Marvel’s Inhumans First Impressions
“Are you going to speak? Are you going to use your voice? Kill your only brother, just like you murdered our parents?”
Marvel’s Inhumans is definitely not the strongest property that the MCU has brought to the small screen, but I don’t think it would be fair to call it the weakest either. Perhaps it is simply the benefit of lowered expectations, but I actually found a fair bit of enjoyment in the first two episodes. It has some clear issues and viewers who haven’t been following Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or are otherwise unaware of the background of the Inhumans are likely to fumble with the premise. However, given the ridiculous nature of the Inhuman Royal Family, I can honestly say I’m surprised this opening turned out as good as it did. Ultimately, this introduction proves to be one of the cheesiest entries we’ve had in the MCU, but its problems aren’t insurmountable, and there is enough entertainment value here to warrant a look, assuming you’ve been invested in the other Marvel properties, though that does raise the question as to whom exactly this show is marketed towards.
The Inhumans have been around in Marvel comics since the 60’s, but I think it would be fair to say that, by the standards of the public consciousness, they’re moderately obscure. Outside of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I’d posit this may be the most obscure property that Marvel has put considerable weight behind. However, if there is a key narrative problem with these first two episodes, it would be that many of the basic underlying elements of the story are left largely unexplained. Talk of terrigenesis and the contamination of Earth’s water supply will make sense to regular viewers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that’s a rather narrow audience to be targeting, particularly when one considers the investment of resources required to make this program. Furthermore, as a casual fan of the Marvel Universe, I would have appreciated a better explanation of the exact nature of many of the Inhuman powers at play. The show provides set pieces to show off the capabilities of each of the characters, but certain limitations are still ambiguous, particularly with the character Karnak whose predictive abilities seem inconsistent.
The Inhumans focuses on the Inhuman Royal Family and the city of Attilan, an enclave of Inhumans which was founded on the moon after the Kree abandoned their experiments (For the record, the degree that you understand that sentence right there is probably a good watermark for whether you’re ready for this show). The city has been closed off from the Earth for ages, and possesses a strict class structure where social standing is determined by the types of abilities that are manifested during terrigenesis. Our main cast consists of about a half dozen members of the Royal Family which rule over the city. We have the essentially mute Black Bolt who serves as its king; his queen, Medusa, who has prehensile hair; Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus, who did not manifest any apparent powers during terrigenesis, and several others who make up the supporting cast. Both Anson Mount’s portrayal of Black Bolt and Iwan Rheon’s portrayal of Maximus definitely were points of concern for me going into the show. The idea of a lead who can only communicate via facial expressions and gestures is a bold idea for television, and to my relief they pulled it off rather well. He has a decent screen presence, and I’d liken his persona to Jim Caviezel’s turn as Mr. Reese from the later seasons Person of Interest, namely calm but with a dry sense of humor.
My wariness over Rheon’s performance came not from the premise of the character, but rather the way he was represented in the initial trailer. He was central to that trailer which was seemingly composed of almost nothing but his dialogue. Without context or anyone for those lines to work off of, they struck a tone that I can only describe as grandstanding. It came off as irritating more than anything else, and left me unnerved about the direction they were taking with the character. Thankfully, he was far more tolerable outside of that particularly mediocre preview. I’m not arguing that he’s the strongest element of the show, but there are some intriguing factors at play. Perhaps the most interesting element is that, setting aside the fact that he is an aggressor, backstabber, and warmonger, Maximus actually has a pretty good point. If the Inhumans were to relocate to Earth, they could end the class system that was forced upon them by limited resources. It appears Inhumans may be aware that its antagonist is making some legitimate arguments, and I’m intrigued to see what direction the show will take in that regard. As it stands, the story is currently following the remnants of the family as they flee Maximus’ coup and take refuge in Hawaii with the aid of their teleporting dog, Lockjaw… No matter how you look at it, it’s amazing that this even got made.
Before I wrap this up, the effects work deserves some discussion, because, let’s face it, they looked like garbage in that first trailer. They’re fine. They look good for a television program, but there were occasions where I felt there were factors that looked a bit cheesy, most notably when a character grew butterfly wings and flew around unconvincingly. Still, those moments were sparing, and given the amount of effects needed to bring this to life, I have to admit I’m moderately impressed. There was never a moment as impressive as the Ghost Rider transformation from Agents, but the effects are more omnipresent here, so that probably isn’t a fair comparison. That being said, I have to question Marvel’s marketing decisions when it comes to how they promoted this. The first trailer looked particularly cheap, and the decision to premiere this in IMAX continues to baffle me. Perhaps they were deliberately attempting to lower expectations, but, in the grand scheme, I don’t see how that would benefit Marvel. Still, it is a decent start that shows a modicum of promise, and I’d argue it’s a stronger start than what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. boasted, and that turned out rather well.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- Iwan Rheon is probably best known to U.S. viewers for his performance as Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones, but he is also notable for his role as Simon Bellamy in the British superhero…-ish series Misfits. It’s possible that he won’t be the only Misfits alumnus that I’ll be revisiting this week.
- Ellen Woglom plays an eccentric scientist named Louise who is investigating the destruction of a lunar rover by the Inhumans. I’m not sure how I feel about this character at the moment. Her role in the first two episodes is largely superfluous, but it appears she’ll intersect with the main cast soon enough. Still, her quirky qualities remind me, unflatteringly, of season one era Fitz and Simmons from Agents.
- The effects work on Gorgon wasn’t particularly bad, but something about his hooves never clicked for me.
- I feel Anson Mount deserves extra credit for his commitment to the role as he essentially started developing his own sign-language, since he felt it wouldn’t make sense for Black Bolt to know ASL.
- While I felt the first trailer for Inhumans was notably sub-par, the second one did a much better job of selling the show. I felt it was better edited, included better effects work, and using “Human” by Rag n’ Bone Man was a nice touch.
While it suffers from several problems, the opening to Marvel’s Inhumans proves to be more enjoyable than the botched ad campaign would lead one to believe. Admittedly, this had no business appearing on IMAX screens, and it may prove too inaccessible for a broader audience, but, for fans of the MCU, there is still enjoyment to be found here.