‘X-Men 97’ review: Yeah, you can hear that theme song right now

Carljoe Javier

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‘X-Men 97’ review: Yeah, you can hear that theme song right now
'The writing is tighter. The action scenes are better. Totally subjective, but I dig how much more flamboyant some of the costumes are.'

After months of nostalgia build-up and hype, I got the first three episodes of X-Men 97 to screen. 

I wanted to resist the hype-train. I wanted to be objective about this and not fall into this middle-aged nerd trap that Marvel has set for me and countless other kids who came of age watching the ’90s X-Men series run. 

But I fell in. Deeeeeeeeeep. So this review is definitely going to reflect that. 

I don’t think it’s unfair because the series’ main selling point is its nostalgia. It is a show that feels “out of its time,” but not necessarily because of its progressive politics — which in its original run were ahead of its time and, watching now, frighteningly prescient, but that’s X-Men stuff in general. It feels out of its time because of the relative simplicity of the storytelling. So far it locks into the previous overarching stories and themes, not necessarily totally disconnected, but also features nice neat one-and-dones within the larger themes. 

I’ve been thinking about the original series and trying to do a rewatch in the lead-up to this one. The fan response and excitement for it (barring the ignorant anti-woke comments) has been overwhelming, and so I wanted to wrap my head around why the show worked so well on kids of that time. 

It’s the theme song. 

Okay yeah, it is the theme song, but also, I realized that it has a weird formula. Sure, it leans into cool characters who have powers, and you wind up wondering what you as a kid would be like if you had powers. But deeper than that, I realized the formula was, it’s a show that’s ostensibly for kids, but its main characters are adults (plus Jubilee as audience surrogate?), and here’s the weird thing, all the adults act like teenagers. The adult characters have so many emotions, they are always flying off the handle, they are impulsive, and everything is just always turned up to 11. Yet amid all of that drama, there’s cool action sequences and world-ending stakes. 

This is, of course, a classic X-Men comics formula perfectly translated for ’90s TV. ’90s TV. 

Now the question, at least for X-Men 97, is how is it? 

It is exactly what it needs to be. And at times exceeds expectations. This is a nostalgia machine, and if the idea were to imagine, what if that original series never ended and kept going, and this is the continuation, then this show hits it. With upgrades. 

The writing is tighter. The action scenes are better. Totally subjective, but I dig how much more flamboyant some of the costumes are. 

So this tries to step through a time portal and bridge across almost 30 years. In that project, it works. It offers the joys and comforts and excitements of the original, with more modern storytelling and techniques built in. Also, the combat sequences see a huge improvement. I don’t know how much the improved animation has to do with it, but the X-Men come across as cooler and a tighter fighting unit than in the previous incarnation. 

My question though is, who is this for? Is this solely for the nostalgic middle-aged X-Men fan? And is that all that it needs to be? 

Because if so, mission accomplished. 

In the current slate of modern cartoons, does this appeal to kids watching cartoons today? That’s an open question and I’m not sure if the same kind of original target market would find this “good” now. From the limited cartoons I’ve been watching, I would say this is still a toss-up. I know some modern stuff is much smarter, much more complex than what X-Men 97 is offering. Its brand of conflict, melodrama, and action does seem firmly rooted in very ‘90s values. It also feels a little earnest and maybe cheesy (or maybe that’s all just Cyclops). I think the potential here actually is adults watching with kids. 

There’s something to seeing these characters in action, in this specific form, which gets people excited. It’s an excitement that we’ve watched the live-action adaptations struggle to hit, to varying degrees of success. The X-Men are great characters and they have their own mythos. Somehow, the original run of these cartoons captured some of the comics magic, and created its own kind of magic that has had an impact on so many kids who saw that opening OBB, so much so that the theme’s melody immediately conjures mutant-powered action scenes. 

Thus far, X-Men 97 is a worthy successor. Is it “essential” viewing (which is often a weird expectation we sometimes place on shows and movies these days)? Not really. But is it fun, enjoyable, and cool to watch? Oh yeah definitely. When I have a half hour to kill, will this be a top option? Yes. If you’re coming into this with no knowledge of the original run, will you enjoy it? Two-part answer here. You don’t need to have seen the original, but that means you won’t have any of that nostalgia for it. So the enjoyment might vary. And if you in any way enjoyed the original run, then you will probably feel transported to your childhood and have fun here. –

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