10:30 am EST, September 19, 2017

Marvel’s ‘Inhumans’ review: 5 things that you won’t totally hate

Marvel’s Inhumans isn’t very good, but there are a few things to enjoy in this messy miniseries.

Look, there’s no point in sugarcoating this. Marvel’s Inhumans — at least based on its first two episodes — is not good television.

Not by the standards of Marvel’s work on ABC, not by the standards of its Netflix offerings (yes, even Iron Fist,) and not by the standard of generally watchable televised fare. In the vaguely consequential realms of performance, dialogue, direction, design, storyline, and general atmosphere, this new IMAX-hybrid is outstripped to the point of invisibility by every single piece of small-screen or cinematic entertainment that Marvel has produced.

It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t feel good.

But for better or worse (or much, much worse) Inhumans is here, and with it comes the attendant curiosity and interest that Marvel has fairly earned. There is no longer any risk of fans draining their pockets to view the two-hour pilot in IMAX, so if you are going to tune in to the televised version of the premiere — and many will — I might as well highlight what there is to enjoy.

Gorgon (and Karnak)

Though an oppressive sense of grandeur and self-importance plagues much of Inhumans’ story, some relief is provided in the form of Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor). The impulsive, hoof-footed Inhuman is one of the few characters mostly unburdened by the weigh of the Serious And Portentous Events that comprise the first two episodes.

Wryly funny and refreshingly unvarnished, Gorgon calls it like he sees it, and doesn’t particularly care about the consequences. He may be a master of questionable decisions, but in context, even that flaw is vastly more endearing than the hamaratia displayed by Maximus and the rest of the Royal Family.

Gorgon’s counterpart Karnak (Ken Leung) also has potential, though his deductive abilities are painfully over-written. Karnak’s genius as a strategist provides a few nifty visual sequences, and getting to play the smartest in the room offers Leung the opportunity to display a bit of genuine pathos. But that blade has two edges, and like so much of Inhumans, Karnak’s character lists toward the side of taking this all much too seriously to be any fun at all.


Speaking of fun, perhaps the only truly lighthearted element of Inhumans is Lockjaw. Lockjaw, in case you don’t know, is a massive, teleporting bulldog who (more or less) follows Crystal’s orders.

Yep, that’s it.

Lockjaw’s CGI is decent, though the upper reaches of “convincing” for a huge canine unbound by dimensions of space are definitionally limited. It’s also just not clear how to read Lockjaw, when his happy, heavy panting is juxtaposed with Maximus’ devious plotting and the attendant soggy drama. (It’s pretty funny… but are we supposed to be laughing?)

Still, Lockjaw will certainly please fans of Marvel comics. The rest of us can enjoy the always-welcome distraction of a doggy.

The sick society of Attilan

This asset is almost more appealing in theory than practice, but Inhumans does deserve credit for trying. Though the first two episodes quickly arc the Royal Family toward Earth (more on that in a minute) the premiere also makes swift work of establishing the strictly dictated lives of the Inhuman population on Attilan.

The moon, it turns out, is a pretty cool place to live — if you are lucky enough to emerge from your ritual Teregenesis with a power that doesn’t suck. (Or you happen to be royalty. One or the other.) Rigidly stratified, Attilan society is apparently engineered by the very creepy-sounding “Genetic Council.” The whole structure supports the Royal Family’s dubious rule, while lesser Inhumans toil in mines under slave-like conditions.

It’s interesting in concept, though not subtle, and clumsily portrayed. Attilan’s systemic injustices are apparently visible to no one but Maximus (Iwan Rheon) who spends a very long time caterwauling about how unfair it all is.

(Maximus, of course, came out of Terrigenesis with no powers at all — hence his medium-strength (In)humanitarian impulses.)

The rotten core of life on the moon could do with a lot more showing than telling, though perhaps there can be some slack allowed for a pilot. The blatant injustice does gum up the works of the story, however; rooting for king Black Bolt (Anson Mount), queen Medusa (Serinda Swan), and the rest of the Royal Family becomes a questionable pursuit when their nobility ignores such evident suffering.

Still, the ideas that Inhumans presents on Attilan are crunchy enough to be worth chewing over. We can always hope that showrunner Scott Buck’s hand lightens enough to let this essentially human darkness speak for itself.

The fish are out of water

The last enjoyable thing about Marvel’s Inhumans (at least, I think it is) is watching a family from space find themselves plopped onto Earth with little warning and no way to get home.

Unfortunately, Inhumans seems to be more interested in the Grand Drama of Displaced People. (A general note to the series — lighten up, for crying out loud!) But there are still solid moments of humor as most of the Royal Family land on terra firma with a bunch of — yuck! — totally normal humans.

Part of this lightness might not actually be intentionally on the show’s part. For example, the Inhumans’ costumes (uniformly dreadful, by the way) could not scream, “We come from space!” any louder if they tried, which sparks a necessarily funny contrast with ordinary human life on Hawaii. That said, the base, fish out of water quality inherent to their plight might just have enough juice to keep the screeching engines of this show running more smoothly than anticipated.

As long as you don’t think too hard about how all of these aliens somehow speak perfect English.

Marvel’s Inhumans premieres on Friday, Sept. 29 at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.

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