Marvel’s Inhumans is finally here, debuting in IMAX theaters before its premiere on ABC, and it’s not as bad as you might have heard.
The series endured a dramatic production cycle prior to its Sept. 1 IMAX debut. Originally slated as a sizable part of Marvel Studios’ Phase 3, the project was eventually shelved as a movie in favor of a limited-run ABC TV series that would be filmed with IMAX cameras and air two episodes in IMAX theaters a month before its TV premiere.
Before it debuted, the costumes, acting, and direction generated criticism, further anchored by showrunner Scott Buck helming the project (following the critically panned Iron Fist) and director Roel Reine (a noted B-movie director) saying Marvel wanted to shoot the project fast and cheap.
I’m glad to report Marvel’s Inhumans is a perfectly fine television show, albeit poorly marketed and conceptualized.
The show centers around the Inhuman Royal Family. King Black Bolt (Anson Mount) — a silent leader whose voice is his strongest weapon — leads the Inhuman race based in Attilan, a cloaked, thriving city hidden on the moon. Queen Medusa (Serinda Swan) — whose prehensile hair has a life of its own — serves as his loyal translator.
Alongside them are Karnak (Ken Leung) — Black Bolt’s cousin and adviser — who can calculate and see flaws, Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) — Medusa’s sister — who can control the elements, Gorgon (Eme Ikuwakor) — also a cousin — a hooved soldier who leads the royal guard, and most importantly, Maximus (Iwan Rheon) — Black Bolt’s powerless brother — who wasn’t affected by the power-birthing Terrigenesis process. (Here’s a primer on their comic book counterparts.)
The plot is pretty straightforward: Maximus, sick of the Royal Family assigning class ratings and roles to Attilan Inhumans based on their abilities, and tired of being treated like a second-class Royal due to his lack of powers, stages a coup. He wants Inhumans to go to earth and stop hiding. The Royal Family wants to keep the city safe and rejects Maximus’s ideas.
As Triton (another Black Bolt cousin) lands on earth to search for NuHumans (Inhumans affected by a Terrigenesis in the water, a plotline from ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Maximus orders Triton be taken out. Gorgon leaves Attilan to search for Triton, while Maximus further puts his deceptive plan in order. He buzzes off Medusa’s hair (despite his love for her) and is about to have Black Bolt executed before the family’s teleporting dog, Lockjaw, sends everyone — sans Maximus and Crystal — scattered across Hawaii.
On the island, the Inhumans struggle to accept where they are. Gorgon, unable to find Triton, takes up arms with a group of local surfers as he awaits Maximus to come down and fight him. Karnak, meanwhile, suffers a head injury and runs in circles trying to navigate his way to his family. Black Bolt ditches his Inhumans garb, steals a suit (in quite a funny scene) and promptly gets arrested causing a disturbance. Suffering the worst fate, a buzzed-cut Medusa tries to get to the main city to find Black Bolt as she deals with her lack of power.
And that’s really it. The first two episodes establish the Royal Family, set up Maximus’ attempt at taking the throne and show the earthbound Inhumans learning about a world that’s completely new to them. It’s an intriguing premise for a TV series, but with an IMAX debut, it also feels strange. The special effects aren’t movie quality — although Lockjaw is adorable! – and neither is the dialogue. It leads to a polarizing experience. When the spliced episodes finish, you’re left wondering “Is that it?” since there are still six episodes remaining in the series.
Performance-wise, the producers did a solid job landing the right actors. Mount, who looked incredibly wooden in pre-screening trailers, nails Black Bolt’s strong-but-silent demeanor. Surprisingly, he brings some humor to the role, although I wish he was given his iconic mask. Meanwhile, Swan’s Medusa costume might be terrible, but her performance is great. She’s simultaneously tough and vulnerable — especially after her hair is buzzed. Meanwhile, Rheon’s Maximus is so believably jaded, you almost root for his plan to work. Again, the dialogue does the actors few favors but in the context of a TV show, that’s acceptable. There’s enough here to see past its flaws.
In an IMAX format, it’s easy to understand the hate. Marvel’s Inhumans should have either stayed a feature-length film or stuck to the TV format. Instead, the show is in this weird middle ground where it’s trying to be both — and not always successfully. But as a TV show, it mostly works. The first two episodes set up an intriguing power struggle. For fans of the comic book and the MCU, Inhumans should at least entertain, even if it won’t be remembered among the great Marvel projects.
Marvel’s Inhumans debuts on ABC Sept. 29.