‘Marvel’s Inhumans’ Season Premiere Episodes 1 & 2: Behold… The Misfire

On paper, “Marvel’s Inhumans,” the first project to explicitly bridge the gap between the big-screen Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka the MCU, and the small-screen version- in that it premiered on the former via limited-release IMAX before continuing on the latter- seems almost like a can’t miss. A massively expensive endeavor, the first two episodes were financed by IMAX, with the idea of making it bigger and better than the typical TV series, both in terms of visuals and special effects.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have read any reviews before writing my own, but unfortunately, I was assigned the property fairly late in the game, so its reputation preceded it, and not in a good way. The general consensus was that the debut movie was dead on arrival, with critical response decidedly unfavorable. Theatrically, it only grossed around $2.85 million, a decidedly embarrassing number for a Marvel movie release, even a limited-event one, as the movie only ran for a couple of weeks in theaters.

As such, I didn’t exactly have high hopes going in, but I tried to make myself as open as possible to the idea that maybe critics were being a little too hard on it. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that I liked something that critics lambasted, which is precisely why I prefer to go into reviewing something without any preconceived notions. But alas, there’s a reason critics have dismissed the series as DOA- it’s not great, and that’s putting it mildly.

Indeed, for such an impressively mounted endeavor, it sure looks pretty cheap, for the most part, leaving one to wonder if the show wouldn’t have been better off simply forgoing the IMAX thing and going straight-to-TV. I don’t know that it would have improved critical reception, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt them, by inherently lowering expectations from the get-go.

I suppose, on the plus side, I already had lowered expectations going in, so, not expecting much, I wasn’t that disappointed on the whole. But even by those decidedly low standards, I was a bit let down. I mean, I suppose the best I could say is that it’s reasonably watchable, even by subpar Marvel standards, but that’s faint praise, if I’m being honest, as it firmly rests near the bottom of that pile, just above some of the initial Marvel efforts that they tend to sweep under the rug, like the made-for-TV versions of “Spider-Man” and “Captain America” in the late 70’s.

Actually, even those are kind of fun, in all of their low-rent, dime-store costume glory, whereas most of “Inhumans” is pretty dire and humorless. Put another way, when the highpoints of your debut are a feisty hairdo, a mostly mute character and a ginormous bulldog, well…that’s not great, to say the least. Indeed, the premiere only could have benefitted from camping it up more, IMHO. Why not embrace the inherent silliness of it all and go for broke?

As it stands, the main villain is lazily played by Iwan Rheon, of “Game of Thrones” fame, where he played the deliciously evil Ramsay Bolton. In this series, his character, Maximus, actually gets to live the dream that evaded him on “GOT”- he stages a coup that lands him on what amounts to this show’s Iron Throne. Yet the actor looks so bored, we can hardly be bothered to care one way or another. It’s literally the most bloodless and unexciting coup ever.

Indeed, it all happens so easily, you kind of have to wonder what they were thinking. He simply eliminates the competition in the Kingdom of Attilan, on the Moon- yes, THAT moon, as in the one hovering above Earth- and shortly thereafter, declares himself king, and the citizens accept it, no questions asked.

Those who would most oppose him are whisked off to Hawaii, albeit in different places, with only a few rivals/objectors on Attilan left behind, none of which prove to be any sort of real threat. He has one killed, and the Queen’s sister, Crystal (Isabelle Cornish, Abbie’s little sister, of “Puberty Blues”) locked away, when she is caught aiding the others in their escape, albeit without much of their compliance. The rest, like the so-called “Genetic Council,” he simply threatens with bodily harm, warning he’ll kill them if they go against him.

Maximum’s main beef is that he is a human, where his brother is an Inhuman, and in their city, humans are supposed to serve as what amounts to slave labor. Maximum, thanks to his brother, manages to evade that, yet he still resents him for what he sees as a hopelessly outmoded way of running things. The thing is, I don’t disagree, which is a problem, if you’re supposed to side with the supposed “good guys.”

