Ever since they announced INHUMANS television show, I’ve been uninterested. I was against this from the start and hence am trying not to let my biases color my review. Unfortunately, there is so much wrong with this entire endeavor that it’s hard not to sound biased. I genuinely hope what I just watched was a joke. There are only a scant few positive things that I can find to say about the first two episodes of this show. The score is pretty (Sean Callery, for the win!) The distribution model is interesting. Everything else from the writing, to the acting, to the costume design is bizarrely haphazard and offensively amateurish. It’s not just that Inhumans television series started from a flawed idea. The execution is so slapdash that I’m flabbergasted this even exists. It’s like the worst parts of Agents of SHIELD’s first season, combined with the worst parts of Iron Fist and somehow it manages to be worse than that sounds. My expectations were low enough that I’m not actually that mad. But, friends: it’s bad. It’s very bad.
Here’s the thing: Inhumans are the least interesting part of Agents of SHIELD, and SHIELD is probably the least watched thing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not to say no one watches it, but compared to the Netflix and motion picture audiences? No one watches it. The third season of SHIELD tried to center the Inhumans as the most important part of the plot and it was a complete disaster. As the knock-off X-Men of the MCU, Inhumans function well as a multi-layered metaphor for oppressed minorities, coming of age narratives, identity crises, and every other bit of character-focused superpowered conflict you could imagine. As a driver of grandiose dramatics, they are sorely lacking. They’re a minor issue in this universe, and the fourth season of SHIELD addressed their existence with such beautiful nuance that I forgave almost every previous fault of the series. Unfortunately, Inhumans ignores all of SHIELD’s good work, ignores the fact that SHIELD exists, ignores anything that makes Inhumans interesting, and instead sets up an unintentionally uncomfortable glorification of eugenics. The MCU’s network television offerings just went from an alternate universe where our heroes were fighting the evils of fascism to baiting the audience into rooting for a sci-fi version of white supremacy. The only other thing in the MCU I’ve seen that’s this tone deaf was when Iron Fist somehow thought a rich white man behaving in a sexually predatory, entitled, whiny manner would endear him to an audience.
I had a few other strikes against this show from the start. First, any television series that’s greenlit in the MCU is going to have a trial by fire with me because I will compare it to my late lamented Agent Carter. If it’s not better than AC, I will judge harshly. Second, the locked-in distribution date for this Inhumans IMAX release means that Agents of SHIELD’s fifth season got pushed back to a mid-season start. Guys, I survive on Agents of SHIELD. It’s a disturbingly important part of my emotional well-being. Completely independent of whether Inhumans turned out to be a good or a bad series, it’s lucky that SHIELD got renewed or I probably would have torched it to the ground no matter what.
That said, the most interesting thing about this series always has been that these first two episodes were to be released in IMAX. One-half of my geeky media scholar self is in love with that distribution choice, but the other half is appalled. Part of my love affair with the MCU is that it’s one of the first and definitely the best utilizations of transmedia storytelling to date. Transmedia storytelling is the emergent trend of ignoring the traditional distribution and industry boundaries between narratives to create one cohesive story. It’s beyond the “shared universe” fad in that it’s not limited to one specific medium—films, TV shows, video games, etc.—but takes place across all of them without much fuss. With everything from traditional motion picture distribution, to DVD extras, digital shorts, streaming television, network television, and even in-universe narrative advertisements, the MCU is a continuous gift when it comes to my pet academic topic. At this point, there’s not really a distribution model that they haven’t used. That’s why releasing some episodes of a television series in IMAX is such a cool idea. Just smash those traditional boundaries altogether. What’s unfortunate is that this particular television series is godawful. I’m ashamed that a casual film fan might see this and judge the rest of Marvel television by it because Marvel TV is my favorite thing in this universe or any other. Please, friends: do not judge us all by this disaster.
