How Is X-Men ’97 Without Seeing The Prequel?

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X-Men ’97 Is Interesting To Watch As A New Viewer

This review of X-Men ’97 has a caveat to it. This review is not intended for fans of the original series. I haven’t seen much of the original series, and it’s been a very long time since then. No, this review is for the people who are aware of the hype and want to watch X-Men ’97—but don’t know if they need the background context. If that’s you, well, first off, yes, you should watch it. You can enjoy it without the whole backstory.

Secondly, not only can you enjoy X-Men ’97, but it’s a phenomenal series. The pacing, storytelling, voice acting, and animation are all wonderful. Except. Except for a few specific things. Things that threw me. Things that seemed extremely odd. Some of it might even ruin the rest of the show as episodes arrive. But we’ll get there. Let’s start with the opening two-parter and how it’s a breath of fresh air compared to other recent Marvel outings.

X-Men ’97 Immediately Talks About Its Big Themes

From Marvel Rising to The Marvels, it’s felt like superhero storytelling doesn’t want to engage with the implications of their narratives. There are exceptions, like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but overall, we don’t see how superheroes have changed the world. But X-Men ’97 enters the ring with two back-to-back episodes exploring mutant human relations in the wake of an assassination. X-Men media often uses the idea of mutants as an allegory for various marginalized groups, and X-Men ’97 evokes so many aspects of that in such a short runtime. I’m not the right person to break all of these down or talk about how they’re handled, including all the representation present, but every moment feels pointedly about something.

And, yet, somehow, despite needing to do so much worldbuilding and exposition to catch up people like me, they also fit action into these episodes. Complicated, dynamic, action set pieces. This brings me to the animation. It’s a style that shows its good and bad sides really quickly. The bad is whenever characters are just standing around. Close-ups of facial animation are impactful as heck, but otherwise, there’s stuff that just looks bad. I got used to it eventually, but the CGI puppet seams are glaringly present. But then there are moments of action, and it all clicks. This style is made for fights. Watching Cyclops use momentum and Storm bring the fury of the sky in the first few minutes was incredible. Episode three ramps it up even further with some truly horrific monster designs and flying glass attacks. I cannot imagine the amount of work this took.

Ah, but what was that bad thing I talked about? Well, it’s a tonal shift. As I said, episodes one and two of X-Men ’97 are exactly the kind of deep, meditative look at interesting themes I wanted from superhero media. A whole season of exploring these deep topics could’ve been an instant classic. Episode three, however, is a gothic horror melodrama with plot twists that make soap operas seem constrained. It barely feels like the same show.  

Episode Three Goes In A Totally Different Direction

An over-designed villain, a clone plot with disturbing implications, an evil castle lair, and more turn what was a somewhat grounded story into a hodgepodge with no discernible consistent genre. Original fans of the series might appreciate what are likely myriad callbacks, but it wasn’t made for new fans like me. The dialog, once feeling carefully crafted, got more and more dramatic. I didn’t mind the cliffhanger nature of the first narrative, but I get the sinking impression that this whole season might be a string of increasingly “shocking” revelations. It’s just such a downgrade.

Really, I don’t understand why X-Men ’97 structured itself like this. A show just for established fans or a fresh start would’ve worked, but using both methods makes for such a weird viewing experience. It throws off any momentum. But I still don’t take back my recommendation. So much here is done so well that it’s still enjoyable, even when I don’t understand everything that’s happening. The spectacle is enough. The quality is there. I want to keep watching X-Men ’97—if only to see what it can achieve.  

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