Review: ABC’s ‘Inhumans’ Is ‘The Room’ of the Marvel Universe
Warning – MILD SPOILERS for Friday Premiere “Behold … The Inhumans!” and “Those Who Would Destroy Us”:
Marvel’s royal family is in danger, and I’m not talking about The Inhumans. You know something’s wrong when a blood struggle between a mute moon king and his traitor brother isn’t half so intriguing as the war between Marvel movies and TV pumping millions into an IMAX release that ends up looking like a sweded Thor trailer. The Inhumans went wrong in ways you’d never realize a million-dollar production could go wrong. It is the Meet the Spartans of Game of Thrones.
It’s clear from the opening frames that Inhumans was conceived largely as an IMAX vehicle, and envisioned by the same Scott Buck-Iron Fist school of thought that conflates the mundane with the epic. Slow-motion chases through rain-soaked jungle, or titanic battles between a deposed alien queen and her Terminator-esque pursuer are nothing more than boots in the mud, or actresses grappling in a parking lot when one doesn’t understand the difference. The Inhumans are by design some of Marvel’s hokiest characters, and Marvel TV (Buck in particular) consistently lack the vision to make such far-out characters as Norse gods or talking trees seem like real people.
The problem is one of characterization. This isn’t Game of Thrones, so Inhumans doesn’t have time for subtlety or world-building, and characters merely announce their roles without prompt. Black Bolt is a powerful king, unable to voice how weird it is that our first image is of Anson Mount’s naked leg under CGI Medusa hair. Ken Leung’s Karnak is an advisor-y jerk with the power to threaten servant women and make indecipherable graphics appear onscreen. And for some god-forsaken reason, the entire moon society of Attilan operates on a caste system that tosses teenagers into mines if their Terrigen-induced powers aren’t as cool as CG wings. All the same, the royal family are our heroes, and Black Bolt’s outspoken brother Maximus the villain, because we are told it so.
*You may have read an UPROXX anecdote that few necessarily understood Karnak’s power to “see the weakness in anything” as presented onscreen, but it’s even worse than that. The second hour doesn’t even depict this gift consistently, much less make clear that it’s suddenly on the fritz.
For budgetary reasons, a palace coup splinters everyone to scenic Hawaii, stripped of their powers and décor for one reason or another. Medusa loses her namesake hair (you can have Serinda Swan stand still for CGI hair fights or throw punches, but not both), while Black Bolt inexplicably steals expensive clothing, destroys cars and picks fights with police officers to keep a low profile. The mighty Gorgon … stands on a beach, yells at the ocean about his missing green friend, and then has a campfire with a bunch of surfers. There’s a point to be made about stripping these larger-than-life characters down to their de-powered essence (as was true of the first Thor), but the rushed, aggressively uninteresting conflict of the overarching story reduces them to weirdly expository jerks.
It’s not like there’s any real weak link among the cast; Mount does his best to give Black Bolt some expression beyond the glowering, and Swan succeeds far more emoting over all she’s lost than some forced projection of regality. Ken Leung and Eme Ikwuakor can be plenty charming when not threatening servants or reminding everyone about his hooves, and Iwan Rheon turns in your standard Loki/Ramsay/Iago treachery as an usurper in the guise of revolutionary. And of course, there’s the predictably-kenneled Lockjaw, whose only flaw is the actors around him incapable of believable physical contact. The real problem is that Inhumans’ first two hours burden all of the above with announcing their feelings and backstories to move toward the next story beat. Poor Black Bolt just wants to get back to his true passion: punching cops.
Not only that, but the development of this project appears so insular that showrunners never bothered to ask fundamental questions about the story. Does it undercut your protagonists to depict their kingdom as an unfeeling caste society? How familiar with Earth are the Inhumans, to know concepts like “bus” and “trash bag,” but not “Hey, please don’t steal that expensive suit, I work on commission”? Has Ken Leung been cursed to take roles that leave him wandering the Hawaiian wilderness, muttering to himself? The Inhumans raises questions and concerns I never thought to have about major productions, like how the simple blocking of a scene can leave guards awkwardly walking backwards out of frame for several seconds.
I don’t know what bet Marvel lost that they’d task Scott Buck to make something worse than Iron Fist, nor if we’ll pretend The Inhumans never happened a year from now. It’s at least the fun kind of Room-level train wreck you’re mildly compelled to see through, which is more than I said for Danny Rand’s bogus journey. Otherwise, The Inhumans feels like the kiss of death for these characters in the Marvel universe, which is still a superpower they’re too cheap to depict.
AND ANOTHER THING …
- There’s a weird sort of disparity with the visuals; Attilan looks well-rendered in city-scape shots, but horrifically drab in interiors, while most character designs are barely beyond human. There’s one character who appears to have a projector for a face, and another randomly introduced as a living wall, which is exactly the weirdness we needed more of.
- Marvel TV’s expanding music library continues, adding covers of The Doors’ “Break On Through” and The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.”
- There’s also the running thread of a woman in a space program who investigates Gorgon after the mysterious destruction of her lunar rover. It’s exactly as interesting as it sounds.
- It’s odd of Inhumans to take the time to reference Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. events, yet depict Terrigenesis completely differently.
- I have never laughed so hard at a scene of someone accidentally killing their parents.
- Like all the royal family, Black Bolt has a wrist device that serves as communicator and/or GPS. Did they not … think to build him a texting function?
- I kid you not, one scene places FOUR Mac computers on a table, logo to camera.
The Inhumans will continue with “Divide and Conquer” next Friday on ABC.