Perhaps it’s just that IMAX is an enormous, high-definition screen, but everything from the makeup and costume design to the sets looked like a low-budget fan film. The costumes looked like they were made of bargain bin lycra and polyester. If someone had a decent costume their makeup was atrocious. You could constantly see the edges of the temporary tattoos on the dude with facial markings (whose name I never caught and don’t care enough to look up). Medusa’s wig, Lord God. I have seen better wigs at Halloween stores. Thank God they shaved it off so we didn’t have to look at it anymore. They all looked like half-hearted cosplayers embarrassed by their $5 hot glued outfits. I mean seriously? If you’re shooting in IMAX you have to know that the audience can see everything. I’d also think you’d go out of your way to at least make the show pretty to look at, even if the writing is trash. But nope. Even the CGI moon city is the worst bastardization of Brutalist architecture. Slightly adjacent to this point, but it always bemused me in SHIELD that Inhumans were supposed to have these “monstrous” physical changes but only like three of the many Inhumans that we met had any sort of external change. I thought maybe Inhumans would devote more of its budget to showing a more reasonable array of folks who look, well, inhuman. I am learning that I should not think. Apparently, they blew their budget on completely random and unnecessary licensing of classic rock covers.
Now for the coup de grace: the writing. Yes, I thought this was a flawed premise. I thought it was a terrible idea. The whole look and feel of it has been awful from the beginning, but they could’ve pulled out a win on this one. Listen, I thought Spider-Man: Homecoming was a horrible idea and that movie turned out to be one of my favorites in the MCU. I judge what I’m given, not what I think something will be beforehand. These two episodes don’t even deserve the term “narrative.” There’s no motivation, no causation, no real changes, and no consequences. Not a single character has a likable trait and none of them have goals, interests, or intelligence. They are all completely flat cardboard cutouts. They’re not even caricatures. To be caricatures they’d have to have some semblance of characterization. Literally, the entire time I was just comparing how boring all of these characters are to how vibrant and interesting Agents of SHIELD’s ensemble is and wishing my Agents would swoop in and actually get things started. My SHIELD Agents all have quirks, flaws, conflicts, and desires. They have personalities and drives. These Inhumans have nothing. Introducing two characters having sex doesn’t actually do anything to build their relationship to a believable point. Saying that the king’s brother doesn’t have any powers doesn’t automatically make him a scheming traitor. Having warriors who behave like illogical jerks isn’t charming unless you also show their good qualities. Jerk ≠ Heart of Gold. And I don’t even understand the dog-chick. She’s written like the fantasy version of a teenage airhead dreamed up by someone who has never actually had a conversation with a woman. And please, please, no more ultra-stilted and embarrassing flashbacks attempting to explain character. Those were all terrible.
It’s odd because you can tell that they were trying for depth, yet every line is such a blatant surface observation that it grates. Traitorous-brother is played as a straight mustache-twirling villain despite the fact that the premise provides him an immediate sympathetic motivation. Who wouldn’t root for a revolutionary freeing his oppressed people from a despotic royal family? Yet the show doesn’t go there at all. It doesn’t even hint like it’s going there. They put the final nail in the coffin by having traitorous-brother ooze into Medusa’s personal space completely out of the blue. If anyone had played that relationship as perhaps more than it seemed before that scene, yeah, then I could see him making those comments. But there’s barely any indication that these people know each other, let alone that they’d known each other since they were children.
None of the characters make decisions. None of the characters act in relation to previous actions. None of them express goals or reasoning for their behavior. Frequently, they do incredibly stupid things while describing exactly how stupid those things are. Even across two full episodes there is absolutely no narrative structure whatsoever. It would be impossible to actually map this story because there’s no causation or logical progression, but if you tried to you’d end up with a flat line instead of a narrative arc. The only possible motivation the characters have is to seek revenge against traitorous-brother for casting them out. One major problem with that is that traitorous-brother does not, himself, have any motivation for casting them out except being generically evil.
