The Buzz: 'Inhumans' Is a Marvel-ous Disappointment

Marvel has ruled the entertainment world for the better part of a decade. Whether through comic books, television, or their beloved cinematic universe, they've has clearly hit upon a proven formula for success, to the extent that every other studio in Hollywood is scrambling to keep up. Of course, with so much success comes the inevitable risk of failure-- a venture in which everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Inhumans, the latest Marvel-affiliated series, is one such catastrophe. It is an unappealing addition to the superhero genre, one that recently made headlines for, of all reasons, drawing low ratings. What’s so bad about it you may ask? Allow me to count the ways…

The titular Inhumans are an ancient race of mutants who live on the moon. Their king, Black Bolt (a silent, brooding Anson Mount) believes they should remain there, while his non-mutant brother, Maximus (Iwan Rheon), wishes to return to his home planet of Earth. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? There are themes of class warfare and royalty being explored here, much like Game of Thrones (which also stars Rheon) is currently doing over at HBO. The pilot episode “Behold… The Inhumans” goes as far as to operate entirely within this appealing format. Unfortunately, its sluggish, stilted pace more closely resembles a soap opera than it does a space opera.

The episodes that follow have managed the rare feat of being bad for individually specific reasons. It’s as if the showrunners-- including Scott Buck, the man behind the critically panned Iron Fist-- start with a clean slate each week, and concoct brand new ways to underwhelm the audience. The second episode sees the Inhumans banished to Hawaii, where things take on a fish-out-of-water tone that manages to feel more clunky than what preceded. Several characters lose their powers in the process (Queen Medusa gets her head shaved!?), most likely because they were either too expensive to animate or because they would solve too many of the show’s overly-simplistic problems. The latter is a terminal symptom of bad writing, along with dialogue that’s a shade away from being accidentally comedic.

Fans of the comic book are currently justified in their frustration. The original stories written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were some of Marvel’s most dense and genre-bending, alongside titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. But while the latter two have been gloriously realized on the big screen, Inhumans is left to play out scripts that have nothing to do with it's source material. I kid you not, episode five (“Something Inhuman This Way Comes”) is ostensibly about weed dealers in Honolulu. For a studio who’s been so reliable when it comes to respecting fans, seeing such brazen, inexplicable changes is disappointing.

This general lack of interest extends to the characters. It seems as though Marvel decided to take what is historically their weakest attribute-- one-dimensional villains-- and populate an entire show with them. Maximus (essentially a discount Loki) wants to abolish Inhuman tradition and take everyone away from the moon, and is clearly presented as the adversary. Okay, fine. But Black Bolt, who’s ostensibly the hero, is equally reprehensible, as he runs a cruel dictatorship and refuses to improve living conditions for his people. The show misses a huge opportunity to stand out by exploring more thoughtful, morally uncertain ground, and simply tells us that Black Bolt is good because it’s easier that way. This results in two leads who are flattened to the point of being, well, inhuman.

Given that we’re five episodes into the eight-episode season, it's getting so that even the series standouts are struggling to stay afloat. Karnak, played with sumptuous energy by the smarmy Ken Leung, is starting to wear thin with a boring romantic subplot and a set of powers that are still bafflingly undefined (Can he go back in time? Can he read minds?). Then there is Lockjaw, the show's runaway star-- who also happens to be a gigantic teleporting bulldog. He's an utter joy, and probably one of the best things to appear on television this year, but he can only do so much to alleviate the boorish melodrama of his owners. You know it's bad when even the promise of a huge puppy loses its luster.

Inhumans doesn’t have the sophistication to sell its ambitious premise, nor does it have the energy to make for a fun adventure serial. It’s a throwback in the worst imaginable sense, dusting off the clichéd dialogue and shoddy CGI that hampered Marvel’s early days (Daredevil, Fantastic Four). We’ll never know what the planned film version of Inhumans might’ve looked like, but it’s hard to imagine it could’ve been any less impressive than this.

New episodes of Inhumans air on Fridays at 9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT on ABC.