Movie Reviews

X-Men '97 Finally Delivered The X-Men Team I've Been Waiting 3 Years To See

a stylized image of storm morph and rogue in x men 97

X-Men ’97 is a success on virtually every front, but the Marvel animated series’ biggest victory is absolutely nailing how I’ve always wanted the team to function in live action since first watching their cartoons 30 years ago. Though the universe of Marvel Comics is full of powerful superhero and villain teams, the X-Men (and, to a lesser degree, related teams like X-Force and X-Factor) have always stood apart as unique. Part of this is due to mutants’ unique status as social outcasts and the subject of immense discrimination, but that isn’t all that sets them apart.

What’s always appealed to me the most about the mutants, dating all the way back to watching X-Men: The Animated Series as a kid, is just how much of a true team the X-Men feel like in their best adaptations. It’s this interconnectivity on and off the battlefield that seems most challenging to write (well), and it’s here that X-Men ’97 does its best work. The powerful character moments throughout the series land incredibly well, and it’s all because X-Men’97 simply gets why X-Men were cool in the first place.

That isn’t to say that the X-Men always (or even often) get along. Romantic scorn, rivalries, and plain disagreements are frequent issues for the X-heroes, but that doesn’t detract from them. Instead, I always saw it has something tangible and real. Sure, Iron Man and Cap bicker to the point of coming to blows, but I could always relate to some degree, especially growing up, with people struggling with change, learning to work with those one disagrees with, and the unglamorous hours of practice it takes to function as a true team.

On the battlefield, though, is where the X-Men’s sense of team shines most brightly. Few, if any, superhero teams live together year-round and often only join up for meetings or missions. The X-Men don’t stop there, though. They’re also constantly training in the Danger Room simulation chamber to practice how their specific abilities interact with each other. And that’s what I always found coolest about the team. The X-Men aren’t just a bunch of powerful individuals; they’re a group that’s made stronger by their deep understanding of each other and how their unique abilities tie together to become more than the sum of their already formidable parts.

Like the best X-Men comics, it’s here that the series most strongly succeeds. Even though X-Men ’97 is only 10 episodes of about a half hour each (usually less, counting intros and credits), it’s amazing how quickly I bought into the team’s rapport. Of course, the whole series is a continuation of the excellent X-Men: The Animated Series, but it doesn’t rely on knowledge of what came before to nail its emotional beats. I appreciate the team-oriented drama around leadership after the departure of Professor X (before the start of the show). I love that we finally have a Cyclops who seems like he knows what he’s doing.

X-Men ’97 doesn’t waste time getting to the good stuff, either. The short clip of Gambit riding on Wolverine’s back and kinetically charging the bruiser’s claws for a massive strike went viral after it was shown in the show’s first trailer, and for good reason. It’s these kind of interactions that a team who practices together knows, and other heroes likely wouldn’t.

While X-Men ’97 is the best embodiment of the team’s chemistry to date, the long-running Fox X-Men movie franchise did relatively well, considering it was the product of countless creatives and not a single, unified team. Interestingly, though, the core group never seemed to be the most convincing. Whether due to poor writing or inconsistencies between movies, Storm, Jean, Logan, and Scott never quite seemed to be as tightly knit as they should’ve been. However, smaller character moments still sold the idea. That didn’t really extend to the battles, though, which were largely a bunch of individuals.

I hope the MCU can do better. Marvel Studios is working on its own live-acton X-Men project, and they now have the perfect blueprint in X-Men ’97 to differentiate the team from the Avengers, Guardians, Thunderbolts, and other superhero teams in the sprawling cinematic universe. Whether it’s casting or fight choreography, I need to see actual teamwork come through on the big screen, which heightens everything else the movie has to offer. It’s no secret that the X-Men are special, and they’re a tough property to get right. However, with the bar set so high, there’s no reason to accepts anything short of excellent moving forward.