Marvel Studios has always taken pride in being one of the most efficient, well-oiled machines in the entertainment business. Under the banner of Disney, and with billions of dollars of box office revenue to their name, their film division has seen success after success born from their intense dedication to one of modern film's most ambitious franchises. They've paved the path every studio is desperate to follow, scrambling to construct their own expanded universes in the hopes of replicating a fraction of that commercial success.
Yet even Marvel has struggled with this route, as its television division has never quite gelled with its bigger, more well-financed movie sibling. Relations between Kevin Feige and former Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter have always been notoriously frosty, with Feige reportedly threatening to quit Marvel altogether if the infamously frugal Perlmutter didn't stop meddling. For now, Feige heads the film division while Jeph Loeb leads TV operations, which may be the biggest roadblock for prospects of a crossover between the film and TV worlds of Marvel.
Marvel Television’s results have been mixed - the deal with Netflix for the Defenders universe has seen great numbers (even if Iron Fist wasn't a critical darling), but holds together better than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was unable to hold onto its early buzz and viewership numbers, despite a steady improvement in quality over each of its seasons. Agent Carter also had a mostly popular reception, but couldn't sustain multiple seasons with poor ratings. ABC, also under the Disney banner, is keen to get some of that movie buzz, and the means for doing so has raised a few eyebrows.
Inhumans, the latest Marvel series to air on ABC, has been a topic of confusion amongst fans and critics since its announcement. Originally announced by Marvel Studios as a film for phase three of their slate, the idea was dropped and moved to television, which made sense since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had already introduced the Inhumans into their canon. Unlike Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans would be pushed heavily as a cinematic experience. It was announced that the show would be filmed partly using IMAX cameras and that the first two episodes, labeled “The First Chapter”, would debut on IMAX screens, making it the first live-action television show to even debut in this format. The theatrical run is set to remain in cinemas for the following two weeks before the official televised premiere arrives on ABC on September 29th.
It was always an idea of lofty ambitions, but is it one that can pay off? It’s been a dreadful Summer at the box office, with last week’s North American numbers slumping to their lowest numbers since the weekend after 9/11. IMAX screenings haven’t held up great under these circumstances, with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk surviving as the only true draw for audiences who have struggled to accept the higher ticket prices and lack of real urgency to track down their nearest IMAX. When actual movies haven’t been enough to entice people to part with $20 or more for an IMAX screening, why would they do so for two episodes of an ABC show they can wait a fortnight to see for free in the comfort of their own homes?
Inhumans isn't intended to be just another TV show - this is meant to be a real event, the kind of must-see spectacle that forces increasingly distracted audiences to pay attention amid the crowded landscape of Peak TV. In theory, it creates the ultimate hook for a new show, something that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could have used and possibly benefitted from. On top of that, it also gives Marvel TV a more cinematic edge, allowing it to rise to the level of its movie based partners.