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X-Men ’97 review: Animated series revival flourishes when not invaded by Marvel | Web Series

X-Men ’97 review: Marvel‘s revival of its groundbreaking 1997 animated series kicked off with a bang in its premiere episode a couple of months ago. With Professor Charles Xavier dead and Magneto taking over the leadership of the X-Men, the mutants’ fate hung in the balance like never before. As the series progresses, our suspicion towards Magneto’s intentions also eases, thus making us root for him as a worthy substitute for his late best friend. (Also read: X-Men ’97: Is there going to be a Season 2? Here’s what we know so far)

A still from X-Men ’97.

Episode 5, which entailed the invasion of mutant land Genosha, further raised the stakes when Magneto is killed, leaving the X-Men orphaned and crippled yet again. But what follows is so typically Marvel. Ever since the death of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame in 2019, Marvel hasn’t treated any of the subsequent deaths with the dignity they deserved. Heroes often strike back either through time travel or the multiverse.

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Case in point: Wolverine. After bidding adieu with one of the most moving farewells in Marvel/20th Century Fox history in James Mangold’s 2017 film Logan, Hugh Jackman is all set to return as Wolverine in the upcoming Deadpool threequel. While the prospect of him teaming up (or clashing against) Deadpool is still quite promising, Marvel is increasingly resorting to the convenient tool of ‘time variance’ to bring back its beloved characters for cheap thrills.

X-Men ’97 doesn’t even bother to go there. Both Magneto and Charles Xavier abandon their tragic deaths like pranks played on our intelligence. It’s as if the writers of X-Men ’97 are as handicapped as the X-Men themselves without these two figures. Their ideological battle is the lifeline of the X-Men franchise, and their collective absence will surely dull the proceedings down. But why invoke their deaths if the intention is to keep them alive and kicking? These seem more like force-fitted narrative turns than plot points elaborately thought through.

Having said that, as long as X-Men ’97 sticks to its own rulebook, it is a lot of fun. Special props to the dialogues, which seem straight out of a poetry book than a Marvel writer’s room. Lines like “riots are the language of the unheard” make X-Men ’97 an eloquent, relevant, and thought-provoking show. It retains the ’90s comic-book aesthetic instead of going all Spider-Verse, which allows the plot and the characters to remain the focus instead of the textures and the visuals. Bringing back actors from the original voice cast also lends the show both continuity and nostalgic charm.

But despite these old-world hacks, X-Men ’97 doesn’t remain a relic of the past. It evolves to narrate a story of immense relevance: on us vs. them, on tolerance, coexistence, tapping one’s inner power, brotherhood, and mental health. In a year when the world’s biggest democracy and its oldest democracy are holding elections, X-Men ’97 may play a minute part in reminding the viewers of the path they want to choose — of peace or vengeance. Even after all these years, the brand of X-Men has its politics and philosophy intact.

Side-plots involving supporting characters like Scott, Jean, Rogue, Jubilee, Roberto, and Storm also shape the beating heart of X-Men ’97. They help connect the show at a deeper level instead of letting it reduce to a colourful sermon. Cameos by popular Marvel characters like Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the Incredible Hulk help integrate X-Men ’97 into the larger Marvel ecosystem.

However, one fervently hopes that despite its overbearing, time-travelling premise, season 2 somehow escapes these Marvel interventions and roots the drama into what X-Men originally is—deeply political yet sincerely human storytelling. Please, Marvel, don’t steal the X away from the X-Men.

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