Even their powers are all ridiculous and pointless. For it to matter that they’ve all lost their powers, it has to matter that they have powers in the first place yet they don’t use them for anything except cool factor. Medusa can move her hair? Cool. Minotaur-man has minotaur feet? Cool. Face-tattoo guy can do Doctor Strange physics with his brain? I mean… I don’t even get that one honestly. Their powers say nothing about them and have no function in the narrative except to be taken away. Not to belabor the point, but Agents of SHIELD does the “losing powers” concept way better. (It does everything way better. Even the worst parts of SHIELD are infinitely better than this. Yes, even “4,722 Hours.” Even the pre-Winter Soldier parts of the first season. But maybe not “Spacetime.” That one’s about on the same level as this.)
Beyond the fact that this particular story is a dumpster fire, it can’t even keep track of its own story logistics let alone the rest of the MCU. How do they know what cars are but not how handcuffs work? They understand Earth technology and have perfect analogs of it that work equally well on the Moon and on Earth? How do they know that Terrigen was released on Earth but apparently have no idea what SHIELD is doing for Inhumans? Does king-dude know American Sign Language or did he make up his own sign language? Because if that’s actually ASL I will probably die laughing. How are you going to say you’re trying to help Inhumans when you’re a.) not working with the people on Earth actually doing that and b.) just getting them all killed? Every single person we’ve seen go through Terrigenesis to date has developed a thick black husk during the process, to include the ones who have transformed using purified Terrigen crystals and Terrigen distilled into fish oil and (inexplicably) random rain storms. Someone want to explain to me why these special moon people just inhale smoke in a chamber without any other effect and that’s apparently enough? Various characters try to mansplain Terrigenesis a few times. They briefly try to hint at the theory mentioned on SHIELD that Inhumans gain powers to fill a niche within the population but even SHIELD dropped the ball on that one. Bringing it up here only furthers the weird pro-eugenics message. Also, Inhumans: your tag is dumb and super basic and I’m offended that you’d even try to use the form if that’s what you think is a reversal or a reveal. To be honest, I’m just sort of offended in general.
2017 has seen the two extreme poles of the MCU’s potential. On the one side you’ve got things like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Agents of SHIELD’s fourth season, and Defenders which fully leverage the fact that they exist in one big shared universe while still maintaining their own unique flavor. On the other side there’s drivel like Iron Fist and The Inhumans which are so self-serving that they can’t even tell a coherent story internally, let alone relate to things outside of their scope. I would love to have an explanation for how Scott Buck, showrunner of the worst MCU television show to date, was given another show to head. The common denominator of the two worst MCU things I’ve had the displeasure of consuming is Scott Buck.
Am I being extremely harsh? Probably. There’s plenty of terrible television on the airwaves. What makes this such an egregious disaster is that it’s in theaters. You have to go out deliberately and pay for it. It’s marketed as some kind of premium artifact. It’s being presented to the world like the crème de la crème of Marvel television and it’s literally the worst piece of Marvel TV I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen it all. Bad TV, if it must be consumed, is best consumed in one’s living room, not with a group of strangers. Somehow, I feel like I personally owe an apology to everyone who has gone to see this. It’s a shame because the MCU has done so much good work elevating the perception of comic book adaptations in the mainstream, and yet here we have this garbage parading around pretending it’s important. The whole endeavor reflects poorly on Marvel, Marvel TV, and the MCU.
Because I feel like we all need a palate cleanser after assaulting our brains with this, here’s my ordered list of favorite Marvel TV seasons:
- Agent Carter Season 1
- Jessica Jones
- Agents of SHIELD Season 4
- Daredevil Season 2
- Agents of SHIELD Season 2
Please God, go watch anything from any of those. Go watch Avengers. Go watch Thor. Go watch anything that makes you happy. If you watched this, you deserve something that will remind you why you love the idea of this universe, this huge story, and these characters in the first place. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I’m going to go wrap up in my FitzSimmons quilt, suck my thumb like a sad baby, and watch some Agents of SHIELD.
Pretend this never happened.
Season 1, Episodes 1&2 (S01E01&02)
Inhumans is currently screening in IMAX
Inhumans will air Friday at 9PM on ABC
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor