Thursday, September 14, 2017

Inhumans Review (Theatrical Release)

I watched Inhumans in the second week of its run on IMAX--after hearing and reading all the terrible reviews and buzz. My expectations were low and I saw it in a theater I had all to myself. All in all, I enjoyed it. The criticisms I'd heard were a mixed bag of personal taste and high expectations (to see something like a feature film). My expectations were low and as I have very little familiarity with the source material I didn't have any set desires for how the characters were used or how the story developed (this is identical to how I went into Jessica Jones).


The story: Black Bolt has secretly sent Triton down to earth to help NuHumans who are being persecuted on Earth (this is a plotline taken from Agents of SHIELD; NuHumans are regular humans with Inhuman genes which can be triggered by Terragenesis that's found its way into the water supply). Triton gets shot while doing this and is believed killed in action--this heightens Maximus' desire to leave the moon and take back the earth from the humans (feeling that discovery and conflict is inevitable). Black Bolt wants to wait before making a decision and sends Gorgon to find Triton. Maximus can't accept his brother's decision to wait and stages a coup, first attempting to recruit Medusa as his wife (he's rejected and she loses her hair). Crystal has Lockjaw teleport everyone to earth except herself (so Black Bolt, Medusa, and Karnack, but all separately and to different locations)--she and the teleporting pooch are captured. On earth Black Bolt is eventually arrested by the police; Medusa is stalked and attacked by Auran (Maximus' alley), but escapes believing she's killed Auran; Karnack falls while climbing down a cliff and is concussed; Gorgon tries (and fails) to lure Maximus into attacking him. The only scene not directly connected to this is a Terragenesis ceremony that shows us what Inhumans are and how Maximus is perceived (there are two brief scenes later on connected to this as one of the Inhumans can see the future).

With just a 75-minute run time there's very little room for development or explanations. The show is very much in the AoS universe and its plot is dependent on it (in fact, I think more explanation should have been given for those who don't watch AoS). It also visually reminded me of AoS. While its ABC sister show isn't mentioned by name, clearly the people are Marvel Entertainment are laying the groundwork for a crossover.

The Good
  • Anson Mount (Black Bolt) - a great performance; while there's much about his character that remains ambiguous, his sincerity, gravity, and even moments of humour stood out--Mount's sign language is easy to follow and he does a great job using his eyes to express himself
  • Iwan Rheon (Maximus) - brings passion and his character pushes the plot forward; outside his attempt to get Crystal to marry him (which was jarring--an issue of story rather than acting) his performance is excellent and the show is able to illustrate why he wants change things--he's the most developed character
  • Serinda Swan (Medusa) - was good--I think more of her would have benefited the show, as her fiery personality made her distinctive; the CGI hair only lasted two sequences, as even with IMAX's infusion of cash it's simply too expensive to render
  • Sonya Balmores (Auran) - while I have no idea what motivates her character (is it a passion for Maximus, a dislike of the royal family, or something else?), or what makes her think she can tackle the escaped royal family on her own, but in terms of the acting she generates the necessary menace and loyalty to Maximus that the plot requires
  • Lockjaw - I saw complaints about the CGI for him, but I thought it was fine
  • Moral ambiguity - the show avoided a simplistic good/evil dynamic (with some fairly blatant racist feelings from some of the royals towards humans), entering into the more gray area usually reserved for the Netflix shows; Medusa stabbing Auran to death (with that intent at least) surprised me in a positive way
  • Effects - good so long as you keep the TV context in mind; the only one I really didn't like was Gorgon's stomping animation (the CGI texture didn't mesh with the ground properly)
  • Medusa's wig - wasn't that bad and the effects were fine; I've seen people say it's just as bad as the poster and the trailers, but that's simply not true

The Bad
  • Missing development: the plot could have been clearer (perhaps the extra 9 minutes we'll get in the TV version will help); this applies to the characters as well--while I could intuit what was going on, the show leaves a lot to the imagination (the Eloi/Morlock situation in Attilan is never fleshed out); who the Inhumans are is not really explained (narration over a montage in the beginning could have easily provided the necessary infodump)
  • Keeping the flashbacks intended for television (these are at the break point between episodes one and two--Scott Buck has one or two flashbacks like this in Iron Fist as well)--this is pointless in something meant to be a cohesive entity
  • Karnack (Ken Leung): while I thought his speech during the Terragenesis ceremony was funny, his fight scene is awful (Vlad Rimburg was the fight choreographer, but only for these two episodes); his ability to strategize is undercut both by him stupidly falling while climbing and then not understanding he has a concussion (both of which are a product of lazy writing)
  • Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor): while his portrayal isn't bad overall, he does two colossally stupid things: 1) reveals that the Inhumans base is on the moon (this after preventing NASA from making the same discovery earlier), 2) nearly drowns himself in a bizarre attempt to find the missing Triton
  • Medusa: leaving Auran in a state from which she could recover--while it's conceivable she's unaware of Auran's healing powers, in the context of the theatrical version it's odd that she doesn't simply cut her throat to make sure she's dead
  • Crystal: I'm not sold on Isabelle Cornish's acting in the role yet (it wasn't bad so much as flat)
  • Triton's (Mike Moh) makeup doesn't work
  • Sets: I mostly like the austere aesthetic, but seeing chipped concrete on Crystal's balcony is jarring
It's always easier to talk about problems--praise tends to be brief and fairly generic. Ultimately this cut felt like it wasn't optimized for the theater (Buck must have been deluded when he said these episodes would stand on their own). This problem doesn't rest on the shoulders of Roel Reine, the Dutch director of the two episodes, but rather Buck (who wrote it) and his two editors (Radu Ion and Kristina Hamilton-Grobler). It's a credit to performances that the somewhat garbled story functions and maintains a level of dramatic tension. Whatever other problems it suffers from for me, at least this cut left me wanting to know more and see where the story is going.

Would the Inhumans have worked better as a feature film? I don't think so. The family drama requires time to develop that just doesn't exist in a movie. I also don't think Netflix would have been inherently better--the CGI for Medusa and Lockjaw would be a problem for any TV budget (think of the constraints even Game of Thrones has to put up with). What I think the theatrical release denied the property was the slow burn that would have suited it better--Maximus' betrayal as a mid-season or end-of-season twist--all the more palpable if the audience has had a chance to get to know him and the royal family. Instead, the show needs to rush into that conflict in large part to get rid of Medusa's hair and get away from the moon (both elements that would have to happen no matter who had the property).

In the end I think this is an earnest attempt made under incredible time restraints. It's a good cast with (for TV) good effects and cinematography. Where it suffers is in the writing and editing (the latter worse than the former in this case). That said, it would be a shame to throw away acting talent like this and such an interesting concept. Hopefully it will work well enough on television that ABC will stick with it for another season. I do think, however, that it's simply not suited to IMAX (which would be better off with a solo, action-oriented hero--Moon Knight perhaps).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like your private viewing was interesting. The reviewers and I rarely agree on most films. Nice blog.