Wolverine and the X-Men Review - The Intrepid

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Wolverine and the X-Men Review

As a kid, I was a huge fan of the 1990s X-Men series, and I wasn’t alone. Everyone I knew ate, slept, and breathed the X-Men. In 1992, when the cartoon premiered, playing Ninja Turtles was quickly replaced with playing Mutant. Shooting lasers out of your eyes and making quip remarks was so much cooler than eating pizza and saying “Cowabunga!” The X-Men seemed to find their way into almost everything I did. I remember we had a drawing contest in grade three at my school. Almost every kid who entered submitted a drawing of one of the X-Men, including myself. Mutants, Sentinels, and Wolverine, that was what was cool.

While the 1990s X-Men series wasn’t perfect, it was an entertaining show that managed to balance great action scenes with a surprisingly deep plot, something you don’t always see in a kid’s show, especially since most kid’s shows are designed to sell action figures.

The voice acting in the show was spot on and even though the animation was often stiff and sloppy, the characters were well thought out and engaging. Besides the lackluster final season, my only real complaint was the sheer number of Wolverine centric episodes. Sure, Wolverine’s character and back-story were intriguing and Cathal J. Dodd’s gravelly voice made him sound badass, but a few more episodes that focused on some of the other characters would have been nice.

Since the 90s cartoon, the X-Men have gotten a lot more attention. To date, the X-Men have starred in three movies and the god-awful X-Men Evolution cartoon series. Unfortunately, Wolverine and the X-Men is in many ways a successor to X-Men Evolution. Though not a continuation, the show is produced by the same creative team.

Thankfully, the animation has received an upgrade from Evolution. Although it’s still anime, it’s a huge improvement. The characters in Wolverine are a lot more detailed and don’t look nearly as goofy as their Evolution counterparts.

Wolverine and the X-Men has an interesting premise. Professor Charles Xavier is gone, and Wolverine must lead the X-Men. In the opening sequence of the first episode, the X-Mansion is attacked and destroyed by an unknown force that leaves Jean Grey and Professor Charles Xavier missing. Overcome by grief, the X-Men disband.

A year later, the government controlled MRD (Mutant Response Division) begins detaining mutants and ordinary humans. From a dystopian future, Professor-X contacts Wolverine and instructs him to reassemble and lead the X-Men to stop the MRD the Sentinel Project.

This premise has two major problems. First, the show has trouble balancing Wolverine’s independence and leadership. Wolverine is, and always has been, a loner. Making him the leader could be interesting if the show properly explored how this conflicts with his nature. But, the show just sidesteps the issue. Wolverine issues orders and the X-Men blindly follow, with the occasional snide remarks from either Cyclops or Emma Frost.

Second, the whole Xavier contacting Wolverine from the future is a tad weird. In just about every episode so far, Xavier tells Wolverine to prevent some disaster. Xavier should be able to contact Wolverine at any time in the past, but always seem to contact him with only hours or days to spare.

Also problematic, is the fact that Xavier seems to know when the X-Men are successful. If he’s in the future, he shouldn’t be able to recognize any changes to the timeline, as he’s not actually outside of time. I would delve into this problem further, but the mechanics of time travel on tv are often headache inducing and not worth the trouble.

To date, most of the episodes have been underwhelming. The best parts of the series have dealt with the MRD and the Sentinel Project. The MRD with its blatant disregard for the civil rights of both humans and mutants is reminiscent of the highhanded anti-terror tactics of the Bush Administration. The scene in the opening credits where the MRD loads shackled mutants into an armored vehicle is particularly powerful, and it’s a shame that the show itself can’t channel the same emotions.

The non-MRD episodes have ranged from lackluster to downright awful.

Unlike X-Men Evolution, which was a dull and rather silly affair, this series has the potential to improve. Hopefully, the focus will tighten as the series progresses. While I don’t think the series can top the 90s cartoon, it still has the opportunity to carve a unique and entertaining niche for itself.