The Inhumans

Posted: September 19, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Comics, Movie Review, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In a few weeks, ABC’s show The Inhumans will air. It will feature characters from the Marvel Comics canon, characters first created by the legendary team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

If you’re not up on comics lore but the name seems familiar to you, Inhumans as a concept has been heavily featured on most of the seasons of ABC’s Agents of SHIELD. SHIELD episodes set up the backstory: millennia ago, scientists from the Kree Empire came to Earth, experimented on humans in an attempt to create super-soldiers. These induced-mutation individuals managed to resist the Kree who left Earth and their no-longer-human experiments behind.

The Inhumans television show carries that concept forward, featuring arguably the most famous Inhumans from the comics: the royal family of the hidden city of Attillan. To generate buzz for the television offering (I’m not sure how many episodes there will be,) the first two episodes were shown on select IMAX screens as a special cinematic event.

My wife and I went to see it. Not because I expected it to be good – advance buzz was not all that positive. But sometimes a date night with the spouse ends up watching two hours of television in IMAX.

This isn’t entirely going to be a review, nor will I spoil major plot details. But the Inhuman royal family has been around for at least 50 years, they were introduced in pages of the Fantastic Four when the price was twelve cents, after all.

So, I’ll be dropping some information that will definitely be relevant to the show. That’s just the way it is.

This article will also skew positive, despite the fact that what I saw was not all that great. If you’ve heard negative buzz, I understand that, and I will probably agree to a certain extent. But still, this feature will be largely positive.

But I don’t want to totally ignore the negatives, so I’ll throw out some, to prove that I’ve seen the episode.

Mostly… it’s fine. The dialogue is not too awful, but it’s clunky and obviously expositiony. Wait, that’s fine? – you might ask. Yeah, but I’ve heard worse. This was kind of serviceable, but not really inspiring. It wasn’t groan-worthy.

Because we’re kind of dropped into the situation of the Inhumans, and the hidden city of Attillan, and the various characters (most of whom are related in different ways) the dialogue is there to info dump. It’s not necessarily organic, but it’s not necessarily egregious.

It has a certain corniness in delivery that isn’t horribly unsuited from the topic, if we were looking at it in 1965 with the overblown dialogue from the early Marvel comics. Some of the visuals were pretty good, but some were “hey, we’re doing things in slo-mo, cool right?” that were not necessarily cool.

The alien city of Attillan was kind of underwhelming. I don’t know if I was supposed to be impressed by the wonder of it all, since the Inhuman inhabitants of Attillan mostly looked like some random population from science fiction shows decades ago. (I’m talking Buck Rogers, people.)

I feel that the showrunner Scott Buck (known for the latter seasons of Dexter and Netflix’s Iron Fist) expects the audience to be intrigued by the dynamics of the royal family. The rulers of the Inhumans might have a situation that seems Shakespearean on the surface, particularly for comic books, but really it’s pretty straightforward. There are two brothers: one’s the king, one’s a would-be usurper. The king of the Inhumans is not a bad guy. He might not necessarily be a good guy – we can debate that, but he’s no villain. His brother, Maximus, is a bad guy. He’s a villain.

Scott Buck (based on what I’ve read in interviews with him) would like us to think “oh, maybe Maximus has the right idea…” – but it’s hard to swallow that. Maximus has sent family members into ambush, launches a rather poorly justified coup (this happens super fast in the show, so I don’t feel it’s a spoiler), and rattles off some classical Make Attillan Great Again speeches while touting plans to invade Earth and conquer it.

Yeah, I don’t know why anyone, particularly someone in creative control of the show, would think that we’d be rooting for Maximus.

Okay, I’ve just thrown in some names without proper introductions, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem, because in the first episode everyone says everyone’s names All The Time. It’s certainly weird.

Karnak: Hey Gorgon.
Gorgon: Hey Karnak.
Karnak: We’re cousins.
Gorgon: Yup. Why did you say that?
Karnak: Just checking. Have you seen Black Bolt?
Gorgon: Our king? Who is also our cousin and I am the captain of the guard for?
Karnak: Yes. The one married to our queen, Medusa, the lady with all the red prehensile dangerous hair.
Gorgon: He’s standing next to you, alongside our queen.
Karnak: Oh, so he is. He wasn’t saying anything, so I didn’t notice him.
Black Bolt:
Medusa: My husband, your king and cousin Black Bolt, wants me to remind you that if he was saying something, you’d notice. Because of the destructive potential of his voice.
Karnak: No need to remind me, I know all this.
Black Bolt:
Medusa: Black Bolt feels this conversation is getting heavy in exposition, as heavy as Gorgon’s super strong cloven feet.
Karnak: BURN!

Okay, I’m totally making up that dialogue, but it kind of felt that way at time.

The script (other than some moments that I’ll touch on later) is kind of lacking in humor. No, I don’t expect it to be a comedy, but light touches do help the mood when watching things that are otherwise heavy. There’s some unconvincing attempts at quips throughout, but those aren’t necessarily convincing or effective.


Alright, I did promise to shift things positively.

The plot was not too far off from something I’d read in a comic book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is a comic book property. I respect when these shows try to be true to their roots (within reason.) In fact, some of the plot points were lifted from the excellent graphic novel The Inhumans, featuring beatiful artwork by Jae Lee.

