Marvel's Inhumans Review: Even on Big Screen, New ABC Drama Feels Small

Marvel's Imhumans Review

This fall, TV welcomes an engaging and slick new Marvel series about people possessing unique powers.

But in addition to The Gifted, there will also be Marvel’s Inhumans.

What follows is a review of the Inhumans “movie” now playing in IMAX theaters, ahead of the eight-episode ABC series’ launch (on Friday, Sept. 29). What’s in theaters runs 75 minutes, whereas the double-episode TV premiere reportedly includes 10 extra minutes. This review will be relatively non-spoilery, but I cannot speak for the Comments made by those who also ponied up $20 cash to see it in IMAX (nor will we be monitoring them on a holiday weekend). So peruse cautiously!

Marvel’s Inhumans stars Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) as Black Bolt, king of the Royal Family of Attilan, a cloaked city situated inside a crater on Earth’s moon. A society of people whose individual powers are awakened by terrigen crystals, the Inhumans have somewhat peacefully resided in Attilan, but the emergence of the occasional Inhuman on Earth has roused a debate. Black Bolt believes that Earth’s Inhumans can be tracked down by the operative Triton (Mike Moh) and brought to Attilan, while his brother MARVEL'S INHUMANSMaximus (Game of Thrones‘ Iwan Rheon) strongly believes the opposite, that it is time for all Inhumans to relocate to (and take over?) Earth.

Serinda Swan (Graceland) plays the Royal Family’s queen, Medusa, while Isabelle Cornish is her sister Crystal, the princess. Among the good guys, Ken Leung (Lost) and Eme Ikwuakor play the “visionary” Karnak and guardian Gorgon, while the baddies include Sonya Balmores (Beyond the Break) as Maximus’ ruthless right hand, Auran. Barely glimpsed in the IMAX edit (though perhaps given more screen time in the ABC premiere’s “extra minutes”?) is Ellen Woglom as Louise, a NASA-type wonk who in the early frames gets wind of something being amiss on the moon.

Of the major players’ powers, Black Bolt famously cannot say a word, for his very voice is lethal (or at the very least, tremendously explosive). When Medusa is at his side, she speaks for him; otherwise, the series has developed ASL-inspired hand gestures with which the king communicates. Medusa’s sentient hair has both silky and knotty CGI moments and Gorgon’s thunderous hooves are put to good use on multiple occasions, while Crystal’s manipulation of heat/cold/whatever only gets one quick showcase.

Leading up to the TCA summer press tour, only the first half of the Inhumans premiere (and, I now realize, not all of it) was made available to critics, but it was enough to suggest that this series, despite its intended scope, feels “small” and even claustrophobic at times, especially in the Attilan interiors. (Not helping that cause is, say, having the Royal Family’s dining room clearly double as the terrigenesis chamber.) The city itself is “Positano by way of cement mixer,” an uninteresting mish-mash of blocky, CGI’d dwellings, its “slums” only distinguished by an on-screen chyron. (There on the Moon, Inhumans seemingly have access to all of the leather, but no wood or even aluminum siding?) Even Hawaii, where the Earth-boundMARVEL'S INHUMANS action is set, looks a bit bland, save for some establishing flyover shots.

More problematic than such superficial matters is some of the storytelling. Karnak’s power (to assess any thing or person’s weakness) is poorly and unclearly depicted. Nothing particularly clever happens as the heroes endeavor to extricate themselves from their respective predicaments in the second half; you keep waiting for it, but aside from a bit of pickpocketing… nope. Auran is given a comedic beat in one scene, then coldly and needlessly murders someone in the next.

On the acting front, Mount does his best with stern looks of resolve; the second half affords him slightly better opportunities for quiet, Jim Caviezel-like wryness and swagger. Because of the twists at the movie’s midpoint, Swan is allowed to better shine/play a more entertaining variety of notes in the second half, while Leung’s Karnak gets… less interesting? Rheon’s MARVEL'S INHUMANSMaximus starts off as more petulant than masterfully plotting, Ikwuakor’s not-so-serious Gorgon is a real scene-stealer and Cornish delivers just the right amount of plucky princess (though her “tattooed” hair can be a bit distracting). The CGI’d Lockjaw is quite adorable, even if his internal GPS seems to be on the fritz.

All of that said… the second half of the “movie”/ABC premiere gains in momentum versus the incredibly rote opening, for some of the reasons noted above. Better acting opportunities/choices. A greater variety of environments. And the potential for smarter character moments. If the pace and ingenuity continues to ramp up, Inhumans, with just six more episodes to go, could prove to be a serviceable Marvel “event” series — though maybe not enough so that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans will forgive that series’ delayed return.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Despite “big” launch, little to marvel at.

Want scoop on Inhumans, or for any other show? Email InsideLine@tvline.com and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line.

GET MORE: Reviews