X-Men '97 review: A near-perfect reintroduction to one of Marvel’s best superhero teams

X-Men '97
(Image: © Disney Plus)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

X-Men '97 is a seamlessly connected revival season that serves as a near-perfect reintroduction to one of Marvel’s best superhero teams. If the theme song doesn't make you cry, the character arcs will.

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our experts review games, movies and tech over countless hours, so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about our reviews policy.

Spoilers for X-Men '97 episodes 1-3 follow.

There’s a lengthy list of superheroes waiting for their official induction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and the X-Men don’t seem to be anywhere near the top. The early 2000s films feel long forgotten, and recent films like Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants did little to revive interest (though a post-credits scene in The Marvels did give us some hope). 

But, just as the world seemed to be forgetting about the X-Men, Marvel decided to go in a completely different direction and resurrect what is arguably the best X-Men adaptation ever made: X-Men: The Animated Series. The result: a seamlessly connected revival season that reintroduces one of Marvel’s best superhero teams and reminds us just how damn cool those mutants are.

X-Men ‘97 picks up right where X-Men: The Animated series left off. The flagship show ran from 1992 to 1997 on Fox's kid-friendly programming block, ending with the cliffhanger death of Professor Charles Xavier. The new Disney Plus series, pitched by original director/producer Larry Houston and created by Beau DeMayo, follows our favorite team of mutants as they figure out how to live in a mutant-hating, post-Xavier world. Most of the main cast returned to either reprise their roles or lend their voice to new characters, with the trailer featuring the team donning their classic costumes and running into familiar villains. 

X-Men '97

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

The first episode contains a nice surprise for fans of the flagship show: the opening theme is an almost shot-for-shot remake of the X-Men: The Animated Series theme – just remade with a more modern animation style. The second I heard that music, I burst into tears (a little dramatic, maybe, but it felt like sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday morning again.) 

Right off the bat, Marvel makes it clear that this isn’t a reboot or a reimagining, it's the same show you knew and loved all those years ago. But make no mistake, the new series isn't here to capitalize on nostalgia or pull in those '90s kids, it's here to continue a story, build on this animated world, and flesh out these beloved characters – and it almost effortlessly succeeds.

The series finale of X-Men: The Animated Series ended with the team speaking their very last words to a dying Professor X - and the first episode of X-Men '97 ("To Me, My X-Men" opens with a news broadcast discussing his "assassination" and Rogue (Lenore Zann) reminding the team that only two months have passed since the tragic event. A lot has transpired in two months: mutants are being rounded up and pulled off the street by notorious anti-mutant hate group Friends of Humanity, and Jean Grey (Jennifer Hale) and Cyclops (Ray Chase) are expecting a baby. Our once tight-knit team has been divided by Xavier's passing, and grief hangs heavy over the X-Mansion. 

In just the first few minutes of the show, we're hit with plenty of ass-kicking, rescue-mission-ing, classic team bickering, and an overall taste of each mutant's powers (with Cyclops doing that incredibly cool making-an-entire-building-explode-with-his-eyes-after-the-bad-guy-takes-his-goggles thing). But the episode doesn't shy away from tackling some pretty big topics (something the original series was known to do), including motherhood, identity, abandonment, and the complicated feelings that come along with grief. Right away, the writing is strong – with each bit of dialogue meant to showcase each X-Men member's personality, giving us a look at what's in their heart. As if dealing with the loss of their leader wasn't enough, a big reveal puts Magneto back into the X-Men's lives in a big (and seemingly permanent) way – and it's a jaw-dropping twist that I could have never seen coming.

X-Men '97

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

It gets better. Episode 2, titled "Mutant Liberation Begins" starts off with a shocker: Magneto (Matthew Waterson) is in his good guy era, and he expects everyone around him (even the humans who once regarded him as a 'mutant terrorist') to accept it. But if that wasn't weird enough for you, no worries, the episode ends with a visitor at the door – and there may have been an imposter living among the X-Men all along.

And while we're already hooked, eyes glued to the screen, episode 3 goes full horror film and hits us with some of the most stunning animation I've seen in a minute: Gambit hallucinates that Rogue and Magneto are having an affair, with their skin melting together and becoming one a la David Cronenberg, a lady with multiple limbs crawls out of the TV like the little girl from The Ring, and a perfectly normal Teddy bear morphs into the furry skeletal face of Charles Xavier. But the horror becomes realistic at the end – and Jean Grey experiences what every mother fears the most. 

X-Men '97 is exciting, it's action-packed, but wow does the writing breathe new life into these already complex and fascinating characters. Admittedly, I had kind of forgotten just how effortlessly cool the X-Men are – even in their darkest, toughest moments they remain some of the most badass characters in Marvel history. It's a beautifully crafted, near-perfect reintroduction to one of Marvel’s best superhero teams – and you don't need to have watched the original animated series or even know much about the mutants at all to enjoy this series. We're off to a great start, and I hope the rest of the season keeps up the momentum.

The first two episodes of X-Men '97 are available now, with the remaining episodes set to drop weekly. For more, here's a list of all of 2024's new X-Men comics, a guide on how to watch the X-Men movies in order, and the best movies on Disney Plus.

More info

Available platformsTV
Lauren Milici
Senior Writer, Tv & Film

Lauren Milici is a Senior Entertainment Writer for GamesRadar+ currently based in the Midwest. She previously reported on breaking news for The Independent's Indy100 and created TV and film listicles for Ranker. Her work has been published in Fandom, Nerdist, Paste Magazine, Vulture, PopSugar, Fangoria, and more.