the emotional wringer. Aside from some wider familial dysfunction that delivers some spicy melodrama to proceedings, though, the rest of the X-Men feel secondary or even disappointingly side lined by the unfolding events. Sure, Magneto gets some multifaceted time to shine in episode 2, Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Holly Chou) plays a fairly substantial role in X-Men 97‘s premiere, and episode 3’s ending suggests there are entries led by Lucas Bishop (Isaac Robinson-Smith) and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alison Sealy-Smith) to come. Fans hoping to see the likes of Wolverine, Rogue, and Gambit get their fair share of screen time early on, though, should temper their expectations.

A necessary evolution

The X-Men prepare to fight some Sentinels in a scrap yard in Marvel's X-Men 97 TV show

X-Men 97‘s action has a very anime feel to it. (Image credit: Marvel Animation)

Fans of X:TAS shouldn’t be concerned that X-Men 97 disregards other elements (aside from what I’ve covered above), either. Indeed, those hoping for a nostalgia-fueled trip down memory lane will *ahem* marvel at how it evokes the feelings of watching X:TAS as a wide-eyed kid.

From the original show’s iconic opening title sequence – The theme song! The animated character intros! The opposing factions running into each other! The 3D title text! – to numerous X:TAS and wider Marvel animated series’ call backs and Easter eggs, X-Men 97 is a delightful reference- and cameo-filled sequel befitting its 90s heyday predecessor.

X:TAS’ thematic resonance and topical exploration has been preserved with the requisite respect and due care

For viewers wanting a bit of shock value from the group’s latest animated runout, there’s some to be had in its first three entries. There isn’t an overabundance of surprising moments, but those of a blind-siding nature – well, they’ll be emotionally stunning to anyone unfamiliar with X:TAS or the group’s illustrious comic book history – are hard-hitting. I’ve been moved by similar animated genre fare before, such as by Arcane and BoJack Horseman on Netflix, and X-Men 97 delivers its fair share of somber story beats that’ll leave a lump in the throat.

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Gambit hitches a ride on a running Wolverine in Marvel's X-Men 97 TV series on Disney Plus

X-Men 97 might be a superhero-first series, but it’s not averse to being multi-genre in its scope. (Image credit: Marvel Animation)

The biggest difference between X:TAS and its successor, though, is the latter’s animated glow-up. Though conceptually similar to the 2D character designs from the original show, X-Men 97 adds more than a dashing of 3D-style cell-shading, alongside a fresh lick of paint, to renovate the group’s animated adventures. Like me, it might take you a beat or two for your eyes to acclimate to its newfound graphical style, but I found it to be a simple yet effective upgrade to the 90s cartoon’s aesthetic after a few minutes.

X-Men 97‘s animation is also a step above – obvious as that is to say, given the technological advancements since the original – its forebear. With South Korea’s Studio Mir, whose previous works include Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel The Legend of Korra and Harley Quinn season three, taking the leads on the show’s development, you can bet that there’s a serious anime vibe to its animated composition.

I’d like to see X-Men 97 kept separate from Marvel’s elaborate multiversal tale

X-Men 97‘s action sequences, for instance, are superb. Compared to X:TAS, they’re more ambitious, creative and free-flowing in their scope and scale, have a greater degree of intensity, and even occasionally slip into violent territory. Away from the customary battle scenes, Studio Mir’s penchant for abstract visuals, imaginative animation style, and weird hues lends itself to some trippy, horror-infused moments, too. Episode three is the best example of this, with nightmarish scenes aplenty that indicates X-Men 97 will be more multi-genre in tone than its animated progenitor.

My verdict

X-Men 97 is a crowd-pleasing, wistful throwback to a time where watching Saturday morning cartoons was as stressful as life ever got. A melting pot of classic X:TAS ingredients with more than a sprinkling of modern spice, it’s a mouth-watering recipe that cooks up a delicious, nostalgic feast for the senses that’s as flavorsome to newcomers as it is rewarding for long-time viewers.

I’ll never tire of recommending X-Men: The Animated Series to anyone who hasn’t seen it, but you don’t need to do so to appreciate and enjoy what X-Men 97 has to offer. To me, that’s the tell-tale sign of an excellent show, and you can be sure it’ll join our best Disney Plus shows list for that reason, as well as the others noted throughout this piece, in the near future.

At just 30 minutes a pop, each episode makes for easy digestible viewing while you munch down a bowl of milk-soaked cereal first thing in the morning, too. So, before the monotony of school or work washes over you every Wednesday for the next 10 weeks, why not take a nostalgic trip back in time – breakfast in hand – by watching a terrific sequel to one of the best animated shows of all-time? I know I will be.

X-Men 97’s first two episodes are out now on Disney Plus. New episodes air weekly until the season finale on May 15. Lastly, find out how to watch the X-Men movies in order while you’re here.

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