NEW: The Inhumans
New: The Inhumans (2017)
Main Cast: Anson Mount (Black Bolt), Serinda Swan (Medusa), Ken Leung (Karnak), Eme Ikwuakor (Gorgon), Isabelle Cornish (Crystal) and Iwan Rheon (Maximus).
Writers: Scott Buck, Rick Cleveland, Charles Murray. Quinton Peeples, Scott Reynolds and Wendy West.
Directors: Chris Fisher, Billy Gierhart, Neasa Hardiman, Roel Reiné, David Straiton and Kevin Tancharoen.
Company: ABC Studios
Duration: 8 x 43 minute episodes.
The Inhumans was originally slated for a November 2018 release as a big-budget feature in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". Somewhere along the line, this plan was abandoned, and the project became a low-budget TV series instead.
Critically panned, and with viewing figures that fell by almost 50% over its eight episode run, it was quickly cancelled without much outcry. There are those that point to it being a "lucky escape" for the MCU film series, but it's no given that a decent film couldn't be carved out of the franchise. And, despite being critically slated, it's not actually that bad..... well, just about.
Although the budget doesn't appear to have been disclosed, the cent-saving is on display right from the first episode, with the much-discussed poor CGI for Medusa's hair and then her head shaving. Somehow Medusa's super strong hair is able to be cut by Maximus what looks like a standard Gillette shaver... talk about toxic masculinity!
Yet while rather like making a Fantastic Four movie where the Torch can never flame on, such things could have been forgiven if the storyline, scripts and acting were up to standard. Sadly, they aren't.
The acting is variable throughout, while the dialogue is underwritten and often just plain cheesy. Containing sometimes explicit violence and mild sexual content, it's a series that is too "adult" for a general audience, yet too unsophisticated for a more discerning demographic.
Iwan Rheon, a striking favourite from Game of Thrones and Misfits, struggles under an ill-advised "American" accent that wavers every sentence, as well as a likeable tendency to "go big". In all honesty, the production team should have decided that the accent wasn't working, and to have Rheon play it with his usual voice. To this end, the entire cast could have gone Game of Thrones, instead of the more colourful US accents they imitate.
And this, really, is part of the biggest problem: these characters are supposed to be aloof and inscrutable, the first time we see them in the comics being from the perspective of The Fantastic Four. Having RP English accents may have gone well with the theme of them being "distant", yet instead Gorgon and Karnak are turned into a buddy-buddy comedy duo, and attempts to humanise the rest of the characters are made. This is a series that even has Inhumans in its title.
Some would suggest that a series about an unrelatable family may not have worked with audiences, and it's a valid point, but often it seems like the series doesn't want to be an Inhumans show at all, from kooky "fish out of water" Earth antics, down to Karnak's kung fu and sex exploits with a weed grower. There's only so far you can shift a work from its source before it ceases to be that thing, rather like if you made a TV series about the Silver Surfer.... but a series where the Silver Surfer is a garage repairman called Keith, who spends his days smoking crystal meth on a park bench.
Exposition in the series is a huge issue, particularly with elements like Black Bolt's lack of speech. A mute who could shatter walls if he speaks, in the comics Medusa is able to read his expressions and relay it to others, with just the occasional hand gesture thrown in. She doesn't need to hear him to know what he's thinking, because they're so attuned to each other, and Black Bolt's presence so powerful. Yet in the TV series..... he's developed his own sign language. Yet far, far worse is the scene where Medusa sneaks into a rich person's house (which is conveniently unlocked) and just so happens to see a newspaper lying around, featuring Black Bolt under the catchy headline "man attacks cops".
This is all stuff that should have been edited out after a first draft, along with Mordis (an original character for the series) cracking self-referential one liners... while touted as a fearsome villain. Then there's the small matter of the series being eight episodes long but only having four episodes worth of plot. Maximus's schemes aren't some labyrinthine, Machiavellian conceit, but instead just Iwan ordering guards to murder people each week. Subsequently the series has no sophistication in its plotting in order to entice viewers to keep watching. In fact, some episodes it feels like Rheon is delivering the same script.
As a fantasy show, the excessive violence can get by, but even so it's still somewhat disconcerting seeing Gorgon threatening to stamp on a woman's face, even if she is an evil assassin with regenerative capabilities. There are some scant moments of entertainment in the show, and points where it almost reaches mediocrity, and some nice performances. But there's so much that fails and needed to be rethought.
In terms of the Fantastic Four - currently trapped away from the rest of the Marvel Universe while characters like Black Panther are box office hits - then there is an oblique reference not just to the group, but their association with the Inhumans. In episode three a cellmate of Black Bolt's asks how he got his powers, and what those powers are. While talk of being "bitten by a radioactive bug" causes no response, Black Bolt is startled when the man suggests he could have woken up covered in a "funky, rock-like crust."
The Fantastic Four has had four movies which, even on a sympathetic site like this one, can only be regarded as average at best. Yet excitement over Disney acquiring Fox and bringing the characters into the MCU shows how much love people still have for the characters and how much slack they're prepared to give failed attempts. The Inhumans has no such sympathy that would allow another attempt in the near future... virtually unknown to the general public, the makers of this series blew it, probably for years to come.