Luuk van Huët, one of our resident comic book enthusiasts, watched the first two episodes of the nervously anticipated new Marvel series Inhumans in the glorious IMAX format. Has his fellow countryman Roel Reiné managed to pull it off, or does Marvel have its first actual dud on their hands?
Let’s make something clear, right off the bat: while I very much enjoy devouring culture in all its iterations, including opera, graphic novels, games, art house cinema and literature, I will always have a soft spot for superhero stories and the past decade has been the gift that keeps on giving. I mostly enjoyed Marvel’s ambitious efforts to create a linked cinematic universe, especially when TV-series such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter and the Netflix series such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones were added. And while I’ve been frustrated by the lackluster attempts of DC to build their own shared cinematic universe, I hope the truly wonderful Wonder Woman will set the standard for upcoming titles, especially with the experienced hands of Joss Whedon at the helm of Justice League. If this makes me a Marvel fanboy in your eyes, so be it. I’m not touching that whole controversy until I’m bitten by a radioactive Pinocchio and grow a ten foot pole.
The first trailers of Inhumans, the eight-part series that was conceived as a feature film in phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, were not very well received, to put it mildly. The seemingly cheap costumes, incomplete CGI and overall appearance of low production values led to a backlash and quite some negative buzz. Perhaps even so much so, that my own expectations were quite low going into the screening of the first two episodes at the Pathé Arena cinema in Amsterdam.
The Inhumans are a race of human-alien hybrids, created by genetic experiments by the Kree, whom you may recall from watching The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. The bulk of the Inhumans fled Earth sometime in the past and built a colony called Attilan on the surface of the moon. Inhumans grow up looking human, but undergo a ceremony in puberty called Terrigenesis, which often changes their appearance and imbues them with strange and random powers and abilities. The Inhumans are ruled by a royal family consisting of Black Bolt, the King whose voice is so powerful he refrains from talking, his Queen Medusa, who has a full head of prehensile red hair she can use as a weapon, and Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus, who came out of the Terrigenesis without any apparent powers. Medusa’s sister Princess Crystal has control over the elements and Black Bolt’s cousin Gorgon is leader of the Royal Guards and gifted with powerful hooves. Triton and Karnak are also cousins to Black Bolt and brothers: Triton has the power to breathe and live underwater while Karnak is a highly trained strategist and martial artist. The family dog Lockjaw is a gigantic bulldog who can teleport himself and others.
When the series begins, we find Triton on a mission on Earth, which ends badly. Maximus challenges his brother’s decisions at every turn and is seen to give rousing speeches to the underclass of the Inhuman population, many of them working in the mines while the Royal Family live in relative luxury. When Maximus seizes power, the Royal Family flees to Earth, where they are separated and find themselves having to adapt to a strange new world.
The first two episodes of Inhumans suffer from a lot of problems that most series have when they start out. Having to introduce eight characters and their interwoven connections while establishing a new, alien setting with its own society, architecture and culture is quite a stretch –especially when it’s a bit rushed, for example with the coup attempt at the halfway mark of the screening. Dialogue tends to consist of a lot of exposition and while experienced Marvel fans will be prepared thanks to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I have the feeling that Inhumans might be a bit too outlandish and bewildering to a casual viewer.
Having said that, I thought the costumes mostly looked okay and the set design was pretty well done. Attilan was given a very distinct look and Medusa’s hair actually looked better when it was moving than when it wasn’t, so they managed to polish up the CGI quite a bit. Director Roel Reiné does a competent enough job, which is basically what I expected. However, he often underestimates the intelligence of the audience by overusing flashbacks to events that happened minutes earlier and slow-motion shots for the sake of slow-motion shots.
The acting is passable, though there are a few stand-outs: Iwan Rheon gives his villanous Maximus just enough depth to suggest that he’ll be more than a moustache-twirling bad boy. Although his actions are evil, his justifications are partly understandable: the Inhuman Royal Family is an autocratic monarchy and the underclass has no power or voice in it. If the series manages to go into that direction, it would make for an interesting political angle. Anson Mount as Blackagar Boltagon (seriously, that’s his full name) is compelling considering he has to mime his way through the show. Ken Leung is enjoyable as the sardonic Karnak and Eme Ikwuakor brings a certain laidback charm to Gorgon. The probable breakout star of the show, however, is Lockjaw: the big, slobbering CGI-bulldog/teleporter. I don’t even like dogs and I was prepared to adopt him on the spot (and the teleportation would come in handy as well, I might add).
In conclusion, I can’t recommend schlepping to your local IMAX theatre to see the first two episodes unless you’re a completist Marvel-masochist like me. But if you managed to get through and somewhat enjoy the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and/or season one of the Iron Fist, you might feel tempted to give the Inhumans a try when it hits your screen on the 29th of September.