Thursday, September 24, 2020

My Top 10 Favorite Movie Drama’s

     At first glance, the category of “Movie Drama” brings to mind films with a good deal of sorrow, regret, and emotional weight. However, there’s far more variety to movie Drama’s then you may initially notice. Drama’s are an avenue that can lead to stores of inspiration, or something uplifting, maybe even relatable, and above all … they have a special human touch we can connect with on a personal level. As such, my personal favorites of the Movie Drama category really aren’t what I’d labile as “tear jerkers”. I like certainly like films with sobering moments, but I love it best when a Drama leaves me with a positive outlook. Sometimes, a good Drama can motivate me to push myself, while other times, they can leave me feeling warm or touched. With all that firmly established … here are my own personal top 10 Favorite movie Drama’s.   

 

#10 Dead Poets Society (1989) 

Robin Williams plays a new English Teacher named John Keating, who’s just taken a position at an all-boys preparatory school. In a unique twist, he uses “Unorthodox Methods” to connect with his students, who are all facing enormous pressure from their over-bearing parents and strict school. Thanks to both his teaching and friendship, the boys lean to break out of their shells, and pursue their real dreams, versus what everyone else is telling them to do. This is one of those special movies that connected with me at a certain time, as I was taking High-School courses with no idea what I’d be doing, and this film met me at eye level and said … just do what you want to do. Robin Williams is also one of those talents who always brings something special to the table, and this is my favorite of his movie Drama’s by far. He still brings the same energy and delight to the role that we associate with the actor, but he’s also restrained in this performance, and never goes too far to the point where he feels cringe. The cast all around is excellent, as everyone gives both a sense of weight and charm to their roles. It’s touching, it’s humble, and it’s a special case in which an inspiration drama dose exactly what it sets out to do … inspire.      

 

#9 Apollo 13 (1995) 

In this historical drama, three Astronauts are on their way to the moon, but their expedition is abruptly called off when an oxygen tank explodes. Stranded in space orbit, tensions within the crew arise, and numerous technical problems threaten the survival of the astronauts, as well as a safe return home. Director Ron Howard simply hit it out of the park when he brought the tragic failure to the Apollo 13 space mission to the theater. With an all-star cast giving solid performances all around, this is one of those historical Drama’s that submersed me into situation, and made me feel like I was living-out the events. Tales of human space travel of always captivated my interests, and this is the motion picture classic that hit all the right notes, making this outer space adventure feel as human as possible. Beyond that, it’s a relatable story about trying to reach a goal that seemed impossible to grasp. In the case of Tom Hanks Astronaut named Jim, the moon is quite literally that unreachable goal that’s always in sight, but he can just never touch. Thus, in order to guarantee everyone’s safe return home, he has to stop reaching and look to the needs of his comrades. Part exciting space adventure, and part relatable human drama … “Apollo 13” achieves perfect lift-off.            

 

#8 Amadeus (1984) 

Winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture … it’s the story of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart … his life, and classic music. Mozart needs no introduction, as he’s one of the most legendary music composers to ever live, and this film gives us a peek behind the curtain of his life, the struggles he endured to bring his music to the stage, and his rivalry with fellow composer Antonio Salieri. Arguably one of the more epic and theatrical movie drama’s, “Amadeus” highlights the influence, both positive and negative, of the renowned artist, resulting in an experience that’s just as entertaining, as it is powerful. With its lavish set design, absorbing atmosphere, and classical music heard throughout, this is one of those films that just feels “perfect”. Granted, there’s some debate on the historical accuracies of the film, but it’s such an engaging character study of the man, and the performances are so sharp that it largely makes-up for any faults in the historical presentation. Then again, the movie is presented as historical fiction, which makes it easier to appreciate it as simply a good story as is. Like any one of Mozart’s classic songs, “Amadeus” is a work of art, with engaging character arcs at the center.       

 

#7 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 

It’s the classic everyone loves watching around the Christmas season … but it’s so much more than that. It’s the timeless story about how one man’s ordinary life could have such a huge impact on the lives of others, which is just as inspiring as it is enduring. Local Banker George Bailey is a man with great ambitions, but his commitment to helping the people of his tiny town always seem to keep him from fulfilling his dreams. In the end, this film reminds us what a wonderful and beautiful life we truly do have, even if we don’t see our dreams through to the end. A life in service to others is still a rewarding one, and George certainly gets his due at the end. With a solid direction from Frank Capra, an outstanding lead performance from James Stewart, and a brilliant premise, “It’s a Wonderful Life” still proves to be a near flawless film, and has a little something for everyone. Being honest, I never even look at this film as one to be tied to the Christmas season … it’s simply a great movie that can be viewed any time of the year, and resonate with anyone weather they celebrate Christmas or not. 