The group isolated on Earth includes Maximum’s brother Black Bolt (Anson Mount), the King of Attilan, who literally can’t speak, as his voice has the ability to kill people, which he indeed has done with his own parents, albeit unintentionally, which is a hell of a way to find out one’s latent powers. On this show, people are given powers (or not) in a Terrigenesis Ceremony at a certain age, where they are exposed to Terrigen Mist, which has the ability to give people very specific inhuman abilities.

Some of said powers are good (i.e. flying, second sight), some aren’t (i.e. Black Bolt’s deadly ones), while others aren’t affected at all by the mist, a la Maximus, and subsequently become slaves who work in what amounts to a coal mine. Maximus, as the rare person without abilities in a place of power on the King’s Council, basically wins over the rest of the city by promising to free them and get them to Earth, where they can live as they choose, instead of as servants.

In other words, he’s actually kind of the Daenerys Targaryen of the show, to go back to “GOT” terms, only we’re supposed to root AGAINST him here. I mean, yes, granted, he does kill someone (or has them killed, rather), but by and large, it’s a mostly bloodless coup, really. And once again, he’s looking to essentially free the slaves, for God’s sake. Not exactly a nefarious goal, when you think about it.

Crystal, upon getting wind of Maximus’ plot to overthrow Black Bolt, has her teleporting dog, Lockjaw spirit BB away to Earth, planning to join him later, once she gets the rest of the main Council out of there, including her sister Medusa (Serinda Swan, “Graceland”), the Queen, who has vibrant long red hair that can attack people, as well as do handy things like pick up the remote control to the TV. (I kid, there’s no TV on Attilan, but if there was, I bet it would suck, too.)

Maximus, who has a thing for Medusa and has been friends with her since childhood, tries to recruit her beforehand, but the Queen isn’t having it and attacks him with her hair, which he then cuts off, thus rendering the most interesting thing about her a thing of the past. Yep, Maximus’ big evil move is to give her a forced bad haircut. And yet, no camp moments whatsoever. Not even a Schwarzenegger-esque quip like: “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”

How this show can have elements like these and manage to be so humorless is completely beyond me. Did I mention the massive teleporting dog? Come on, that’s an easy joke-maker right there. I’d suggest they lean into that sort of thing moving forward, but, as there are only eight episodes in the first season, it may be too late to do anything about the show’s dire tone already.

The remainder of the Earth-bound team includes Karnak (Ken Leung, “Lost,” back on the island yet again), who can kinda-sorta see the future, or at least the flaws in things, and plan accordingly, which doesn’t exactly make him the life of the party- in the premiere’s funniest scene, he lays out the potential future for him and a waitress type before dismissing her out of hand accordingly after determining it won’t end well, all in front of her; and Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor, “Extant”), the leader of the Royal Guard, who can generate seismic waves with his hooves. Yes, I said hooves.

All of the above who are deposited on Earth are left separately, to their own devices, strangers in a strange land, as it were. Black Bolt promptly gets himself arrested, by unwittingly shoplifting and causing a stir when Lockjaw’s appearance in a city street causes a wreck, and he later causes a variety of damage to various cop cars when he is apprehended, though he essentially surrenders peacefully. When we last see him, he has gone directly to jail, and has passed go, so to speak.

Meanwhile, Medusa briefly talks to her sister, which alerts Maximus to her whereabouts, so he promptly sends his top assassin, Auran (Sonya Balmores, “Ballers”) to Earth to capture her and everyone else, on the order to kill them if she can’t successfully retrieve them in the process. Auran seemingly has the ability to self-heal, which comes in handy when Medusa stabs her in a knock-down, drag-out fight that is easily the high point, action-wise, of the entire premiere.

