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X-Men ’97 is Marvel’s best argument for an X-Men animated feature



What if an animated series is the X-Men’s best future?


While a live-action X-Men movie could be fantastic, astonishing even, Fox’s history and track record suggests that’s easier said than done. The issue of making ensemble superhero movies and fleshing out more than two characters at a time can be difficult (though Guardians has done it extremely well). There’s also the issue of fitting them into an already-packed MCU and getting all those heroes — Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Monica Rambeau, Shuri, et al. — on the same page. And Marvel has to figure out which villains it’s going to use, now that it has dropped its plans for Jonathan Majors’s Kang; Majors was found guilty of assaulting and harassing his now ex-girlfriend in 2023.


What makes the X-Men so difficult for live-action adaptation is that the X-Men’s powers are so grandiose and astounding that it makes set pieces and design virtually impossible. Storm, for example, has the power to manipulate the weather in the form of tornadoes and lightning and can even create a cosmic wormhole. Having a live-action version of those feats would require not only tons of CGI, but also a battlefield that allows for powers of that scale, and a galactic villain who could go toe-to-toe with Storm. Now add in more X-Men, some of whom, like Magneto and Jean Grey, are as powerful as Storm, and basically every battle would have to be huge — for scale, imagine the Wakanda invasion in Infinity War or the final fight in Endgame.




Though it’s been done — specifically the fight scene in Days of Future Past — that might not be feasible in every movie. Animation doesn’t limit the X-Men the way live-action might.


Many of the X-Men’s previous live-action movies have dialed back the X-Men’s powers, making them less flashy and easier to depict. While characters like the shape-shifting Mystique and Wolverine get more of the spotlight, it leaves out goofy moments like Storm fighting with a man with mutant hair or the all-powerful Jean Grey fighting for her entire life against Toad, a supervillain with mutant spit.


In the opening episode of ’97, there’s a gorgeous sequence in which Storm is rightfully classified as an “omega level threat,” a.k.a. a mutant with cataclysmic powers. Seeing that her team needs help, she comes swooping down, using lightning to transform the sand beneath her feet into glass and whipping those giant shards into a Sentinel-shredding tornado. It’s a creative and ambitious depiction of her powers, unlikely to have been as massive or stylish in live action.


As far as the potential that animation offers, look no further than the Spider-Verse movies and their inventive depiction of the multiverse and different worlds like Mumbattan (the combination of Mumbai and Manhattan on a different Earth). Netflix’s sumptuous Castlevania series and its gorgeous fight scenes also come to mind, achieving mood and awe in ways that a realistic depiction couldn’t.


Conversely, both of Fox’s X-Men franchises attempted to depict the Dark Phoenix Saga, a story about how Jean Grey becomes a galactic threat. Now imagine how much more spectacular that could’ve been with the right animation team.


Live-action X-Men movies can be pretty good. We’ve seen them. But we haven’t yet seen how great an animated X-Men feature could be. Maybe it’s time.



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