(AOTN) For many, Marvel is the ultimate trendsetter for current pop culture. Each new film is warmly received (and occasionally cited as the “new dawn” of comic book movies), audiences fall madly in love with characters once thought too obscure for the mainstream and the actors playing them, the TV shows are big… actually, let’s backtrack a little on that last one. Marvel’s movies are generally loved, that’s undeniable, but Marvel’s run of series after the inaugural Netflix seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones are becoming more and more divisive. Luke Cage was considered solid until fan favorite villain Cottonmouth was replaced with the less memorable Diamondback, Iron Fist was met with vitriol across the board to the point where fans cheered over showrunner Scott Buck’s departure (make sure to remember this name) during the announcement of a second season at Comic-Con and The Defenders has met its fair share of criticisms (and, surprise surprise, guess which Defender they’re mostly about?). And now on their docket is Marvel/ABC’s most ambitious adaptation to date – Inhumans – which also happens to be their biggest catastrophe to boot. The only way to currently access the first two episodes is on an IMAX screen makes it all the worse.
This latest gallery of “heroes,” if one were to demean the word by associating it with these characters, are the Inhuman Royal Family of Attilan, a hidden kingdom and sanctuary for gifted humans on the moon. After an attempt to rescue prematurely developed Inhumans, a plot point earlier established on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., from Earthbound hunters results in the apparent death (or disappearance, does it matter?) of cousin Triton (Mike Moh), the Royal family – mute ruler Black Bolt (Anson Mount) queen Medusa (Serinda Swan) and cousins Karnak (Ken Leung), Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor) and Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), all armed with unique “powers” from supersonic voices to killer hair to hooves – are swept up in a military coup orchestrated by Black Bolt’s (literally) powerless and power-mad brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) that leave them either imprisoned on Attilan or stranded around Oahu or its neighboring mountains. And… that’s all we’re privy to in 75 minutes (84 when these episodes plays on TV), with another six episodes to catch every Friday night on ABC starting this fall.
Let’s start with the first of Inhumans‘ numerous problems: the showrunner. As mentioned earlier, that position is held by Scott Buck, a man who seems to be to television what Akiva Goldsman is to screenwriting. His work with Marvel, as demonstrated here and the disastrously received first season of Iron Fist, seems to be how heroes are the cause of their own “first world problems” that overpower the vastly superior world outside. It comes off far worse here when taking into account this new world and what could be accomplished. Not only is Mr. Buck in complete control of the series, he wrote the two-part series opener, too. And that’s just as infuriating as the dialogue is so trite and forgettable, the action set pieces banal and the characters, you’ll read about momentarily.
The eponymous Inhumans themselves are, quite frankly, the most insipid and uncharismatic group of heroes this side of 2015’s infamous Fantastic 4. The display of powers is momentarily enlivening, but the characters tethered to these powers quickly siphon the life out of the magic. Anson Mount has the challenge of giving Black Bolt depth and presence without uttering a single word (because, you know, he’ll obliterate people if he does). He deserves credit for what he has to work with, but don’t expect to see much high praise for his performance (or Black Bolt making lists alongside Odin and Black Panther for favorite Marvel rulers). The less said about Serinda Shaw’s unbearably monotonous delivery of the heavier hitting moments, the better. The other actors of the Royal Family are serviceable and that’s all that can be said. Unsurprisingly, the only interesting character is Maximus the Mad, but when isn’t the villain more fun to watch? Iwan Rheon, obviously cast for his tenure on HBO’s Game of Thrones, is saddled with the thankless chore of bringing another Loki (only one who dresses like Hawkeye at a fetish ball and struggles to maintain a convincing American voice) to life and given only two faces to do it with. But he isn’t Diamondback, so he has that in his court.
Even more aggravating then the showrunner and characters is watching how the series, primarily shot with Arri Alexa 65 IMAX cameras (which was part of why these episodes premiered in IMAX), feels so cheap to look at, words that should never be associated with Marvel. The world of Attilan lacks the visual wonder and splendor of Asgard and that of Ego the Living Planet, looking more like the lobbies of Los Angeles-based offices with some set dressing. The same goes for the costumes/uniforms, which have been rightfully written off by others as badly made cosplay. Even the sweeping IMAX shots of Hawaii are lifeless; who ever thought that word could be used to describe such a tropical paradise and with that format? The only visual that does stand out in a “positive” way is Crystal’s oversized teleporting bulldog Lockjaw. He won’t be the next Groot (and definitely not as realistic looking), but he’s enjoyable during his brief time onscreen. To briefly backtrack, before the screening started, the last trailer played was the current trailers for both Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, which made Inhumans’ budget limitations all the more embarrassing. The inclusion of those previews says one thing and one thing alone: Inhumans should have remained part of the actual Cinematic Universe and not been relegated to a weekly series, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Captain Marvel be damned. But they didn’t and this is what we get.
If the first two episodes of Inhumans are a taste of what’s to come over the next six episodes, we’d better keep an “antidote” on hand immediately after. In short, Marvel’s television department has hit a real low that actually makes Iron Fist and its shortcomings look respectable and forgivable in comparison, whichever network executive is being blackmailed by Scott Buck needs to bite the bullet and sacrifice their career to ensure he never touches another major property and Marvel and IMAX owe Christopher Nolan a huge apology for allowing this disappointing experiment to take Dunkirk‘s spaces over. The film department can also sigh in relief as Thor: The Dark World no longer holds the dubious title of the worst Marvel “entertainment” to grace the silver screen. Now it’ll just be a matter of time before it potentially usurps Iron Fist’s small screen “honors,” as well.
Inhumans is supposed to have a two-week run in IMAX theaters nationwide prior to its television debut on September, but as many IMAX theaters are announcing showtimes for it starting on Thursday night, save your money and wait for the TV debut. Perhaps it will look better on a smaller screen.
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