One can’t help but wonder, given that he has no abilities, why those who do would choose to follow Maximus in the first place. I mean, I get that the lower-class servant types would- he’s basically one of them, albeit of a higher rank, thanks to his brother. But why those with power would, I’m not so sure. You’d think that at least one of them would kill him off and try to stage a coup their own damn selves, especially with the King gone, along with his most threatening allies, but such is the logic- or lack thereof- of “Inhumans” for you.

That’s really about all that happens, which means that the first two episodes are basically almost entirely set-up. Granted, that’s almost to be expected on a new series, but what’s astonishing is how unexciting it all is. There’s a coup overthrowing the King by his own brother, an unrequited love triangle with the brother and the Queen, a giant dog with the power to teleport and all sorts of people with powers running around, but it’s all a bit of a yawn fest. Like I said, when even Ramsay freaking Bolton seems bored, you’re doing something wrong.

That said, having been at this for quite some time, as a critic, I know full and well a show can take a few beats to get going at first. Look at, say, “The Simpsons” or “Seinfeld.” If they hadn’t been allowed to continue past their decidedly lackluster first seasons, they wouldn’t have become the classics they did. Sometimes you have to be patient for a show to find its groove. As such, I’m willing, for now, to give “Inhumans” the benefit of the doubt, whether it deserves it or not.

After all, it’s only an eight-episode commitment, which is already down to six more, given that the first two episodes were shown back-to-back as the premiere. That’s a pretty low-risk endeavor, when you think about it. Basically, it’s a glorified mini-series, really. I can deal with that, however bad it might get, especially on the offhand chance that it does improve. There’s some semblance of a good show in here, if the writers could just loosen up and have fun with the material.

While I’m not hugely familiar with the source material, admittedly, I did appreciate the tie-ins to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and would love to see more of that kind of thing in the future. I think the show could benefit enormously from even more direct tie-ins of that nature, and especially from guest shots from other characters in the MCU. While it’s perhaps too much to expect any marquee names from the MCU, there’s no reason why we can’t at least get, say, a cameo from someone from “AOS.”

But really, the main problem for now is the stilted, humorless writing and general lack of fun to the proceedings. I’m not saying that all superhero-type properties have to be light-hearted and amusing, a la “Deadpool” or “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but with such an inherently silly group of characters on “Inhumans,” it wouldn’t hurt to at least have a solid sense of humor. There’s hints of it here and there, like in the bit I mentioned with Karnak and the “waitress,” but overall, it’s way too self-serious for a show with a ginormous dog as a main character, you know?

It certainly doesn’t help matters that the cast takes itself way too seriously. When even the typically scenery-chewing Iwan Rheon seems bored, you’ve got yourself a problem. And don’t even get me started on how wasted actress Nicola Peltz, who was so great on “Bates Motel,” was in this. It barely even registered to me it was her until the opening credits confirmed it, and I’m a big fan. What was even the point in getting a name actress for such a nothing part? I really hope there was more to it than we saw in the first episode, otherwise, what a missed opportunity.

So, yeah, this is definitely a case where the critics got it right. I wanted to prove them wrong. Hell, if anything, even as a critic myself, I somewhat revel in going against the grain and marching to the beat of my own drummer, even if I’m relatively on my own in doing so. But damned if I don’t agree with most of the complaints people had about this one. Hopefully, it gets better as it goes along, but the real question is: will anyone be watching by then, if it even happens?

Hard to say, but my fingers are crossed that it improves, even just a little bit. Otherwise, “AOS” will have been bumped to mid-season for no good reason, and it was just getting good again, coming off arguably the best season to date, or pretty close to it, at least. It would be a shame if that show was compromised for no good reason. Here’s hoping such isn’t the case, but so far, so mediocre.

What did you think of “Marvel’s Inhumans”? For those more familiar with the comic, how did it compare? How do you think the show could be improved, beyond what I mentioned? What did you think of the main cast? Do you think it has more promise than most critics are giving it credit for? Sound off down below in the comments section, and join me in a few weeks for an update on how things are going with the show!