There are so many boring ways to portray a fantasy civilization, and Marvel’s Inhumans has them all. See: Attilan, the top-secret moon city populated by a frowning race of gene-tweakers. There’s a lot of black leather, a heavy architectural fascination with gray-block geometry, spheroid chambers, proletarian mobs. It’s like X-Men movies before they got colorful, or the Matrix movies without the dance party. There’s a strict Metropolish caste system, and everyone carries a personal communicator, a wrist device that beeps whenever someone needs a plot point and unfolds into a skinny touchscreen. Yes, here in our decadent age of Hollywood superheroes, someone finally made a high-tech slap bracelet.
Early word on Inhumans was toxic. The first two hours were filmed in IMAX, released to empty theaters. I’m sad I missed it on the big screen, truly. There are some lovely establishing shots of Hawaii, and even terrible acting looks impressive on 70-foot faces. Shrunk to normal size, the show’s merely mediocre. The action spins vaguely off from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but you could jump in cold and be just as bored as the rest of us. Strong-silent Black Bolt (Anson Mount) is King of his race. His voice is a weapon, so he can’t speak. (Today’s despots prefer tweeting, anyways.)
He’s flanked by a superpowered family and a teleporting dog, but the only remotely interesting character for the first hour is his little brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon). The Inhumans live in tight quarters, and Maximus thinks it’s time for an aggressive earthward expansion. Hitler called this concept “lebensraum,” and (important to remind everyone!) Hitler was bad.
Maximus hates his society because it spurned him so. When an Inhuman comes of age, they take a steam bath in the Terrigen Mist. Some get powers — cool wings, weird feet, trendy hair. Some get nothing, and that’s poor Maximus. He’s merely human, symbolically impotent. Rheon’s best known for playing Ramsay Bolton, the boy your parents warned you about, on Game of Thrones. He has that wild look in his eyes, like he’s staring through your skull at the brain he wants to eat. But Inhumans is too square to dig into Maximus’ motivation, too worshipful to the source material to realize that Inhuman society actually is pretty terrible for everyone outside the throne room. Everything looks expensive yet unconvincing — the Terra Nova problem — and Maximus stages a coup with all the grandeur of your local community-theatre doing Richard III with kindergartners.
Necessary shout-out to the great Ken Leung, who has a bit of fun as Karnak, a clever royal cousin with Sherlock powers. (You know, Sherlock powers: anticipate everything, see symbols floating in the air.) By the second hour, Karnak’s lost in the forest, which sums up the narrative flow. Inhumans has an eight-episode run on ABC, but by the second hour, it already feels like they’re stalling, or running out the clock. The Royal Family scatters across Oahu. Someone hangs out with a kindly-cool group of surfers. There’s a poorly-staged fight scene where someone dies, but —what a twist — they aren’t actually dead!!!
It’s all so colorless, which is a bummer. The Inhumans were co-created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, but they imply the former’s kaleidoscopic imagination more than the latter’s human touch. Kirby crafted far-out visions on a deadline for a pittance. (He was almost certainly paid less to create the Inhumans mythology than series showrunner Scott Buck has been paid to debase it.)
This is a big year for Kirby’s spacier visions: Ego the Living Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the hints toward Apokolips in the Justice League trailers. Like those entities, the comic book Inhumans represent Kirby’s instincts toward science-god hyperbole, all evolutionary theory and Ancient Astronaut mysticism and grimaced philosophy. Whereas this Inhumans show represents all the worst instincts of Marvel’s TV arm. The plot is also the feeling you get watching: Witness cosmic imagination brought down to boring Earth. C-