In its IMAX form, the first two episodes of Marvel’s Inhumans were a disaster. The scope of IMAX revealed the cheapness of the production and a failure to realize the Attilan royal family in a compelling way. But sensing the ship was already sinking, Marvel and ABC let it be known that the televised version of the episodes would include more material, better positioning it as a television series instead of an IMAX premium event. Did it work?
Eh … kinda?
As I mentioned in the IMAX review, the series opener felt as shaky as the first two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Watching these debut episodes again, Inhumans has one or two advantages over S.H.I.E.L.D. But those things stem almost entirely from the location filming in Hawaii. The second episode of S.H.I.E.L.D took place in South America, but was obviously shot on in a tiny corner of a Los Angeles backlot. Inhumans, meanwhile, looks great once it leaves Attilan. This is especially true it latter parts of episode two, when Black Bolt finds himself at the Honolulu police station. I’m not sure if they shot in a real police station, but it’s clearly a practical location somewhere on the islands and a strangely beautiful locale for a scene that could take place in a very mundane office.
The catch, of course, is that the location footage makes Attilan look exactly like what Maximus thinks it is: a prison. The grey walls and sterile design of the city make it a very uninviting place. It also underscores a major problem with the way the series was designed. Unlike the Inhumans’ debut in the pages of Fantastic Four, the show — both in its broadcast and IMAX forms — gives us no reason to like the royal family. Now, that level of detachment could work if that was part of the point. Black Bolt feels distanced from the increasing plights of his people. In fact, his only stated concern is for the situation of the new Inhumans being born on Earth. But his detachment from Attilan’s situation does not feel intentional on the part of episode writer and showrunner Scott Buck. It almost seems as though Buck himself can’t see the problem or that Maximus is making very fair criticisms of his brother’s leadership.
But maybe Buck is aware of this in some way. The broadcast versions of these episodes paint Maximus more successfully as the villain. His fascination with Medusa is still cartoonish, but other aspects of his coup — missing from the IMAX version — reflect the actions of a classic despot. In fact, Iwan Rheon, as Maximus, becomes the MVP of the series as he is genuinely dynamic in the role. I just wish the writing did a better job of declaring whether or not the character’s concern for Attilan is genuine, as it seems to be even after the coup, or lip-service to his dreams of domination. As of now, the show appears to want it both ways.
Which is troublesome as the royal family end up looking less and less like protagonists as a result. We’re invited to sympathize with them being deposed, but asking a modern audience to prop up an aristocracy without offering a good reason for it is the height of terrible writing. Over on Game of Thrones, the virtues of the Stark family are illustrated before we’re asked to root for them. Their cascading falls in the first and third seasons are timed in such a way that those tragedies play out with the most impact. It’s also why we’re still on that family’s side five years later. Inhumans offers so little humanity to the royal family that I almost question why I ever thought Black Bolt was cool in the comics.
As this season is only eight episodes long, I’m willing to stick with it. Well, for the moment, anyway. Perhaps its royal family will earn my loyalty in the remaining six episodes. That might even be a drama more compelling than what appears on screen.
Inhumans airs Fridays on ABC.