Posted in Television

The Problem with Inhumans: Marvel’s Inhumans Pilot Review

This review covers the first two episodes of the new ABC series Marvel’s Inhumans, adapted from the characters created for Marvel comics.

I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: I have never read a Marvel comic book. I’ve watched most of the movies and even some episodes of various Marvel television shows, while gleaning all the other information I need to know from many fans online. However, even big Marvel fans know very little about the Inhumans, putting me in the same boat as many other viewers who curiously tuned in to the new series wondering if the show critics had savaged several weeks earlier was in fact better than anyone expected or only worth watching craving something so-bad-it’s-good.

On Friday night I sat down to watch the first two episodes as they premiered back to back and was left with…disappointment.

It’s bad or at least not very good, but, like so many bad shows, it is a minefield of wasted potential.

The show starts out with the most annoying and overused opening sequence nearly every major cable network pilot has these days: a young woman running through a forest. If I had a dollar every time I saw a pilot episode start off with this image or a variation on this scene, I could quit my day job and make a living writing full time.

Who is this woman? I don’t think we ever learn her name and if we did, I don’t recall because the very un-menacing soundtrack and mumbling actors make it impossible to tell what anyone is saying.

All we know is that this woman is being chased by a group of…well, I don’t know what to call them but your standard team of Bad Guys in Black. Why are they chasing her? Apparently she is an Inhuman, someone with special but vague capabilities, which automatically makes her a target in our world, when in reality she’d probably end up being a ruling overlord if she ever had superpowers in a world more similar to our own. A man covered in unconvincing green face-paint and makeup tries to save her, before she is shot down, and he jumps into the nearby sea, somehow not dying the moment he hit the water.

It’s your typical day in Hollywood’s version of Hawaii.

We then cut to an hidden civilization on the moon and enter a nearly bare bedroom where two people are in the middle of sex—television sex that is, which only consists of kissing, some skin, and carefully placed objects (or in this case hair) obscuring any nudity. The man is named Black Bolt (a name which makes no sense in this series) and the woman who’s long, red, and very much alive hair is carefully covering their bodies is Medusa. Is that name coincidental or her parents’ attempt at a joke? These two are actually the King and Queen of Attilan, a poorly rendered and very ugly looking city on the moon.

Their city is made up of unconvincing and uninspired CGI, while their palace consists of so many cement blocks it looks more like a minimalistic prison than a suitable home for the royal family. Even another ABC series, Once Upon a Time, had better CGI than this because at least that show had some impressive designs that were, though clearly fake, still nice to look at, along with gorgeous and campy costumes.

This show is not pleasant to look at.

The first scene was filmed with IMAX cameras (part of an attempt to make fans see the first two episodes on the big screen instead of waiting a few more weeks to see it on television at much lower price). The opening scene at least had some color in it. The rest of the first episode, which is mainly set at Attila’s royal palace, is as far from visually interesting as possible, relying on white and light gray backgrounds and minimally dressed rooms to keep our attention. While this does make Medusa’s hair stick out, it also becomes very obvious that she’s wearing a poorly made wig.

Speaking of the royal couple, the first thing you’ll notice about King Black Bolt is that he never speaks. This is because his superpower is so strong that even a whisper can kill those around him. This means he is reliant on Medusa to speak for him. Their marriage is one made of love, trust, and mutual respect. This happiness won’t last.

Enter Black Bolt’s brother Maximus. Maximus, unlike most of the other people in the royal family, does not have a superpower, rendering him human, and thus an outcast.

One of the first things we learn about this world is that this society hates humans and whenever someone comes of age and does not reveal any super powers, they are sent to the mines to work as slave laborers.

Wait what?!

The only reason Maximus is still around (and alive presumably) is because his father was the king. After their parents’ death, Black Bolt inherited the throne and Maximus inherited…nothing. You know where this is going. Of course Maximus wants to be king, like Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius and Simba’s Uncle Scar before him. Even though Maximus is supposed to be our series’ villain, played by Ramsay Bolton himself, by the end of the first episode I was completely on Maximus’s side. I blame the writing.