 

#6 Rocky (1976) 

Small-town, down-on-his-luck boxer Rocky Balboa is arbitrarily chosen to take on the running heavyweight champion, but can this nobody rise to the challenge and become a somebody? While the plot of “Rocky” is formulaic and admittedly predictable, a down to earth tone, air-tight script, relatable characters, and an iconic leading performance from Sylvester Stallone all add-up to something special. It’s a movie that’s been celebrated over the years as one of the all-time great underdog stories, and it’s still being used as the main template for sports Drama’s to draw inspiration from. When it comes to a conventional “hero archetype”, I’m always drawn to the underdog the most. The hero’s that rise to the challenge, the ones that face all odds, and for me, Rocky will always be the pinnacle underdog hero. This is a character that inspires me to do more with myself, to break out, and make a difference. Even if it’s something small, Rocky has always encouraged me to stick to my passions, and follow them through to the end.

 

#5 Slumdog Millionaire (2008) 

When a young Indian Teen is accused of cheating on “Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire”, it sends us on a trip down his troubled memory lane, and we discover that beyond having an exceptionally rough life of going from the slums to the streets, he also has a great memory that allowed uniquely specific details of culture, literature and history to stick with him. Thus, with his stored-up knowledge, he went on the game show in an effort to be spotted by a young woman he’s madly in love with … and one who’s had an equally difficult life-journey. This was yet another winner of eight Academy Awards, including best Picture, and it’s always stuck with me as a decade favorite. Few other movies mix relentless and intense emotion, while also being extremely entertaining and fun to watch, quiet like “Slumdog Millionaire”. While set in the real world, and featuring genuine real-world drama, the story is structured like a fantasy, as the events are woven around varying emotions and feelings, rather than logic or plausibility. The structure works largely thanks to Director Danny Boyle’s visually stylized direction, which gives the film a “fantastical” personality. The film is also structured with a great deal of comedy, and we find ourselves drawn to the characters through some genuinely funny circumstances. Yet, the comedy never over steps it bounds, so we can still appreciate the more tragic and heartbreaking elements. With a talented ensemble cast, a rousing musical score by A. R. Rahman, an engaging character journey, and you get a movie experience that’s every bit as exciting as it is emotionally resonate. 

 

#4 12 Angry Men (1957) 

When a young man is accused of murder, he faces the death sentence, and his only hope lies with the final verdict of twelve Jury members. Most of them believe he’s guilty of his charge, but one single man played by Henry Fonda believes the boy may be innocent, and is determined to convince his peers the same. This is one of those incredible cases in which a movie gives you so much with so little. The whole film is set in this one location, with just these twelve characters, and it is a deeply thrilling experience. There’s no action, no layered plot, just these twelve guys debating if one man should either live or die. The dialog, the staging, the performances, the varying peaks and valleys, the direction, and progression of the arguments … it all just clicks in this perfectly executed masterpiece. It’s the textbook definition of “less is more”, and in my opinion, I’d call “12 Angry Men” one of the top three greatest ensemble movies ever made.       

 

#3 The Truman Show (1998) 

Truman Burbank lives in a picture-perfect world, with a lovely wife, nice neighbors, and the material trappings of a good job. Yet, despite having what seems like a perfect life on the surface, Truman wants to challenge himself and push his limits, only to find himself more and more trapped in his perfect world. The real truth is that Truman’s life is a fake, as he’s the victim of a reality TV series that’s been broadcasting his life sense birth … which he’s been unaware of. This is one of my favorite Drama’s because it raises questions that are grounded and relatable, even if its setting isn’t real. It also raises a number of questions … how far do we push the limits of reality TV before it becomes unethical, are our lives so empty that we take more joy from watching the lives of others, and do we choose to live in a perfect world that’s made of glass versus the tangible real world, despite all its dangers and hardships. All these questions build to an emotionally resonant ending that always leaves me feeling a little wiser and more humbled. This was also one of the first times Jim Carry departed from his usual brand of comedy, giving us something more emotionally griping, and yet was still just as delightful a screen presence as he’s ever been. In the end, “The Truman Show” is what I go to the movies for, it’s a film about ides, creativity, thoughtful questions, a unique presentation, and no shortage of human subtext at its center.   

 

#2 To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) 

Here’s a story told from the perspective of a little girl named Scout Finch. Her father Atticus is a well-respected layer, but opinions on him get increasingly less favorable as he defends a black man against fabricated rape charges. Suddenly, the girls cheerful outlook on life gets challenged, as both the trial and ensuing events expose her to the evils of both racism and stereotyping. In general, I know there’s really no such thing as a perfect movie … but never the less … “To Kill a Mockingbird” is absolutely a film that I’d label as “Perfect”. It’s the gold-standard of a “Message Movie” done right, as the social themes presented are meaningful, but it’s never at the expense of the gripping drama between these characters. Seeing racism unfold through the eyes of a confused and innocent child help give this movie a distinct strength and quality. Everything else from the direction, to the atmosphere, and especially the performances are all top-tear material. The cast all-around is fantastic, but it’s Gregory Peak in the role of Atticus Finch who leaves me speechless. His closing argument alone is one of the all-time great movie speeches, and personally one of my favorite individual scenes. It’s all around a powerful movie, with timely themes, great characters, and allows leaves as impact every time I watch it.

