Marvel’s Inhumans Review – Comic TV Takes A Chance On Pulp

It’s surprising to think how many efforts suddenly fall into the Marvel Television universe, from the solo heroes that then merged into The Defenders on Netflix, to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, Marvel on the small screen has ballooned into an impressive catalog in a few short years. Those shows have taken different approaches, with varying levels of success, and Marvel’s Inhumans seems to be after a different kind of show than we’ve seen from them so far.

When Marvel TV has worked best, whether the shows are dark, campy, or dark and campy, the efforts have stuck to a theory. When they’ve gone wrong it has been because they have started off very serious and then turned almost silly, or they have seemingly bounced back and forth between a lot of theories in the same show.

Where Marvel’s Inhumans steers us in a new direction is that it’s just plain goofy. That’s going to be a problem if people show up having loved Jessica Jones, because where that one is trying to provide a serious dramatic element to the comic world, this one is closer to live-action Saturday morning cartoons. Sure, there are moments of real drama and some fun action, but this one seems like a test case for a pulp nonsense theory.

That makes the show ripe for destruction, but if it can find an audience willing to jump on board for such pulp adventure, Marvel’s Inhumans is going to be a winner.

One of the reasons you don’t know who the Inhumans are is precisely because someone had to take a chance on some adjustment to the style of storytelling. As superheroes go, they’re oddballs. Led by King Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and Queen Medusa (Serinda Swan), the Inhumans are mutant-ish superheroes hiding out on the moon. Black Bolt’s power, mainly, is that if he talks he could destroy a planet, and Medusa can use her hair like powerful tentacles… basically. Add in a giant, teleporting dog, and a superhero, Karnak (Ken Leung), whose superpower is to be really, fantastically good at making plans, and it’s not hard to see that this is a strange mix that seems more at home in animation.

courtesy ABC

The series kicks off by trying to situate the audience in this strange world, which means throwing out excuses to talk about the characters you don’t know and explain how they fit into the hidden society. But, there’s a lot to cover in the opening of this series, because the true point in play is that Maximus (Iwan Rheon), an Inhuman with no special powers, stages a coup to overthrow his brother, Black Bolt, and our main superheroes are forced to escape to Earth. Now things get interesting.
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Black Bolt, who can’t talk, and the rest of the crew are going to have to figure out a way to maneuver in Hawaii among the regular folk, while dodging Maximus’ continuing efforts to kill/capture them. If they can live long enough, they may even get a chance to try to reclaim their home.

Much like something in the Kick-Ass or Legion realm of comic treatments, the show is wonderfully screwball. It’s serious enough in its own way, and it doesn’t quite have the complexity of something like Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s popcorn fun in a small screen package, and it puts all its hopes on the shoulders of the actors, which means you can fall for them. In fact, the show will be worth watching for as long as it airs just to watch Anson Mount not talk. Mount, who was the driving force of one of the best shows in recent years, Hell on Wheels, has a lot of work to do without getting any dialog as a tool, and he’s already selling it almost magically. Likewise, Iwan Rheon is a treat, though you wish he’d get a chance to be a good guy on American television. If more people here would give Vicious a shot, he’d almost instantly become a major star.

courtesy ABC

Ken Leung, once he gets a shot, is just as good and he may have a role that is just as difficult. He has to sell the believability of powers that the audience is going to have trouble with, and that the show doesn’t really explain. Along with Medusa’s hair, Leung’s Karnak makes for a clever insight into the tack the show is taking. Though it runs you through how the Inhumans get their powers, and their thoughts on their relationship with humans on Earth, it doesn’t go around babbling about this power or that character, just like no one stopped to have a character explain how a whip could wrap around a tree branch and support your weight, or how a knife cutting through a sail could prevent a fall. It’s just a bit of adventure and you play along, or you don’t.
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The decision not to explain things also serves to pull in audiences more, because nothing about the show betrays a belief that its audience is stupid. On the contrary, most cartoons think they have smart people in the audience, and as odd as it may sound, this is trying to live up to that idea of adventure and wild imaginings as the playground of the clever, not the dim.

Make no mistake, if you show up to this one and you aren’t among even the outliers of its potential audience, you’re going to be hard-pressed to think it’s anything but stupid, and it’s going to be hard to call you out on that. Some of the movies and shows I’ve mentioned above are actually pretty stupid too, it’s just that they’re also great. If the show sticks with the plan, it will deserve to stick around and will likely prove one of the most entertaining shows on television.
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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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