Marvel’s success is no fluke. Sure, they’ve had a built in fanbase from the ink-and-paint back catalogue, who were always going to show up to whichever set of characters leapt off the page. No, their greatest trick was convincing those amongst us who weren’t schooled in whether Peter Parker’s webslinging was biological or mechanical, and furthermore didn’t care, to become as feverishly excited about their latest release as we would be any other film. That’s why Guardians of the Galaxy worked, and how their most esoteric offering yet, Legion (which is a FOX property), became a hit earlier this year. Now we have an aborted big-screen origin tale that has found its way to our television screens, to join the ranks of the criminally underappreciated, and subsequently cancelled, Agent Carter, and the long-running Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Released on IMAX at the start of the month, to little fanfare and even smaller receipts, is Marvel’s Inhumans the studios first real dud?
An eight part story, the bar is set pretty low from the off, with a scene of such laughably bad exposition and wooden acting, that it’s difficult to tell the actors from the trees through which their running.
We’re then introduced to the King and Queen of the Inhumans, a group of mutants who reside in Attilan, a secret city on the moon. He goes by the name of Black Bolt (Anson Mount), while she is the flame haired Medusa (Serinda Swan), and together they oversee a Royal Family made up of the hot-headed Maximus (Iwan Rheon), young firebrand Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), owner of a giant CGI dog named Lockjaw, who can teleport using a glowy thing on its forehead. They’re assisted by loyal advisers, Karnak (Ken Leung channelling Miles from LOST), and Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor). Then, as with all Shakespeare-come-Dynasty dramas, there’s plotting from within that leads the Inhumans to the one place they’ve tried to hide their existence from until now; Earth.
Up to this point, Marvel have always attempted to make their properties unique, whether this is because of the inherent weirdness of the source, a la Guardians, or down to the choice of director, so the most crushing thing about Inhumans is that it feels so very ordinary.
First off, the characters are given no time to breathe, like all the very worst television pilots everything is thrown at the screen in a panic to make it stick. With Inhumans that’s largely achieved through a tonne of expository dialogue that bogs down the opening scenes, during which we should be getting to know the multitude of personalities, rather than watch them spout awful dialogue that would sit better within the confines of a speech bubble. The Marvel brand alone would have bought the show some time with audiences in order to allow world establisment and character development, but instead it feels as though this opening episode is half-way through a series run.
Clearly the makers lack confidence in the material. For example, one character will explain something out loud, and it will immediately be followed by a complete recap from another cast member beginning with “so, what you’re suggesting is…..”, and you’ll inexplicably have to listen to it again, although you won’t be able to hear it over your own laughter. They say the word “Lockjaw” so much that you wish they’d start suffering from it.
Stylistically, it’s all over the place, with the music veering from almost unrecognisable guitar synth pop, to some ludicrous OTT stock dramatic score. There is a moment in which Maximus shaves someone’s head, and the scene plays out like it thinks its Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. The similarity is in character name only.
As for the action, there’s a neat scene showcasing Karnak’s ability to replay moments in time, but the fish-out-water exploits of Black Bolt’s visit to Earth feel like sub-par Terminator 3, and the ‘big fight’ at the end highlights the budgetary restraints by turning into a small scale car park scrap.
Guardians of the Galaxy and Legion thrived because at the centre of the potentially alienating weirdness were interesting characters, Inhumans is just top-to-bottom po-faced archetypes.
Having said that, one positive is Iwan Rheon, who does a decent job of playing the pantomime villain, making Maximus a PG-13 Ramsay Bolton.
Image: Marvel Studios
The first episode ends with a promise of “we’re not defeated, not ever” but you can’t help feeling that after this pilot, Marvel‘s Inhumans have already lost.