 

Before I crown my Number One favorite, here are some quick Honorable Mentions …

The Grapes of Wrath


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Citizen Kane


Vertigo


 

#1 The Shawshank Redemption (1994) 

     Andy Dufresne is accused of killing both his wife, and a man she was secretly having an affair with … as such, he’s sentenced for life in Shawshank prison. While there, he makes friends with inmate named “Red”, and the two make the most of their life behind prison walls. In some respects, they improve on the lives of both themselves, and all their fellow, hard as nails inmates. They only need to weather the harsh treatment of a wicked captain of the Guards, and a slimy Warden who aims to break everyone’s spirits with false hope. For me, when it comes to Drama’s that tackle themes of hope, despair, and strong friendships forged in the face of adversity and harsh reality, nothing has left quiet an impression, or felt as human as “The Shawshank Redemption”. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman have dynamite chemistry on screen, and both deliver what I believe to be their best performances in this film. Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown also make for an imposing pair of human villains. Despite being an adaption from a Steven King novel, this is very different from his line of work, and is absolutely my favorite of his book to film adaptions. All around it’s a tale of how strong friendships can help keep hope alive when all the odds seem stacked against you. It also explores the humanity in people who are at fault for doing some terrible things in their life-time, and it makes the characters all the more interesting to analyze and explore. It’s one of those simple, yet powerful experiences that just leaves me feeling warm and inspired. The context can be harsh and unpleasant, and yet, it’s somehow an instant feel-good movie whenever I watch it. For all this and more, “The Shawshank Redemption” has remained one of my favorite movies, and it absolutely takes the cake as my personal favorite movie Drama.

Thanks for reading my countdown ... and let's try finding some value in the movies we watch. 

 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997) (TV Series Review)

    The 1990’s was a golden age for superhero shows on TV, and a time when some of the most iconic iterations of famous comic-book characters left their mark on a generation of children. This was an age before superhero movies dominated the theater, and a time when many of us where drawn to the comics for the first time. One of the most successful and beloved from this decade was the 90’s animated series based on the “X-Men” of Marvel comics. While it had the look and style of many animated action children’s shows of the time, this series took an extra step into higher quality material. It had a slightly mature and adult edge that few others had at the time, and treated its viewers to compelling characters, layered story arcs, and even tackled timeless themes of identity, prejudice, and self-sacrifice. However, it did this along with all the flashy superhero action, and cool one-liners we wanted to see. It was a ground breaking series for it’s time, and honestly … it’s only gotten better with age.

     In general, the X-Men are my personally favorite superhero characters of all time, and if it wasn’t for this show, they wouldn’t be as popular as they are now. While the comics were already a success, this was the show that launched them into the public conciseness, as well as paved the way for further spin-off shows, and the blockbuster live-action movies. Now, I regrettably didn’t grow-up with this series, as I was more of a “Spider-Man” and “Gargoyles” fan back in the 90’s. My initial introduction to the X-Men came from the early 2000’s animated series “X-Men: Evolution”, and later it was thanks to the movies that I started reading the comics … and it didn’t take long for “X-Men” to become one of my biggest, and long lasting fandoms. There’s plenty other comic related material that I’m fond of, but none of them ever seemed to hold a candle to this particular team. Focusing more on themes of prejudice and acceptance takes the X-Men just one step beyond other superheroes. So, I was already a devoted fan by the time I actually watched the classic 90’s series. As such, I don’t have the childhood nostalgia for this show that most other fans have, but even without it … this was still an exceptional TV series, and I feel it has a secure spot as one of the all time great animated superhero programs.

     This series follows the general standards of the comics, as these heroes fought both supervillains, as well as fought for acceptance in a highly prejudice world. 

Of all the different X-Men adaptions, I feel this series was the most faithful in adapting classics stories from the comics, and properly representing its iconic characters. In that sense, if you don’t care to read the comics, you can use this series as a perfect guide to fill you in just about all classic X-Men material. Of course, I have to mention the shows amazing opening title sequence, which still to this day is one of my all-time favorite openings of any show ever. The music, the energy, the striking comic inspired visuals, the way the characters are all displayed … the whole thing is just a work of art, and I never get tired of it. From this point, I’ll simplify this review by looking over the main hero’s, villains, and will rank my personal Top 10 favorite episodes.

