‘X-Men ‘97’ revitalizes the series

‘X-Men ’97’ is a new show that follows X-Men characters Cyclops, Phoenix, Wolverine and others. The show is nostalgic but provides a new take on the superheroes. // Photo courtesy of IMDb

The X-Men are back in Disney+’s animated series “X-Men ‘97.” Following the mutant team’s journey fighting threats against humanity, this series is a continuation of its 1990s predecessor “X-Men: the Animated Series.” As of this week, there are five episodes released, each of which lasting only 30 minutes, making for a quick watch. 

In a world where genetic mutations allow some people to develop powers, these “mutants” either fully realize their powers to become heroes or villains, or they are subject to government experiments far from the rest of society. 

The team includes all the beloved characters from its first series along with the franchise films. Leading the show is Scott Summers, also known as Cyclops, who shoots beams from his eyes and his partner Jean Grey, known as Phoenix, whose telekinetic powers match those of Professor X. Charles Xavier, or Professor X, is the founder of the X-Men and a telekinetic mutant and transforms into a conversation topic rather than a series regular after the audience learns he was killed. 

Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Rogue, Gambit, Morph and Jubilee also act as series regulars, teaming up to take down the villains. The notorious Magneto, Erik Lehnsherr, who can control anything metal, joins the second episode and attempts to convince the world he is not evil.

The series begins with “To Me, My X-Men.” In the wake of Professor X’s murder, the team begins to restructure itself with Cyclops taking charge. 

“Mutant Liberation Begins” is the second episode, which again throws the X-Men a curveball when their longtime foe and Professor X’s old friend Magneto inherits Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Despite doubting his sudden transition to “hero,” the team soon realizes Magneto’s actions are far from unjustified as one of their own is caught in the crossfire of the public’s hatred of mutants. 

The third episode, “Fire Made Flesh,” hones in on Jean Grey’s role within the X-Men for a more character-focused episode. A clone run-in challenges the team’s perspective and weaves confusion into Phoenix’s life. 

“Motendo; Lifedeath – Part 1” is the fourth episode released. It begins as a spotlight on X-Men member Jubilee, who celebrates her birthday trapped in a video game simulation reliving her most notable memories through boss battles. Midway through, the storyline shifts to pick up after the events of the second episode. One member of the team struggles to regain their powers.

Each episode follows a well-known pattern — short and sweet plots with an action-packed fight in the last couple of minutes. Marvel Studios Animation captured the ‘90s visual aesthetic extremely well. In keeping with “X-Men: The Animated Series,” the animation style incorporated bold primary colors as its main palette. The character design almost directly reflects the previous series, aside from the new series having a greater bandwidth for incorporating diversity through believable features.  

Aside from its successful animation artistry, the enticing pull of “X-Men ‘97” comes from its villains. Each episode features a new adversary. The first villain audiences meet is humanity. Including racism itself as the initial series villain makes a strong introduction to the world building and social connections within the show. Professor X’s murder came at the hands of an angry, racist human, not an all-powerful mutant, which reveals the fragmented view society has on the X-Men. As the episodes continue, more radicals and mutant-haters appear as the most detrimental adversaries, causing the greatest harm because of the X-Men’s hesitation to engage against humans.

Beyond the mutant-human conflict, the traditional mutant villains also add to the show’s success. The Sentinels, a human creation to combat the mutants, reappear in many scenes and battle as a formidable adversary, always controlled by an elitist human. Mr. Sinister also joins the series through an elaborate plan that extends beyond what the audience knows. The complexity woven throughout the storyline and character arcs, not just in the few main leads but in every member of the X-Men, crafts an intrigue that goes beyond “cool superheroes fighting bad guys,” though that still exists. 

Even with the show’s broader complexity, it is the individual conflicts that raise the show’s standards. Characters struggle with identity and responsibility as well as familial and interpersonal relationships stunted by their powers. After an incident in episode two, the audience glimpses the opposite issue of a mutant coming to terms with losing their powers and how much of themselves is defined by their abilities. 

“X-Men ‘97” revitalizes the franchise with a nostalgic episodic series focused on elevating the X-Men team. From vibrant colors and beautiful animation to depth of character and complex storylines, this series is an exciting watch and easy binge.