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TV Review: Inhumans, "The First Chapter"

The Inhumans
Proudly brought to you in IMAX a few weeks before broadcast

For those who don't know, Jack Kirby is responsible for a lot of psychedelic insanity and metaphysical weirdness in the universe of comic books. When it comes to his wildest, most idiosyncratic creations, Marvel's Inhumans are near the top of the list. This is a group of alien-human hybrids who live on the moon, have a royal family, and can do just about anything you can imagine. They tend to stay on the periphery of events and keep to themselves, only occasionally popping up for brief solo series or to offer a mild contribution to big crossover events. In one particularly famous story, the king of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, plays a bit part in the "House of M" storyline in which he single-handedly stops a nuclear war and then kills Apocalypse of all people just by uttering a tiny whisper.

I am telling you this to remind you just how wild and crazy the property is supposed to be. The Inhumans are like the X-Men on acid, and they are so out there that even comic book writers have a hard time handling them. I've honestly never gotten into it, have only read a handful of their stories, and have never quite known what to make of them. That said, I was a little excited when I heard they were coming to the MCU, because I thought it might be interesting to have this group of really bizarre characters out there, hanging on the edges of major events within the MCU and doing their level best to stay out of the way because they knew they were far too powerful to responsibly intervene.

When I heard they were going to be on television instead of in the movies--on ABC no less--I was no longer excited. For the Inhumans to make sense in live action, they require a big Hollywood budget. Trying to put them on commercial TV is like trying to make Guardians of the Galaxy with less than a half million dollars: it just won't work. Still, I put my skepticism aside and reserved judgment. Then the trailers came out, and it was much harder for me to contain my doubts. I wanted to believe it could be good, that I could be wrong. After all, Marvel has pulled off the impossible before, like when I was certain Thor would flop or when I couldn't comprehend why anyone would care about the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy. So today, I went to the theater, sat down, and watched the first two episodes, entitled "The First Chapter" (parts 1 and 2), in IMAX. I had hopes it would be at least fun, but I was fairly sure it would be disappointing.

Inhumans in the comics
In the comics, they are colorful, imaginative, insanely powerful, and weird

It's hard for me to express what I'm feeling now. Regular readers know that I tend to be pretty forgiving, especially when I've first seen a thing and am riding the wake of it. Looking back, I'm willing to admit giving five stars to Star Trek Into Darkness might have been too generous, for example. I tend to err on the side of a higher score, and it doesn't bother me. I don't like jumping on the hate bandwagon and trashing a thing because it's unpopular or because the Internet has already decided to condemn it. As such, I will defend some pretty terrible stuff, and I like rooting for the underdog. I prefer positivity to negativity, and I don't like telling people that this thing they might like is garbage. That's just not my style.

Having said that, when I left the theater, I felt like I needed to file a police report. I and everyone else in the theater had been victims of a terrible assault. I write this review, not out of gleeful hatemongering, but out of a genuine concern that you, my dear reader, might be tempted to watch this show. Please, please, please don't do that. I am begging you, don't watch "Inhumans." I can't bear the thought of my fellow human beings facing the same pain and suffering I just experienced.

It's not just that this show is poorly executed. It's not just that it's badly acted. It's not just that it's terribly conceived or that it bears little resemblance to its namesake. It's not just that it is awful. It is all of these things, but it's also offensive to rational thought and human experience. I can't help but wonder if it is specifically designed to hurt people.

I doubt you've seen hair like this before

Let's start at the beginning. The show opens on Hawaii, with a group of men weilding assault rifles, chasing something through the dense foliage. There are some fancy slow-mo shots of gun barrels in the rain, and that's fine, even kind of cool on a big IMAX screen. The music is a bit over-earnest, like something out of an E.P.C.O.T. ride, but maybe that'll calm down (it doesn't--in fact, it gets much, much worse, and it features questionable covers of The Doors and The Rolling Stones, too). Then you see the prey, a young woman with yellow cat eyes. A little fake-looking, but acceptable. Just as she's about to be cornered, she is saved by a guy in a raincoat who drops his hood to reveal himself as a man coated in green paint with a bad prosthetic on his head like something out of the original Star Trek television series. And then these two characters start speaking.

Sufficed to say, if those first few lines don't clue you into the fact that this entire show was written by a lobotomized child unfamiliar with human speech but having access to a book of old clichés, you might be suffering from brain damage yourself. I mean this without hyperbole: the dialogue in this show is worse than the dialogue in Tommy Wiseau's The Room. The writing couldn't possibly be any more predictable, canned, and hackneyed if it tried. I consider myself a pretty imaginative guy, but I cannot fathom a way to make what happens in this show any more banal that it already is.