 

The Main X-Men Heroes

There are a number of iconic heroes from the X-Men comics who make appearances in the show, including characters like Bishop, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Colossus, Psylocke, and Angle. However, I’ll simply recap the nine principle X-Men characters this series revolves around.

 

Wolverine 

While not exactly the main hero, Wolverine has always been the team’s flagship character, as well as my personal favorite. He also has more solo-episodes than any other character, as well as the most layered journey. This is the guy who stands apart from other hero’s, and just seems to have everything I want from a great character. Wolverines the ultimate outsider, and his greatest battle is the one within himself. He’s wilder, out of control and doesn’t really have a code in which to fight his enemies ... he’ll just waist them. However, underneath his beastly, bad ass persona is a warrior with a conscience to do what is honorable, and in the end, he’ll always be there for his allies. This makes me respect and cheer for Wolverine more because he’s not a “perfect hero”. He’s also a great source of levity in this show, as he’s got some of the funniest remarks and quips of any character on the series. For a good first impression of Wolverine, watch the season 1 episode “Cold Vengeance”, in which he re-discovers his self-worth, and utilizes his strength to protect a small arctic village from his arch rival Sabretooth. 


Cyclopes 

The official team leader is Cyclopes, who can shoot a single energy blast from his eye, and is generally my least favorite of the core X-Men characters. While he’s certainly not a terrible character, I just find him kind of boring, and this show really didn’t do him any favors. He worked as an emotional anchor to Jean Grey during the episodes when she’s transformed, but that’s about it. I just find all the other characters more interesting and especially more fun to watch. Still, Cyclopes isn’t without his share of good episodes, and for a good first impression of him, watch the season 3 episode “Orphan's End”. In this venture, he meets his presumed dead father, and who’s subsequently a wanted fugitive.    

 

Storm 

Second in command of the team is Storm, who has the power to control the weather around her. Unlike her superior, I always felt more of a team leader quality and presence to Strom, even though her acting and personality could be a little theatrical at times. Still, a great team leader, and for a good first impression, watch the season 5 episode “Storm Front”, in which she’s temporarily made queen of a far-off world … and her first act is bringing freedom to the slaves of the colony, which her fiancĂ© isn’t too pleased with.   

 

Rouge 

My second favorite character behind Wolverine, Rouge is both the mightiest and most fun team member, yet she’s also the most tragic, and sympathetic. Her powers make it impossible to get close to anyone, as her touch sends people into coma’s, and allows her to temporarily absorb other mutant powers. Regardless of the handicap, she also possesses great strength, can fly, and is brimming with personality. She’s plain and simply that beautiful tough girl who kicks everyone’s butt, and provides so much warmth and levity to her fellow team members … and subsequently the audience. For a great first impression of Rouge, watch the season one episode titled “The Cure”, in which she faces the ethical debate to remove her mutant handicap, or except herself for who she is … flaws, powers and all.  

 

The Beast 

On the surface, The Best looks more like a strong monster that would provide great strength during heated battles, but he’s more useful to the team as a thinker, planer, and scientist. In many ways, he’s the heart of the team, and the one who brings everyone together with his warm charisma, charming intellect … and no shortage of literary quotes. For a good first impression of beast, watch the season 2 episode appropriately titled “Beauty and the Beast”. In this episode, it takes a normal young blind woman to see past the monster, and discover the beautiful man underneath. 

 

Gambit 

Rounding up my personal trio of absolute favorite X-Men characters is Gambit, who was once a thief and schemer, but found a home with this particular team of heroes … as well as fiery love interest to Rouge. He’s also packing the most unique powers of any member, as he can charge any material object into an explosive, with playing cards being is personal preference. Mixed with his laid-back personality, Gambit is simply made of awesome, and steels the spot-light. Also, unlike all other members, he’s the one team member who has a shady side, and can’t always be trusted, which makes him all the more interesting as a character. For a good first impression of Gambit, watch the season one episode “Slave Island”. This episode features a handful of our heroes held prisoner on a mutant slave island, with Gambit acting as the wild card who will either grant our heroes salvation … or serve his own interests at the coast of his friend’s lives.       

 

Jubilee 

The youngest team member comes in the form of a teenage girl named Jubilee, who acts as a figurative avatar for the young viewers to picture themselves as. She has a curious power to shoot fireworks from her finger tips, and is a little spitfire of personality. Unfortunately, unlike the tough as nails Rouge, Jubilee grew a notoriously bad reputation of getting kidnaped all the time. This made her feel like the black-sheep of the series, and while she could be a welcomed presence, she could have also been stronger if she wasn’t such an irritating damsel stereotype. Still, for a good first impression of Jubilee, watch the season 3 episode “Cold Comfort”, in which she makes a special connection to guest hero Iceman.   