This brings us to one of the show’s major problems: I don’t care about these characters—or at least, not the ones I’m supposed to care about. We never see Black Bolt do anything king-like, instead he mainly either sits by himself in his private white room or he relies on his wife to do everything for him. They rule over a world where the special Inhumans are treated…well enough, I guess, while everyone without powers is reduced to slave labor.

Why should we care about a King who lets a large number of his subjects be turned into slaves?

I guess I’m team Maximus (or Marximus, as I call him) all the way. At least he might stop the use of slave labor! At least Maximus pretends to care about the common people, whereas Black Bolt cares about his wife and…that’s about as far as I know.

The show does an astoundingly poor job of setting up this world, its rules, and its characters. Someone never explained to the writer that if you want to have something pay off, you need to set it up, and if you want us to care about the characters then let us get to know them first, not start with them at their lowest point.

Before the first episode has even ended, Maximus has overthrown his brother, cut off his possible ex-girlfriend Medusa’s magic hair, leaving her bald and powerless, and imprisoned the only remaining member of the royal family, a blonde woman named Crystal whose only discernible superpower is that she has an awesome dog. One look on Wikipedia tells me that Crystal can control the elements, something which is barely established in the pilot save for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-catfight between the princess and Maximus’s evil henchwoman (you know she’s evil because she wears dark clothes and because she has the bland hot-girl pout every evil female sidekick has in these superhero shows—think Tabitha from Gotham or any evil female character in any other superhero show). Instead of killing her or doing virtually anything to keep Crystal in check, Maximus decides to talk to her quietly and then threaten to hurt her dog. If he really wanted to scare her he should have just taken away her diary and improbable Walkman/i-pod thing that we saw her listening to earlier. That’ll teach her.

Meanwhile, the rest of the royal family has managed to escape to earth through the use of Crystal’s ever-handy teleporting dog Lockjaw (clearly the only one having any fun in this pilot episode).

With our ‘heroes’ at their lowest point, now scattered across the moon and Hawaii, sad music plays, and we have set up the plot for the rest of the show. Yes, the rest of the show about Inhumans who live on the moon is going to consist of people in silly makeup and costumes wondering around Hawaii before traveling back to their CGI city. This is every other fish-out-of-water story we’ve ever seen on television before with the main difference being we hardly know the culture or world our fish once swam in, making their reaction to our culture all the more uninteresting.

It’s like Thor if every character was deprived of all likeability.

If this same exact show had aired ten or twenty years earlier, we’d probably look back on it as a loveably campy action series, but since we’ve come to expect much more from television and Marvel properties, this is definitely a step back for superhero and comic fans. The costumes look cheap–Medusa’s red wig and hideous purple dress belong in a fantasy series from the 80’s or 90’s—the characters are rather boring, some of the CGI (with the exception of the fully CGI teleporting dog Lockjaw) is laughable, the set designs are boring, the soundtrack is standard and uninspired, while the dialogue is pretty appalling, making even talented B-list television stars sound wooden.

Imagine my lack of surprise when I learned that the first two episodes were written by the same man who wrote and ruined Netflix’s Iron Fist. Oh joy, this was clearly the right choice for Marvel to make.

But despite all of the show’s problems, the first two episodes were surprisingly entertaining, in part due to a few good cast members such as Hell on Wheels star Anson Mount’s wonderfully subdued turn as Black Bolt and Game of Thrones alumni Iwan Rheon as the treacherous but reasonable Maximus. Rheon thankfully gives his character enough humanity that he isn’t reduced to playing another totally evil psycho, like his Game of Thrones and comic book counterparts. Marvel’s Inhumans isn’t quite in so-bad-it’s-good territory, but it does have the hypnotic silliness of a fantasy or sci-fi series from the 80’s or early 90’s.

It’ll be no surprise to anyone to learn that the series had a trouble production and an even more trouble pre-production, going from film to series and then eventually whittled down to just an eight episodes mini-series with the possibility of another season if the show does well. Unless the series vastly improves in the coming weeks, Inhumans will probably remain a brief and ultimately forgettable mini-series.

But if you’re bored on a Friday night, this show is one way to fill time.



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