But I don’t know if the plot if necessarily that engaging.

Scott Buck: But there’s this big question of whether Maximus is a good guy!
Me: He’s not. Let’s move on.

Even though I wasn’t blown away visually by Attillan, the set design and camera angles had a natural “comic panel” aspect that was subtle. Most of the show was not subtle, so I appreciated that a great deal. Remember Ang Lee’s The Incredible Hulk? He experimented with the comic book visual paradigm and it Did Not Work. This worked much better.

I was mostly on board with the scaled down look of the characters. As much as I love the actual comic book look, I don’t think it would work as presented in reality.

 

I also give proper respects for things they committed to. One of them was Lockjaw, the giant teleporting bulldog. It would not be the Inhumans without Lockjaw.

Lockjaw was a CGI character, and of course did not look entirely realistic.

This is something that I can’t worry myself about, and I’ll keep in the positive column relentlessly. I’m a fan of Game of Thrones (this will be as no surprise to anyone who frequents my blog) and I’m occasionally disappointed that the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire has mostly sidelined the Stark direwolves. The reason given is mostly budgetary, but also that the production can’t make the direwolves look realistic enough. Huge wolves just look wrong when next to humans. Rather than get complaints about fake-looking direwolves, the showrunners would rather get complaints about no direwolves. Because that’s the same amount of complaints, but no production expense.

I’d rather they just not worry about complaints and have fake direwolves. So having a fake giant bulldog was just fine with me.

The second commitment that I respect was to Crystal’s hair. No, not Medusa’s hair, which I knew going in would look fake, regardless of how much money they dumped in. I’m not giving the show credit for Medusa’s hair, for reasons I’ll not go into in this post. (I’ll write something up after the show airs, to explain.)

Crystal is this Inhuman:

She has some kind of elemental blasting powers, but the show didn’t really make explicit what her superpower gifts are. That’s fine. But they committed to her weird banded hair.

Look, I can’t explain it, but I just like Crystal. She was a member of the Fantastic Four for awhile, dating Johnny Storm. She married Quicksilver from the Avenger and had kids. That marriage blew up, but she moved on and agreed to a political marriage with Ronan the Accuser of the Kree Empire.

So much in comics is static, but Crystal’s relationships are clearly not. Of all of the characters, her visual design had the most fidelity, so good on them for not just having her be blond or something.

The actress who plays Crystal is perhaps not the best I’ve seen, but she completely sells everything involving Lockjaw. Lockjaw is less of a CGI element when she’s interacting with him, based entirely on her performance. I particularly appreciated that, since in the comics, Lockjaw and Crystal have an established affinity for one another. (I mean, how can you not love a giant bulldog?)

But my favorite element of the show would have to be Anson Mount as Black Bolt, the king of the Inhumans.

Black Bolt doesn’t speak. It’s not that he can’t speak, he doesn’t. So the performance Mount gives as the Inhuman leader is entirely without dialogue. (I’ve already ragged on the uninspired dialogue, so maybe Mount gets off easy.)

I respect that this is a challenge for an actor, and I really enjoyed Mount’s performance. There’s a lot of eye-acting going on, and some just-the-right-amount of subtle facial expressions. I mentioned that the show was light on humor, but Mount provides a nice amount when separated from his people in a human city, and trying to blend in unsuccessfully.


I don’t know if I can really recommend The Inhumans as an offering. I mean, there’s a LOT of TV to watch, and this show is facing tough competition. I’m curious about the rest of the series, largely because I want to see if it will tie in with Agents of SHIELD.

In some ways, it is a problem that The Inhumans is being presented as its own thing. Attillan, the Inhumans, terrigenesis, etc. were things introduced into the Fantastic Four comics canon. The readers learned about them as the Fantastic Four did.

That’s a much more organic way to introduce such an alien concept, as well as the difficulties within the royal family.

But I doubt we’ll ever get a satisfactory cinematic presentation of the Fantastic Four, which has never really been adapted well in my opinion. (As usual, I’ll blame Doctor Doom.)

So my reasons for filtering The Inhumans positively, despite the flaws: it’s not a bad adaptation of this element of the Fantastic Four canon. And in comparison to the attempts to make the Fantastic Four, I prefer this attempt much more.

Is it everything I want from Inhumans canon? Oh no. For one thing, Black Bolt should be much more impressive, power-wise.

For starters, he should fly. Black Bolt can do a lot of scary stuff.

But really, I’ll take what I can get. If the CGI budget can either afford Lockjaw or an energy manipulating Black Bolt, I’ll take Lockjaw, every time.

So I will probably be watching The Inhumans, or at least I’m planning on pulling it down on the DVR. I can’t make a proper assessment of the television show from just two episodes, but it was probably as engaging as GOTHAM, which I enjoyed mostly for the actors and my love of Batman, rather than gripping television.

I’m still watching GOTHAM, so something is working for me.


Images are from ABC’s The Inhumans, Fantastic Four comics and the Inhumans graphic novel.

I make no claims to the images but some claims to the text. So there.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. Ronan the Destroyer whom I only know from Guarfians of the Galaxy was a Kree, wasn’t he? Also I would love a gigantic dog.

    It might be a phenomenon that when something receives such negative buzz, you go in with lower expectations, which are often pleasantly dashed enough that it’s a positive experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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