 

Jean Grey 

The first of the X-Men, Jean has the power to move things with her mind, and has her own set of psychic powers. She’s also in love with both Cyclops and secretly in love with Wolverine. While she has two of the greatest character arcs in both the Phoenix saga and Dark Phoenix saga, I can’t help but find her the second most boring character, with Cyclops firmly on the bottom run. It’s hard to explain, but there’s other team members who act as the heart of the group, and who have more personality then her, making Jean a lesser member for me. Still, she has her high moments, with her single best episode being Chapter 4 of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” titled “The Fate of the Phoenix”.

 

Professor X 

Rounding up the main players is none other than the original X-Man, and founder of the team, Professor X. This is something of a mixed blessing, as I find this version of the Professor to be the most involved, and one who goes out on mission despite being a handicap. He also has his own layered character arc’s, and he has the authority of a commander laced with fatherly wisdom. The one thing that keeps taking me out of his presence, oddly enough is his voice. While the voice actor himself delivers a solid performance, the voice just never matched the character, at least not for me. Regardless, this is still an awesome portrayal of the character, and he really shines in some solid episodes. My favorite of his being “Xavier Remembers”, which features the good professor trapped in a coma, battling the demonic Shadow King on the astral-plane of his mind, which leads to some trippy imagery. While facing the threat, Xavier goes on a mental walk-about, and we see the origin of how this team first came together. 

 

The Villains

As with the heroes, there’s a number of classic villains adapted from the comics, who all make memorable appearances in this show … but I’ll again stick with nine of the biggest, and most reoccurring ... with a personal favorite added in as a bones.


 

Magneto 

Armed with the devastating power to control metal, Magneto was both the teams most consistently relentless adversary, as well as Professor X’s closest friend, and the one foe who displays a great deal of human remorse and sympathy. The best villains are the ones who believe their nefarious actions are justified, because their fighting for a noble cause. Magneto is everything I love in a great villain, from his tragic background, to his devastating, yet understandable actions. For a good first Impression of Magneto, watch the two-part season 4 episode “Sanctuary” in which we see both the humanity and ruthlessness of the character on display.

 

Apocalypse 

While Magneto is the main antagonist of the series, Apocalypse is their most evil, dangerous, and ruthless threat they’ve ever faced. He is as beyond mutants as they are beyond humans … he’s an immortal being, who’s lived through the ages, and is the embodiment of evil. Living up to his name, Apocalypse aims to wipe out all life on the planet, and begin a new race to follow in his image. For a good first episode, watch the season one episode titled “Come the Apocalypse”, in which he reveals himself to the world, and engages our heroes in their first battle.

 

The Sentinels 

The very first threat our heroes ever had to face came in the form of giant Government founded robots that hunt down and apprehend mutants. While initially under the command of human antagonists, The Sentinels began to speak for themselves, and became their own lethal force operating without any human control. For a good first impression of the Sentinels, watch the season one finale episode titled “The Final Decision”, in which they finally break away from human control and become a threat to both mutants and non-mutants alike.

 

Sabretooth 

With Wolverine as the flagship character, he’s going to have his own personal enemies who don’t really affect the team as a whole. His most lethal adversary by far is his former partner, who also has similar wild animal traits and healing … and he’s called Sabretooth. While Wolverine actually has a number of personal foe’s throughout the show, Sabretooth is the most frequent, and the one our clawed hero has the biggest grudge with. Still, what makes them an interesting rivalry is a reserved sense of brotherhood. One of their best outings is the season 3 episode titled “Weapon X, Lies, & Videotape”, in which the two choose the put their feud aside, and work together to uncover the hidden mysteries of their past.

 

Mystique 

Rouge likewise has her own personal enemy who comes in the form of a mysterious, blue skinned shapeshifter called Mystique. While she usually serves a higher master, she has one personal goal to win back her long-lost adopted doubter … who’s revealed to be none other than Rouge herself. She’s cunning, resourceful and unpredictable, but she’s also got her complexities and emotional sympathy. A great example of her character is the season 5 episode “Bloodlines”, in which we see how low Mystique will stoop to gain what she wants, and yet … we also see how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the children she loves.  

 

Sinister 

Just when it seemed the X-Men villains couldn’t get any more lethal, we come to the most frightening of their foes … Mr. Sinister. Part immortal monster, and part mad-doctor, Sinister aims to grow his own twisted bread of mutants using DNA from existing mutants with great power ... and he typically prefers if his donors are replaced and killed. His biggest target being Jean Grey, which puts Sinister at odds with love interest Cyclopes. Without question, the best episode for a first impression is the season two premier titled “Till Death do Us Part”, in which Sinister arranges for Jean and Cyclopes to get married, only to kidnap them on their honeymoon, and subject them to his horrific experiments.

