X-Men ’97 is brilliant, but it’s going to cause the MCU a headache

Tom Percival
The X-Men '97 cast

If you’ve been watching X-Men ’97, then the chances are you think it’s a brilliant bright spot in the MCU’s catalog of shows and movies, but that dazzling brilliance could give Marvel a migraine in the future. 

We’re coming to the end of X-Men ’97’s first season, and the response has been nothing short of incredible. The animated show boasts an astonishing 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, and in my own not-so-humble opinion, it’s the best superhero TV show Marvel has produced since WandaVision. 

The action has been exciting, the stories mature, and it’s rewarded long-term X-Men fans with a bounty of Easter eggs and references. In short, this show’s given us everything we could possibly want from an X-Men show. Yet, as incredible as X-Men ’97 is, I worry it will cause future problems for the MCU’s X-Men movies.

So what’s the problem then? Well, here’s the thing. We know the X-Men are coming to the MCU (Deadpool 3 will introduce some of them, but other upcoming Marvel movies are sure to focus on the merry mutants), and those films are going to be compared to X-Men ’97. Is that fair? Probably not, but it seems inevitable. 

Marvel’s looming headache

Cyclops in X-Men '97

The thing is, X-Men ’97 is so amazing that it’s hard to imagine these new movies being anywhere near as good. It’s not that they’ll be bad; they’re just not going to have the advantages that ’97 did. Look at it like this: X-Men ’97 was the continuation of a widely beloved series that ended on a dramatic cliffhanger. 

As a result, fans felt an awful lot of goodwill going into this project based on nostalgia; more than that, the writers weren’t starting with a blank slate. They could use the preestablished relationships that had already been built and use them as a springboard to tell new, exciting, and heartbreaking stories. 

This is not an advantage the new X-Men movies are likely to have. If reports are to be believed, the MCU X-Men film will have an entirely new cast, with none of the older Fox lot returning. 

Sure, audiences will have a degree of familiarity with the X-Men characters, but whoever’s in charge of these films is going to have to take some time to establish the new X-Men and their dynamic. This could, if done poorly, result in a tired origin story that we’ve already seen twice at this point.

More to love

Wild Sentinel X-Men '97
The Wild Sentinel was a killing machine designed specifically to destroy Genosha by Cassandra Nova.

Beyond an imagined X-Men origin story, ’97 has another critical advantage over any film series. The X-Men (and a lot of Marvel comics, now that I think about them) have always been soap operas, like Coronation Street or Days of Our Lives. The best X-Men stories tend to be slow boils that build over time, which means they lend themselves better to longer-form media like TV shows (or comics) rather than the one-off stories we get in movies.

I’m not saying you can’t tell a good X-Men story in a movie’s runtime (X2 remains one of the best superhero movies ever). Still, the X-Men are definitely better suited to more episodic adventures that allow for rich character development and more intricate, complex storytelling than movies, which tend to focus on one strand. 

With that in mind, I have faith in Kevin Feige. The behatted Marvel maestro has rarely steered us wrong before (Ant-Man 3 aside), and the fact the studio hasn’t rushed to insert the X-Men into Phases 4 and 5 as soon as they got the rights back from Fox gives me hope there’s a grander plan in motion.

So, while X-Men ’97 has a high bar, I’m confident in Marvel’s ability to adapt, innovate, and mutate. After all, you don’t end up with a multi-billion-dollar franchise without knowing a thing or two about the movie business. 

In the end, the success of the MCU’s X-Men won’t be broken by comparisons to X-Men ’97. It will rely on the strength of the stories, its cast, and the creative vision of those working on the picture. So let’s remain hopeful X-Men ’97 will be less of a headache and more something to aspire to. 

Loving X-Men ’97? It sounds like you should read our guide to breaking down the complicated Marvel movie timeline. We’ve also got guides detailing everything you could want to know about Thunderbolts and Captain America 4. Still hungry for more X-Men content? You’re worse than Mojo! Ok then, we’ve also answered whether we’re going to get a Spider-Man ’98.