I’ve been wanting for a while to write something about the latest television entry into the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe. Watching the first season of Inhumans was a fascinating experience for me and I’d struggled with how exactly to put my feelings for it into succinct words and thoughts.
My rational mind tried to definitively tell me that this show was simply not very good, whereas the less-rational part of me kept finding small pieces of enjoyment to draw from the it. With that, I had mixed feelings of excitement and simultaneous disappointment – a combination that was hard to puzzle through and reconcile.
Before I dissect this any further, let’s take a step back and look at exactly who the Inhumans are.
The Inhumans are a race of superhumans who have powers and abilities as a result of ancient genetic experiments done by the Kree. They make up their own society in the city of Attilan, secluded from the persecution they faced among humans long ago. Attilan has existed in a few locations throughout comic book history but has most notably occupied the “blue area of the moon.”
Many of the criticisms of these characters have stemmed from folks seeing the Inhumans as less interesting counterparts to the X-Men. While I’m sure that some writers and Marvel editors have treated them as such, I tend to disagree with that assessment. The similarities between the two undoubtedly exist (and the two races even fought each other in the 2016 Marvel comics event, Inhumans vs. X-Men), but there are plenty of differences and examples of writers taking the Inhumans in interesting and unique directions.
Historically, most Inhuman story arcs (save more recent inhuman characters such as Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel and Daisy Johnson’s Quake in the comics and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series) center around the members of the House of Agon, or more simply, the royal family.
While the Inhuman royal family have not always played important roles in the greatest Marvel stories ever told, there are undoubtedly some quality books featuring these characters. Most notable, perhaps, is Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s Inhumans from 2013 which serves both as an introduction to the characters as well as a much more serious tonal reboot from the more campy versions of the Inhumans comic readers had encountered in the past. Aside from this, the characters – particularly Black Bolt – featured prominently in Jonathan Hickman’s expansive and intricate Avengers saga, and have been central to to some well recieved recent titles such as Saladin Ahmed’s Black Bolt, Al Ewing’s Royals, and Warren Ellis’ Karnak.
With these stories as stepping stones, one might assume that there would be plenty of solid material to draw from when developing the live-action, MCU debut of these characters. Unfortunately, what we’re presented with pales in comparison to what we’ve been given in the comics. It appears the series is drawing some influence from the Jenkins/Lee story mentioned above, but barely reflects any of the inherent weirdness and compelling moral ambiguity that the original story presented.
Thinking a little further about my initial disjointed internal narrative about the positives and negatives about the series, I soon came to recognize that the elements that I justified as entertaining in my head were simply reminders of the potential that the series ultimately squandered.
So. What’s good about the Inhumans live action debut?
Iwan Rheon was undoubtedly a solid choice for Maximus. His portrayal almost unjustifiably elevates the series whenever he’s on screen. And for the most part, the actors weren’t the problem – some needed to grow into their roles, but by the finale I felt convinced that these are the members of the Inhuman royal family. While it doesn’t excuse the blunders behind the scenes, the excitement and care that the actors (particularly Anson Mount and Serinda Swan who took the time to create their own unique sign language for their characters) put into their roles should be recognized. If – or, most likely, when – the show is cancelled, I wouldn’t mind seeing these actors reprise their roles in other MCU properties.
The rest of the series, however, is kind of a mess. Much of the story takes place in Hawaii, which is kind of fun and makes for some pretty shots, but at the same time led to a lot of meandering side plots that felt – and I’m putting it nicely – dull.
For a series following a race of super beings who live on the moon in an intricate caste system ruled by a monarchy, the show and its producers kept it way too tame. What Inhumans seemingly failed to learn from the successes of the Guardians of the Galaxy films and the recent Thor: Ragnarok is that these characters are at their best when they’re allowed to fully embrace the colorful and wacky weirdness of their comic book counterparts. Instead, many of the Inhumans we meet throughout the series (save a few exceptions such as Mordis and Eldrac the wall) simply look like regular humans wearing drab, grey clothing.
On top of this, Inhumans was also in a unique position to incorporate some interesting socio-political story elements exploring the flawed monarchy and caste system in which they exist. And while the series touched on this a bit and gave us a few interesting moments, I know that there could have been so much more.
Sadly, the final product that is Inhumans never lives up to it’s potential despite moments of coming close. It’s a series that will easily slip under the radar of most TV-watchers and will only be worth the watch for die-hard MCU completionists. And fortunately for those of us who fall into that latter category, we’ll soon have The Punisher, Runaways, and season 5 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. all within the next few weeks to hopefully cleanse the pallet.