Inhumans Pilot / 101-102 review

*SPOILERS*

When Inhumans was screened in IMAX theatres prior to its TV unveiling, the critics gleefully began sharpening their knives.  Plagued by production issues and damning reviews, a cloud of gloom had already shrouded Marvel’s royal family even before we had a chance to dig in.

As it turns out, Inhumans sinks like a man with a millstone around his neck, and even faster than Triton plunges into the ocean in the pilot.

The story is boring and tedious, accompanied by a nondescript script.  There was a big hullabaloo about the IMAX collaboration, and ABC relied heavily on that element in its marketing efforts.  The producers however would do well to remember that the shiny stuff only matters if you have a half-decent story.

There’s hardly any sense of drama, tension or suspense.  For us to actually care about the Attilan-Earth debate (should we stay or should we go?), there needs to be stakes.  We get some token references to dwindling resources and survival of the species, but not nearly enough.  One finds it hard to feel for a sophisticated race of powered beings housed in a futuristic, sci-fi city.  So, we are just left with a bunch of guys squabbling over things we can’t give two hoots about.

The setting is a disappointment.  The palace looks like a mod-industrial corporate home / serviced apartment.  It’s a high-tech science-y compound that’s more Apple flagship store than lunar imperial palace.  The sleek, state-of-the-art environs don’t quite feel right, and there’s no sense of the magical or mystical throughout the show.  On the issue of technology, Crystal’s transparent Beats headphones are also just plain silly.

The awkward, identity-less feel of the show is compounded by the soundtrack / score, which is downright bizarre.  Alt-rock riffs are dropped from time to time, but they feel neither suitable nor compelling.

The action scenes are also amateurish.  There’s a cheesy intermittent slow-mo, close-up / running action sequence in the opening scene.  And at the end, we get a clumsy, awkward duel between Medusa and Auran.

The CGI is just off.  Medusa’s hair looks overtly artificial and plain ugly.  When not in combat mode, it’s no more than an absurd-looking wig.  The make-up and effects team really dropped the ball on this one.  The other Inhumans aren’t spared either.  The costumes and make-up appear to have been hastily assembled / applied.  Triton is basically, well, a green dude.  Karnak sports some temp facial tattoos, and Gorgon is a guy with hooves.  Right then.  So, the Inhumans don’t look very Inhumanly.  As a matter of fact, they look very much human with an assortment of cheap make-up features.  There’s zero magic or mystique to their look and vibe.

A major grouse that I have with the characters is that they are neither formidable nor inspiring.  Medusa is terrible in battle, going down so easily thanks to a random head-zapping Inhuman.

And this brings us to the abject worst scene in the premiere.  When Maximus takes out the threatening hair-clipper, we know we are in for a laughable and unfortunate series of events.  Who knew that Medusa’s Achilles heel was a mere $20 electric trimming product?  Next time, any villains who have to face down her royal highness need only swing by an electronics store before battle.  The Maximus-Medusa showdown is followed by a slow-motion lock-shearing scene, accompanied by sad music.  It’s a ham-fisted sequence that is exceedingly absurd.  The minor saving grace is that a lock-less Medusa (channeling a bit of Karen Gillan’s Nebula) looks marginally better without her horrendous crimson wig / mop.

It is notable how, literally minutes after Medusa’s haircut, upon landing on Earth, she experiences a flashback about said hair-styling encounter.  Because we forgot what just happened to her.  Right then.  And the same goes for Karnak as well as Black Bolt, who have their own individual flashbacks of events which took place mere moments ago.  Someone definitely flunked storytelling class in film school.

Crystal is also quite helpless, so easily subdued as she prances around the palace in the midst of a coup.  In fact, the protagonists are so useless that it is surprising how long it took Maximus to launch his master plan.

Another inept incident involves Karnak (whose power is to identify the weakness in anything) climbing down a precarious rock wall, only to (surprise!) slip and plunge to the bottom.  The irony is not lost on us.  And then, Karnak basically walks in a circle.  It would be funny if it were not so sad and insulting to our intelligence.

Oh, and Gorgon basically tries to commit suicide by drowning.  Thank goodness for our friendly neighborhood surfer dudes who come to his rescue.  And then, Gorgon can’t think of anything better to do than leave his comlink on so as to invite Maximus and gang to his location.   It certainly appears that a game is afoot among the Inhumans to see who can get themselves killed first.

The list of ridiculous events is an unfortunately long one.  There’s a risible scene of ol’ Black Bolt disintegrating his poor folks as he yells in teenage angst, “WHY?”  Why indeed.  Also, after being transported to Earth, Medusa stumbles across a colorful tour bus of tourists, complete with ukulele music.  Let’s also not forget the comical Inhuman whose ability is to project videos on the wall.

The cast is generally incompetent, with Isabelle Cornish being the chief culprit.  Her Crystal is wooden – more royal mannequin than regal princess.  As she pleads, “Lockjaw, wake up!“, one really hopes that the giant pooch will awaken and spirit her away from us.  Indeed, Crystal’s canine sidekick seems to be infinitely more expressive and interesting than his mistress.  As the pilot progresses, Crystal becomes more and more annoying.  She also happens to naively fall into Auran’s trap involving the comlink, allowing the baddies to track down the Inhumans on Earth.

There are very few redeeming factors.  Lockjaw is adorable.  Then again, one can’t go very wrong with a giant British bulldog.  The computer effects used to bring him to life are passable, and I do like the teleportation effect used for the precocious pooch.

Anson Mount as king of the Inhumans is a decent casting.  The actor expresses himself well facially and through the use of sign language.  Mounts is fairly convincing as Blackagar Boltagon (what a name), channelling the monarch’s imperious nature.  There’s an impressive show of force as Bolt unwittingly totals a police car, although the number of times said automobile flips is comical (and worthy of a Bollywood scene).  I also enjoyed the scene involving a mute Bolt interacting with several miffed officers at the police precinct.

Iwan Rheon is OK, and very much back in his element.  Vestiges of Ramsay Snow / Bolton remain, and the actor has clearly been asked to replicate his performance as the cruel bastard (pun intended), but perhaps toned down a few notches.  The Game of Thrones nostalgia makes Rheon a tad more palatable than most of the cast.  Of course, he is not spared some cringe worthy lines, such as “I know you see me as the bad guy“.  There’s also a supposedly inspirational speech by Maximus at the end involving meaningless platitudes, which just ends up sounding stale and tired.

Maximus’ role is integral in the exploration of the caste theme.  While that issue has potential for development, it’s only touched on briefly in the premiere.  It’s a pity that the initial sense of injustice felt by Rheon eventually gives way to his ostensible hunger for power.

So, Inhumans ends up simply being an assault on the senses, in particular our taste.  Much like Black Bolt’s devastating voice, the pilot has pulverized our sensibilities.

The king is not so much dead as he is stillborn.  Thanks to ABC and Scott Buck (the show runner), that’s 1 hour and 22 minutes of my life that I will never get back.  I can’t recall the last time I’ve been so glad to see the ending credits.  Oh, the inhumanity.

Verdict: D

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