 

Juggernaut 

Professor X also has a personal enemy who comes in the form of a wicked half-brother … and one who happens to be an unstoppable, muscle bound giant. While the Juggernaut is one of the X-Men’s most iconic foes, he’s used sparingly in this show. Personally, I never really liked this shows version of Juggernaut, as his personality and voice always made me think of Yosemite Sam from "Looney Tunes". Still, he makes for an exciting threat and lends to some winning episodes. His farewell episode from season 3 titled “The Juggernaut Returns” is one of the best, as it peals back the layers of the Professors past, and highlights both he and his brother in a very human way.

 

Omega Red 

Yet another arch rival of Wolverines, but this time representing a larger threat to both the team … and possibly even the planet at large. Omega Red is a half-man, half-cyborg with metal coals reaching from his arms, but that’s only where the threats start. He was built by the Russians as a supper weapon, but he turned on his creators, and views himself as a living dooms-day weapon with one objective … wipe out anything that breaths. My favorite of his episodes by far is the season 5 episode titled “A Deal with the Devil”, in which he takes control of a submarine … one that happens to be packing nuclear heat, and we see how one lone character can suddenly have an entire country trapped in his figurative coils.

 

Mojo 

Easily the goofiest of the X-Men’s foes, yet no-less memorable … Mojo is an alien who runs a galaxy wide TV program … with a focus on action and carnage. He frequently sets his sights on the X-Men to be game players on his violent show to increase his ratings, but aside from that, his biggest threat comes from chewing the scenery. Fourth-Wall jokes, pop-culture references, and everything you’d expect from an over the top villain.  For a good dose of Mojo fun, watch the season 5 episode titled “Longshot”, in which his number-one star runs away from the show … and right into the arms of Jubilee.  

 

Lady Deathstrike 

At last, rounding up the villains is my favorite of Wolverines arch rivals. Unlike Sabretooth or Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike was once Wolverines closest love-interest, and our hero is determined to win her back. It’s the one foe that Wolverine harbors no hatred for. Even if it coasts him his life to craws claws with his old flame who’s out for blood, he still wants nothing more than to save her from what she’s become. Unlike the previously mentioned villains, Deathstrike only made one appearance in the two-part season 3 premier episode titled “Out of the Past”, in which our hero uncovers more of his haunting past, and is forced to confront his first love … on the battle field. 

Lady Deathstrike might not be a reoccurring villain like the others, but she’s always been a personal favorite, and I think one of the best female villains that the animated superhero genera has to offer. That takes care of both heroes and villains, now it’s time to single out my personal Top 10 Favorite Episodes or arcs from the series. Again, this is nothing official, just my personal favorites.     

 

#10 “Night of the Sentinels: 2-Part Arc” (Season 1: Episodes 1-2) 

Kicking off my countdown is the two-part event that started the whole show, and set the stage for an awesome series. Jubilee has just discovered her mutant powers, and is terrified of what she’s become. Even more frightening, she’s been identified by the Sentinels as a target for apprehension. She soon finds aid from the X-Men, and it’s through her eyes that we’re introduced to this team of heroes. In just two parts, this arc gives us everything we need, along with thrilling action, dramatic loss, and excites us see more of these intriguing heroes. In many respects, it’s the classic arc that launched this iconic show, and it has a secure place as one of the best of the series.   

 

#9 “Nightcrawler” (Season 4: Episode 18) 

Of all the secondary X-Men characters that frequently made guest appearances, Nightcrawler is my personal favorite by far. In this humble episode, Wolverine, Rouge and Gambit (all three of my favorite characters) are stranded after a Ski accident, and find themselves in the care of Monks. Chief among them being Nightcrawler, who’s a mutant with teleporting powers, as well as demonic features. Despite his looks, he’s a rather spiritual person, devoting his life to God, and seeking sanctuary from those who fear him. He and Wolverine make a powerful connection, as Nightcrawler teaches him the values of faith, and gives him the wisdom to look at the world through different eyes. There’s no scheming from any of the main villains, and the action is simple, yet this episode has a special touch that’s all its own. It’s just a beautiful little story with two polar opposite characters seeing eye to eye with one another, and it just leaves me feeling touched every time. This episode also sprinkles little clues that foreshadow further Nightcrawler centered episodes, namely the fact that Mystique is his biological mother.    

 

#8 “Savage Land, Strange Heart: 2-Part Arc” (Season 3: Episodes 8-9 ) 

Some of my favorite X-Men comics revolve around the mysterious savage land … a secret jungle area where dinosaurs still thrive, and mutants are genetically mutated. The show frequently visits the area, and my personal favorite of their savage land ventures is their final visit in season 3. For this journey, Storm finds herself under the influence of a supernatural foe called Garok, who’s using her destructive weather powers as a means to bring a new ice age to the Savage Land. Caught in the middle is the X-Men’s oldest enemy from the Savage Land … the mutant Pterodactyls named Sauron, who has to form an uncomfortable alliance with our heroes, either to help them, for help himself for his own plans of domination. Sauron is another one of my favorite minor villains from the comics, and it’s awesome to see his portrayal in animated form. This arc also builds to an epic clash between villains, as both Sauron and Garok battle for control over the Savage Land. Aside from that, all our hero’s are given the right amount of attention and growth. We see the deep friendship between both Rouge and Storm, Wolverines relation with Savage Land rebel Kazar, and even Jubilee has some fun miss-adventures in the jungle.   

