'Marvel's Inhumans' is all the worst parts of the superhero genre

I saw Marvel’s Inhumans for free at the show’s IMAX premiere, and I still want my money back. 

I can only imagine how fans who forked out actual cash dollars must feel (I’m betting “outraged”) — a cursory glance at the snarky Fandango reviews indicates that large format theaters charged between $13-23 for the ordeal, with some audience members seemingly unaware that the project was an extended TV pilot rather than a movie.

On Sept. 29, fans with the self-preservation instincts to wait for Inhumans‘ TV debut will have a chance to judge it for themselves on ABC, with an extended, 84-minute cut featuring material that wasn’t included in the IMAX release. But have a little self-respect, guys — time is our most limited resource, and you’ll never get that hour and a half back. 

As you may have heard, the series centers around the Inhuman royal family — led by mute monarch Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and his CGI-haired queen Medusa (Serinda Swan) — who are ostensibly our heroes despite the fact that their overpopulated moon kingdom is on the verge of rebellion and their preferred method of crowd control is a barbaric caste system that shoves everyone without cool superpowers into mines.

The lone voice of reason is Black Bolt’s seemingly powerless brother Maximus (Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon), who points out that Earth is a lot more spacious than the moon, so perhaps the Inhumans should relocate there and stop treating the peasants like cattle? Since Marvel loves its messed up family dynamics, Maximus seems to have studied at the Loki school of villainy, but apparently skipped the classes covering subtlety and showmanship.

Maximus is plotting to overthrow his sourpuss big brother by inciting the plebes against the royals, which seems like a valid course of action given their leadership style, but the show makes it clear that we’re supposed to be rooting against him — mostly because he can’t help but be aggressively creepy towards Medusa, as any good one-dimensional villain is contractually obligated to behave towards the female lead when the writer is lazy.

Good luck figuring out the abilities or motivations of the other “heroes,” Karnak (Ken Leung), Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor) and Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), because the show is deeply uninterested in giving them anything important to do — one of them spends the majority of the second episode literally sitting on a beach, awaiting further instructions. 

It’s clear that the actors are trying to make the best of the clunky material they’ve been saddled with, but showrunner and writer Scott Buck has doubled down on all the things you hated most about Iron Fist, the last Marvel property he attempted to adapt (to great critical scorn): Slapdash, poorly choreographed fight scenes; uninspired visual effects; overwrought dialogue; and heroes so devoid of charisma, you’re rooting for the giant CGI bulldog to channel Game of Thrones and chow down on all of them. 

Go on, just a bite...

Go on, just a bite…

Image: ABC

Unfortunately for Buck and director Roel Reiné, setting the show in a beautiful natural environment like Hawaii isn’t an acceptable substitute for establishing a distinctive visual style, and forcing your leads to word-vomit expository dialogue isn’t commensurate with character development.  

I’m sure Buck is a perfectly nice guy, and I don’t begrudge him his desire to pay his bills, but I’m honestly baffled how anyone who saw Iron Fist could think “now this is the guy we want to entrust with one of Marvel’s trickiest properties,” unless his main selling points were being able to pull this off on schedule and on the cheap (which, according to direct-to-video helmer Reiné, was probably why Marvel tapped him). The House of M should’ve at least given the Agents of SHIELD team a crack at it, given that they’re already three seasons into dealing with Inhuman mythology with a lot more clarity than what’s on display here.

Marvel Television has given us some of the best comic book adaptations in any medium — Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Legion and Agent Carter have, at their best, elevated the genre beyond the four-color cliches of the past and offered something truly original (perhaps because of the passionate showrunners at the helm) — but there’s nothing unique or groundbreaking about Inhumans, aside from Disney’s clever strategy of getting IMAX to pay for part of it. 

Much like Marvel and Netflix’s recent superhero team-up The Defenders, this feels like a cynical corporate strategy more than a story that needs telling — a chance to take advantage of a loyal fanbase that trusts the Marvel brand to adapt their characters with love, and to deliver a certain level of quality when they flash that logo on screen. 

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is manufactured according to very precise specifications that rarely deviate from the blockbuster mold, the company’s film arm has earned the trust of its audience over more than a dozen, carefully calibrated — and undeniably fun — movies. While there have definitely been a couple of duds (sorry, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2), their batting average is still pretty impressive: even the worst-reviewed of the bunch scored a 66% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and all MCU films have cleared $100 million at the box office, which speaks to at least some level of consumer satisfaction.

But even if you’re not forking over $20 bucks plus parking for this ill-conceived experiment, it’s hard to imagine that your immediate reaction will be “satisfied.” Marvel’s latest offering isn’t just inhuman, it’s downright soulless.  

Marvel’s Inhumans premieres Friday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

WATCH: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2’ is so far from the original Marvel comics

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