"Sets," "costumes," and "acting"

The showrunners had at their disposal the most batty comic book property in the Marvel library involving bizarre alien-like beings living on the moon and capable of warping reality itself, and they chose to make a show about an unconvincing coup from a jealous brother of the king who has the hots for the queen. You have characters who can do the impossible, and it all boils down to a chick with CG hair and a teleporting dog who looks about as convincing on an IMAX screen as something I can put together in five minutes in Microsoft Paint with my eyes closed. Black Bolt--whose voice is supposed to be powerful enough to blow up an entire planet--flips a car once and can get out of handcuffs. Attilan, this colorful city on the moon full of advanced technology that was created through magical powers and the psychedelia of Jack Kirby turned up to eleven, is a blocky, grey city made of bland concrete that looks like painted fiberglass, and it features decor, tablewear, and lighting by a knock-off Pier One that gets its supply from the dumpster behind IKEA.

Even if you completely ignore everything about the comic book version of the Inhumans, this show is still one of the biggest wastes of imagination in the history of televised entertainment. I cannot overstress how badly the writers fumbled here, and by the time you see the royal family on Earth, it feels more like Cannon Films' Masters of the Universe than anything we've seen from the more typically competent Marvel Studios.

The main antagonist, Maximus the Mad ("acted" by Game of Thrones star Iwan Rheon), is such an exhausted stereotype he makes all other MCU villains look original. Seriously, he is the worst villain in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let that sink in for a moment. I've seen him described as Diet Loki, but even that doesn't do justice. Like all the other characters in this show, Maximus never feels like a real character. He doesn't have more than one dimension; his motivations are weak, no matter how many times the script tries to beat them into your head; his line delivery is dull and bored; and his facial expression is always one of simmering anger mixed with confusion and mild constipation.

Black Bolt
Looks like somebody needs a dipey change

And don't even get me started on Anson Mount as Black Bolt. He looks less constipated and more like he is in a permanent state of perpetually crapping his pants, and this is a character who doesn't actually speak, so you have to rely on that "I'm pooping" expression to convey all of his emotion. He would actually be a far superior character if he wore the mask he's supposed to be wearing at all times (even though, judging by the rest of the abyssmal costume design, which looks like it was cobbled together out of what remains in the original X-Men film's closet, it would look ridiculous), because his face reveals absolutely nothing.

That's not to say the rest of the acting is better. In fact, I'd say Rheon and Mount, as terrible as they are here, are probably two of the better performers on set. Other stand-out performances that push the boundaries of how awful one can act on screen include the queen's sister, Crystal, played by Isabelle Cornish in a performance so cringe-worthy she'd be kicked out of an elementary school play, and Maximus' main mercenary flunky, Auran (who bears a negative resemblance to her comics namesake), who is acted so badly by Sonya Belmores that I fear her career will never recover. I'm not trying to be mean. These actors aren't as bad as they seem in this show--I've seen a few of them in other work and they're not like this--but somehow, the filmmakers managed to capture the absolute worst performances possible out of each of them. Even Serinda Swan, an actress I happen to love, is just unwatchable as Medusa.

Behind the scenes
These people are actually proud of themselves

It's mind-boggling when you consider some of the talent behind the scenes, too. It's almost like this is deliberate, that the show wants to be the worst thing you've ever seen. I can find no other explanation. Even the much maligned showrunner, Scott Buck, has proven in his admittedly weak prior works that he's better than this. Yes, this show is so bad, it makes the last couple seasons of Dexter and the first season of Iron Fist look like HBO's The Wire. I can't wrap my brain around it. None of it ever feels finished or real. There are a couple of scenes that are played up as deeply emotional (including one involving *SPOILER WARNING* some hair clippers), with a sweeping score and slow-motion close-up shots that are trying to squeeze every drop of emotion out of the audience, that don't make you feel anything at all. The only way those scenes could make me cry is if I'm thinking about the fact this show exists while watching them.

So are there any pros to be found, at all? I don't know. Ken Leung's Karnak is pretty cool, I guess. And, uh, let's see... Nope, that's pretty much it. Everything else is garbage. Seriously. This show is profoundly terrible, and I pity anyone who is forced to bear witness to it. Whatever you choose to do in life, dear readers, I sincerely hope you take this advice to heart: DO NOT WATCH "INHUMANS."


Just don't.

-e. magill 9/1/2017

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