 

#7 “Old Soldiers” (Season 5: Episode 11) 

Upon visiting a cemetery, Wolverine has a lengthy flashback on a time set during World War 2, in which he and Captain America fought side by side against the Red Skull. Initially, Wolverine went to the grave sight upset that he never had final words with a man who betrayed them during a pivotal mission, only to discover that the apparent traitor actually lived and died a hero. Aside from being another solid Wolverine episode, this venture stands out for being the only crossover episode with another iconic hero from the Marvel comics. While there were a number of Easter Eggs throughout the shows run, Captain America’s partnership with Wolverine was something special for us comic book fans, and was treated as such. The two get along great, it’s awesome to see Wolverine interacting with another hero, and it’s also satisfying to see a guest villain in the form of the Red Skull.

 

#6 “One Man’s Worth: 2-Part Arc” (Season 4: Episodes 1-2) 

This show had a number of time-travel adventures that took place in alternate realities, and while I could have filled this list entirely with them, I decided to single out my personal favorite. In “One Man’s Worth”, we see an alternate reality in which the Sentinels have taken over, with both humanity and mutants on the brink of annihilation, and in the center of it all is a surprise marriage between both Wolverine and Storm. The two are soon approached by the time-traveling mutant named Bishop, who informs them that this setting is not the right reality, and that everything can be set back in order if they but travel back in time and prevent the assassination of a young Professor X. 

This marked a rare point when the show influenced the comics to create a now classic Comic-Book Arc ... the 90's "X-Men: Age of Apocalypses" series, making this an important peace of X-Men media outside of the source material. Aside from the griping action, and thrilling stakes, this episode also has a great deal of substance in it’s story. It’s highlights how one individual can have a lasting impact on the lives of many, as well as the sacrifices some few need to make in the name of restoring things to the way they should be. The heart of this arc comes from both Wolverine and Storm, who have to choose between a reality in which they’re in love and married, versus a reality in which their merely allies among a team of heroes. It’s all around an exciting time travel venture, and one with a great deal of emotional substance.    

 

#5 “A Rouges Tale” (Season 2: Episode 9) 

At this time in the show, Professor X has vanished, leaving the team without a mentor … and leaving an opening for enemies like Sinister to attack them individually. For Mystique, it’s an opportunity to get into Rouges head, and remind her that her real family is Mystique’s brotherhood of evil mutants. This sends Rouge on a dark trip down memory lane, as she re-discovers the source of both her powers of flight and enhanced strength ... and that it resulted in the life of an innocent young hero being placed in a coma. Unlike all the other people Rouge has touched, an encounter with one Ms. Marvel had a permanent effect, leaving her with the tragic realization that she took the life of an innocent. This is one of the darkest episodes of the whole show, with a disturbing backstory, as well as a number of haunting visuals, and battles on an astral playing field. It’s arguably Rouges most emotional and layered episode, and one that all fans of the character should check out.     

 

#4 “Lotus and the Steel” (Season 4: Episode 13) 

As said before, Wolverine has the most layered arc, as well as personal heroes journey, which comes to a perfect conclusion in this episode. With his rage getting out of control, Wolverine vows never to fight again, and leaves the X-Men in hopes to find a peaceful life in Japan. Unfortunately for him, violence continues to follow him no mater where he goes, as a radical team of bandits lead by the Silver Samurai demand tribute … or he’ll destroy any number of villages to prove his point. While Wolverine is convinced that there’s no purpose in fighting, he has to rediscover that action comes with purpose, and how he chooses to fight by protecting others is what separates a hero from a wild animal. It further highlights the struggle within his soul, while also showing off why he’s a tough as nails fighter. It’s also the only appearance of his Japanese rival the Silver Samurai, who makes for a memorable villain in his own right.

 

#3 “Beyond Good and Evil: 4-Part Arc” (Season 4: Episodes 12-15) 

Apocalypse has had his fill of battling heroes through the ages, and decides to put an end to his enemies once and for all. Using a time machine, he stole from Cable, Apocalypse infiltrates the center point of time itself, and aims to wipe out all life, then create his own existence in his own image. In many respects, this is the “Endgame” of the X-Men series, featuring tremendous stakes, as well as a deeply thrilling final battle with all five of the show’s principle villains. This is the only arc that brings together Apocalypse, Mystique, Sinister, Sabretooth and Magneto under one roof, and puts our heroes to the ultimate challenge. 

