Marvel’s Inhumans (Season 1, 2017)
Showrunner: Scott Buck
It’s pretty clear that there was a strong desire at Marvel (and somewhat from fans) to adapt the Inhumans but it’s even clearer that nobody could decide how best to do it.
Living in hiding on the moon, Inhumans are ruled by their royal family in a strict class system decided by the powers given them by Terragenisis. Following a coup by powerless prince Maximus (Iwan Rheon) the royal family escape to Earth with the help of teleporting mega-dog Lockjaw but are separated and struggle as they try to reunite.
First announced as a feature film in the MCU, while the idea of Inhumans was also developed from a different angle in ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’, it was eventually downgraded from a movie to a television project, resulting in this mini-series that for some unfathomable reason also had the pilot released in IMAX, the most impressive of all cinematic formats. It’s a mess of uncertain direction that feels under-developed and under-valued so the result is so lacklustre and unimpressive, the complete opposite of what a Marvel Inhumans adaptation should’ve been.
I didn’t get the chance to attend an IMAX screening of the first two episodes, honestly, I would have liked to if I could. I do have to wonder if I would feel differently about the show if I had done, though reviews from those who did see it in IMAX strongly suggest not.
I don’t fully understand how they follwed through on the choice to do an IMAX release. Yes, it could be seen as a way of drumming up excitement and anticipation for the series and certainly, I can see that it’s a middle-ground compromise in regard to the project being changed from a feature film to a TV series. However, cinema releases of TV episodes are usually reserved for those that already have a large fan base and strong following, with people eager to enjoy final episodes and specials on a large screen as part of a bigger shared experience with other fervent fans. This has been done to great effect with shows like ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Dr Who’. However, to try it in reverse with the first episode of a show that should gain a strong following but hasn’t yet was at best optimistic, at worst foolhardy, and in the end a waste of money and a confusing promotional backfire.
Really, I can’t stress enough the incongruity of it being in IMAX. Such a big fuss was made about it being the first TV show to premiere in the format but there’s so little about the production that’s fittingly spectacular. I can see why those who did catch a screening of it were underwhelmed, on the big screen it would fall into a netherworld between the consistently high standards of Marvel’s movies, and the budget constraints and lower expectations of television. Things like production design and special effects are clearly cheaper, which is what we expect on even the upper-end of TV but not big screen movies, especially those from Marvel. The prime example of this is the way that the series literally ‘cut back’ the costs and work involved in Medusa’s iconic hair, diminishing the impact of the character to an almost unrecognisable degree. At no point do the Inhumans really transform into the impressive superhumans they should be, hardly using that side of the characters and avoiding anything that comes close to impressive spectacle, the budget for that is almost entirely blown in one altercation with police in the first couple of episodes, which by the way is very badly handled to give the impression that all cops are guilty of senseless brutality.
This isn’t to say that there’s absolutely nothing good about the show, there are certain elements and moments that work. Primarily, there are some good calls with the casting. Anson Mount as leader Blackbolt in particular, as a character who doesn’t speak, has the hard task of conveying everything through expressions and general physicality, which I do think he manages effectively, as well as looking imposing and regal when needed. His immense power is rarely shown, partly as he refrains from using it, and the police altercation scene’s one redeeming feature is being a first glimpse at what he could do if he was to unleash his abilities.
Iwan Rheon who is now most prominently known for his villainous roles is good casting as Maximus, though I do think his character lacks the real grit and bite that a compelling antagonist should have, something Rheon’s more than capable of but doesn’t fully bring to bear in this role. Other than that, sadly a lot of the characters are pretty forgettable. They become geographically divided early in the season and so it takes a long time before the full potential of their chemistry or effectiveness as a team together can even slightly be seen.
The showrunner is Scott Buck, the man behind the weakest of all the Netflix Marvel shows ‘Iron Fist’ so that should’ve been a warning light from the beginning. It’s not that I’m disparaging him as a producer, I just think he now is establishing a track record as a man who doesn’t get the best performances from his leads and pushes forward with a show when the central roles aren’t fully honed enough to work as well as they should. Danny Rand in ‘Iron Fist’ isn’t terrible, his often grating attitude is understandable for the role, though it’s still off-putting. Proof that it wasn’t completely down to the casting is that Danny Rand worked much better in ‘The Defenders’. So, I think that Buck is maybe a little blind to what’s not working, or more likely, doesn’t know how to fix it. All seasons he’s been the showrunner for, including his time on ‘Dexter’ before these Marvel shows, have had similar criticisms. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a little while before he gets given that level of responsibility again.
I don’t see this getting a second season, though cancellation hasn’t yet been announced or confirmed, there’s nothing to suggest it’s coming back although the final episode certainly teases more. It’ll be easy enough to cancel without any fan uproar, though the biggest shame is that now these characters have been used in this mediocre way, there’s almost no chance of an ‘Inhumans’ film getting made for decades. As a film it would’ve had all the potential to fit in nicely with the ever-increasingly cosmic MCU movies that have proven hugely popular, as a TV show if given the effort and resources it could’ve been a pinnacle of spectacular action and sci-fi. As it is, it will be thought of as one of Marvel’s rare mis-steps.
I have written this as a review of the first season of ‘Marvel’s Inhumans’ but I really don’t expect there to be a second. It’s perfectly possible, especially if someone comes up with a brilliant concept for another 8-episode run that’ll be packed with ingenuity and spectacle to make us forget this cumbersome first run, but with everything going on over at Marvel now I think this will be even lower down on their priorities than it evidently was when they made it.