ABC’s newest Marvel show “Inhumans” is painfully bland and uninteresting when compared to not just the MCU stories, but the Netflix-Marvel shows, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D/Agent Carter, and the CW’s DC Comics shows. Just based on this two-hour pilot, of which they were confident to give a brief theatrical run, it lacks any real sense of wonder or sparks of mad genius that make many of these superhero IPs so thrilling. It’s as if the studio didn’t have much faith in the project to begin with, or simply felt obliged to shoehorn these characters into their larger universe without taking the time to seriously develop them.
The show chronicles the adventures of the Inhuman Royal Family, the rulers of a hidden city located on the Moon that is populated by the Inhuman race. They’re led by Black Bolt (Anson Mount), whose voice possesses destructive power and can’t speak without his ability running amok. Following him are Karnak (Ken Leung), who can pinpoint the flaws in his opponents and expose them, Medusa (Serinda Swan), who has hair-related powers as her name clearly implies, and the youngest member Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) who commands the elements. Accompanied by her giant dog Lockjaw that can teleport the Inhumans to just about anywhere, she’s clearly meant to be the kid-appeal character.
Only a select few in Attilan are permitted to expose themselves to the Terrigen Crystals, which have the ability to essentially unlock an Inhuman’s powers. But Bolt’s brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) lacks the genes necessary to develop similar powers. In his frustration, he stages a coup to overthrow the royals and take over the hidden city. Show developer Scott Buck does a decent job building up Maximus’ motivation, but the script and direction don’t do much to let Rheon follow throw with a performance that can match it.
In a panic, Crystal has Lockjaw transport the rest of the family to Oahu, Hawaii, where the Inhuman royal guard captain Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor) is trying to locate Bolt’s missing brother Triton (Mike Moh) who has yet to return from a mission. When Gorgon’s ambushed by Maximus’s men on Earth, the citizens seem surprisingly unconcerned about the potential danger. “Who doesn’t like a little trouble?”, says one person to Gorgon. Since this is, y’know, a Marvel property, either these people have a death wish or they don’t keep up with the news. One would think the many Avenger-related controversies that occurred in this universe would make them feel otherwise.
The creators are of course working with a limited television budget, so visually there’s only so much they’re allowed to get across. Given how memorable Jack Kirby’s original artwork for the Inhumans comics was, this is the sort of IP that would have been better suited for perhaps an animated mini-series, which would have freed the writers from the restrictions of a live-action adaption. So it’s unsurprising when Medusa has her hair cut at one point, for reasons related to both plot and convenience.
Oahu is a visually appealing location, and I imagine a solid team of artists could have rendered an Attlian that was creative and just as enticing. At the very least, more time could have also been spent of the costuming- there isn’t much about the designs of the Inhumans here that make them stand out from their Marvel contemporaries, or calls attention to their royal status. It would also help if the characters abilities were kept more consistent, or at least more thought could have been put into their use. For someone who has the power to hone in on the weaknesses of any opponent and take advantage of them, Karnak is laughably ineffective and spends a good deal of time getting knocked around a lot.
Also, the dialogue often feels very stilted- most of the characters sound too similar in tone and vocabulary, and the script doesn’t really allow anyone to cut loose and display some real character. I don’t necessarily need all of my Marvel properties to be Guardians-style joke fests, but so many characters in Inhumans felt as if they were going through motions. Black Bolt’s scene where he tries on a suit to blend in with humankind gave me shades of the similar scene in Wonder Woman, only lacking its charm and wit. When a giant dog (who can’t speak) is the most charismatic cast member in your show, that’s a sign of trouble.
This is a concept with a ton of potential and exciting possibilities that could have been like Marvel’s “Game Of Thrones” just based on its concept. Maximus’s arguments against Attlian’s caste system are pretty intriguing, but the show doesn’t bother to put a spotlight on that.
Perhaps more time with the backstory regarding the two brothers would have helped, as opposed to throwing the royals in Hawaii so suddenly. As it is, neither Maximus or the Inhuman royals come off like characters I really wanted to root for or invest in. Even some of the grittier Marvel properties like Jessica Jones or Luke Cage take time out to add some warmth and humanity to their characters to hook the audience in emotionally, but Inhumans speeds right into the coup before we truly get to know anybody.
The shift from this concept as part of the MCU’s third phase to a television series is reflected on-screen as a show that feels undecided on the kind of show it wants to be. I’m not sure if someone at Disney or Marvel felt the upcoming Black Panther’s narrative, which also focuses on a monarchy led by a superhero, was too similar to the Inhumans concept and called an audible, but overall I was disappointed in how slapdash this final project felt. Not recommended.