Remember a couple of years back when we were being teased by Vin Diesel about his potential casting as Black Bolt as the MCU geared up to introduce The Inhumans in a big-budget feature film? Good times. Flash forward to the present day and instead, we get ‘visionary’ showrunner Scott Buck’s take on Marvel’s best chance to mine the outsider superhero perspective since Fox have all the X-Men.
The Inhumans live in the city of Attilan, on the Moon, hidden from and rarely interacting with the Earth, ruled by their King, Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and his wife Medusa (Serinda Swan). However, when Triton (Mike Moh) – sent to Earth to help any emergent Inhumans caused by the worldwide Terrigen contamination of Earth’s water supply (as shown in the third season “Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) – is apparently killed, Black Bolt’s brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) uses the event as the catalyst to stage a coup, taking over the city of Attilan and plotting the Inhumans’ return to Earth.
If you’re not familiar with Marvel’s The Inhumans, don’t worry, neither is Scott Buck and he certainly makes no effort to address that in his clunky and ineffective pilot script for the first two episodes. There are no clever or cunningly subtle introductions to the characters or their power sets to help us invest in the main characters and even complicated mythology like the Terrigen Mist and Terrigenesis goes unexplained as Buck assumes you’ve watched some of “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” or will just Google it later. He’s clearly not interested in offering a jumping-on point for new viewers.
It opens with a chase scene through the Hawaiian jungle filmed with such skill and panache that it looks like the production crew travelled all the way to Oahu and then decided to just film at the nearest roadside stop they could find before switching to the moon for a little needless sexy-time scene between Black Bolt and his wife before we get stuck into the least intriguing court intrigue you’ve seen on screen this side of Dorne.
With a divided Royal Family, social unrest amongst the lower classes of Inhumans and a burgeoning threat from the human authorities added into the mix, in the hands of a talented – or even competent – showrunner, “Inhumans” had the potential to become Marvel’s sci-fi superhero answer to “Game Of Thrones” but notorious cheapskates ABC decided to hire the guy who couldn’t make the simple kung-fu fantasy of “Iron Fist” work then mugged IMAX for co-production funding which they promptly splurged on an extended Hawaiian vacation.
Everything about the series feels cheap and underdeveloped. The effects – with the exception of Lockjaw, the fully CGI giant teleporting dog – are adequate at best and sometimes downright terrible, Medusa’s prehensile hair and the CGI Attilan being the main culprits. The costumes and makeup are atrocious with Medusa again bearing the brunt of the parsimony as her costumes look like off-the-peg polyester fancy dress numbers although Gorgon’s hooves also deserve derision. Expanded onto the IMAX screen, the paucity of the production values is cruelly exposed, as is the lack of anything approaching visual flair from director Roel Reiné, who takes the vast canvas afforded him by the IMAX format and fills it with flat televisual blandness.
When the disappointingly action-light story does rouse itself into life, it’s listless and clumsily shot and when the characters do use their powers, it’s wildly inconsistent: Karnak (Ken Leung) can predict the immediate future using probability with enough speed and accuracy to figure out a way to escape from a sudden ambush but then can’t manage to climb down a small cliff without losing his footing and falling? Scenes and character actions are similarly incoherent like Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), Chief of Attilan’s Royal Guard, managing to go from calf-high surf to drowning in metres deep ocean (hell of a riptide on that beach apparently) before being rescued by some local surfer dudes who he then proceeds to tell all about The Inhumans, their city on the Moon and their current constitutional troubles. Exactly the kind of behaviour you’d expect from your chief of security.
Despite the exotic and extra-terrestrial settings, everything feels drab with the tropical and urban environs of Hawaii coming across as especially torpid. There’s a key moment where Medusa’s head is shaved, depriving her of her powers (not a spoiler as a shorn Medusa is shown in the trailers) which should be incredibly powerful, evoking as it does all of the dark historic imagery associated with the dehumanising act of shaving off an individual’s hair against their will but thanks to the terrible way it’s shot and edited, it ends up being a kind of botched, over-wrought and inadvertently risible melodramedy, especially as you can’t help but suspect the dramatic violation of the character’s essence was driven more by budgetary limitations than dramatic imperative.
It really is one of the most disappointingly inept pilots I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, you can see the seeds of what a show can become even through a misfire of a pilot but Buck’s script is so badly structured and directed and edited with such arbitrary contradictions of tone and style that it’s difficult to believe anything decent can be salvaged from this turgid and tepid opener.
We could have had Vin Diesel. Instead, we get this awkward hybrid of daytime soap opera acting and home movie costumes and effects. “The Inhumans” may be a lesser-known corner of the Marvel pantheon but it has so much potential, this series feels like a real waste. Don’t feel too bad if, after contemplating all that, you find yourself getting a little [Terrigen] misty-eyed. You won’t be crying alone.