Even the side characters Cable, Bishop, Psylocke and Archangel are given involvement and finality to their arcs. The only downside to this four-part event is that Wolverine is the only X-Men who’s consistently present for both the venture and the final battle, leaving the rest of the team as a supporting role. While this was initially going to be the series finale, the creators were very wise to keep going with one last season. For as epic as this arc is, it’s more fitting as a send off for Apocalypse and the shows main villains then it is for our heroes. Still, this is an awesome season finale, and a real treat to see all the shows major villains in one powerhouse battle, with the fate of all reality on the line.    

 

#2 “Graduation Day” (Season 5 – Episode 14) 

While the shows fifth and final season was rather rocky, with a smaller budget, and a number of disposable episodes, it at least succeeded in sending the show off with an emotional final episode. In just twenty minutes, this final episode of the whole series gives you everything you need to close such a massive series. It’s not an epic battle to the finish with the villains, and instead, the bulk of this episode is simply Professor X on his death bed, saying his final goodbye to the individual members of the X-Men. We even see Magneto lay down his plans of conquest, makes a full reformation to lead the team in the professor’s place, and bid his final farewell to his fallen friend. It’s hands down the most emotional episode of the series, and powerful conclusion to the show.     

 

With almost 80 episodes to choose from, it was hard to single out just ten favorites. So, before I crown my #1 pick, here are some Honorable Mentions

Days of Future Past

Obsession


X-Ternally Yours


Reunion


Love in Vain

 


#1 “The Phoenix Saga: 5-Part Arc” (Season 3: Episodes 3-7) 

Of all the classic X-Men comics adapted into animation for this show, none were more epic and more respectful to the source material then “The Phoenix Saga”. When the team have an unexpected mission in space, Jean is possessed by a cosmic entity called the Phoenix force. 

Further strange visions between both her and Professor X lead the team on their grandest adventure across the galaxy, in which they aid an alien princess in a revolt against an evil emperor called D’Ken. This is the longest arc of the whole show, covering five episodes, with the highest stakes, and the most involvement from the team as a whole. While “Beyond Good and Evil” felt more like an epic “Endgame”, this one puts our focus on our heroes, and manages to weave several subplots into a whole. We have Jean’s journey of becoming a galactic savior, Professor X falling in love with an alien Empress, Cyclops meeting his long-lost father … who’s now become a space-pirate, and even secondary X-Men characters like Banshee are neatly woven into the story. 

Also, the villains do their part without overshadowing our heroes. We have the evil Emperor D’Ken proving to be a formattable one-time appoint, his righthand royal guard Gladiator displaying both great power as well as a reserved sense of honor, a sneaky agent called Eric the Red lurking in the shadows, and even the Juggernaut is well placed in the exciting events. Needless to say, this is the most epic arc of the whole show, with the biggest spectacle, the highest emotional stakes, and one hell of a powerhouse final battle. If there was any one arc to watch from this classic show, this is the one to check out.     

Whoops … time for a bones episode …

 

#0 “The Mutant Agenda” & “Mutants Revenge” (Spider-Man: The Animated Series) (Season 2: Episodes 3 & 4) 

   I couldn’t have this two-parter officially on my top 10 favorite episodes list, because this is from the second season of “Spider-Man: The Animated Series”. Regardless, this is an amazing crossover that I had to mention. “Spider-Man” was my first superhero show I ever watched as a kid, and seeing him paired with the most classic rendition of the X-Men is nothing short of sensational. At this time, Spider-Man is dealing with a mutation crisis, and seeks out Professor X for help. Beast recommends a scientist who may hold a cure for the web-heads condition. In reality, the doctor is working on a plague that will wipe-out all mutants. After Beast is abducted by the mad doctor, Spider-Man and Wolverine form a partnership to rescue his comrade, and put a stop to the mutant plague. The highlight of this venture is seeing Wolverine and Spider-Man work off each-other. Unlike Captain America, the two don’t initially get along, and even brawl in the alleyway. Once they make a truce, it leads to some fun banter, as well as the satisfaction of seeing a genuine friendship form between them. The icing on the cake is the involvement of classic Spider-Man villains like Kingpin, and especially the Hobgoblin, who's voiced by the legendary Mark Hamill. It’s all around an awesome crossover, with terrific action, and fun interplay between characters.     

   In the end, weather you’re a new fan or an old one, this is the classic “X-Men” show to watch, and one that still ranks high as one of the all-time great animated super-hero shows. It had a memorable ensemble of both heroes and villains, payed great respect to the source by faithfully recreating classic stories, and it has that extra layer of substance perfectly balanced with its supercharged action sequences ... which is what all fans of the genera appreciate the most.

Thanks for reading my review of the 90’s animated superhero show “X-Men: The Animated Series”, hope I maybe peaked your interest … and remember to support your heroes outside of the comics.