Marvel is Playing It Too Safe With Inhumans

Marvel's Inhumans has a unique status in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was once a property meant for the MCU's Phase 3 and earmarked as a theatrical franchise like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. In April 2016, Inhumans was removed from the release schedule, but Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige promised Inhumans wasn't canceled, and he was true to his word. Inhumans was merely demoted - to Marvel Television.

Inhumans' salvation came after ABC canceled Agent Carter and opted not to pick up the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff Marvel's Most Wanted. Inhumans became the network's new Marvel property, and with this pick up came grand plans: Inhumans' pilot episode would be filmed with IMAX cameras and would receive a theatrical release on September 1st, 2017, with the full series airing on ABC starting September 26th. A television series preceded by a run in IMAX theaters - Inhumans seems to have the best of both worlds.

Marvel recently released the first full trailer for Inhumans, which offers an introduction to the core characters and the conflicts of the Inhumans' Royal Family. An offshoot race of enhanced beings who were genetically altered by the Kree millennia ago, the Inhumans are ruled by Black Bolt (Anson Mount), a king who must remain mute because voice has the destructive power to level mountains. The queen is Medusa (Serinda Swan), whose power is in her her prehensile crimson hair. Black Bolt's brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) incites a revolt when Black Bolt spurs his pleas to let the Inhumans, who live in a secret city on the moon called Attilan, return to Earth. We see Black Bolt teleported to present day Honolulu by Lockjaw, a giant teleporting dog, and we get quick looks at other Inhuman Royal Family members like Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), Karnak (Ken Leung), Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), and Triton (Mike Moh).

2017 is a year where Marvel Studios has already treated fans to the vividly colorful intergalactic exploits of James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Later this year, Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok promises to up the ante with what's expected to be a dazzling and ribald 'road trip' through outer space with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The weird and fantastic is what fans have been treated to when we've journeyed away from Earth in the MCU. Outer space is where haughty golden aliens meet nigh-omnipotent Celestial gods and a living planet can walk like a man and father a Star-Lord. Marvel's outer space is vibrant, eclectic, and truly bizarre, and fans have come to expect a sensory overload of pleasure, danger, and unforgettable alien oddities when Marvel whisks us into space.

And then, there's Inhumans. From the sights and sounds we're offered in the trailer, Black Bolt and his Royal Family look and sound decidedly earthbound and uninspired. Their costumes look cheap and drab, so much so that the actors almost appear to be cosplaying the Inhumans rather than embodying alien beings of great power and majesty. The fabled Inhuman city of Attilan looks like it was built out of the concrete slab of a missile silo, rather than what one would imagine to be the lunar-based, technologically superior haven of a race of evolved superhumans. Inhumans star Henry Ian Cusick says the series "pushes the envelope" because it's filmed in IMAX, but this innovation seems to be about the medium and not the message. At first glance, one wonders why such an endeavor was filmed with IMAX cameras at all? In its visual presentation thus far, Inhumans simply appears underwhelming, to say the least.

Inhumans' visual palate conforms to what seems to be the Marvel TV "house style," at least on ABC. It very much resembles Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Marvel's longest-running flagship series, which rose to the challenge of introducing the concept of the Inhumans to the MCU. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most prominent superhero, Agent Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) has led a team of Inhuman Secret Warriors in seasons 3 and 4, and the series has capably depicted the horrors and ramifications of Inhumans and normal humans being exposed to Terrigen mists. However, S.H.I.E.L.D. has also mostly presented the Inhumans as normal looking people with powers and not as the bizarre, mutated beings many Inhumans are (Lash and Raina are exceptions). It was the hope of many fans that when the Inhumans series about the Royal Family came to be, it would bring the truly alien and outlandish aspects of the Inhumans to the forefront. Inhumans instead looks like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. redux rather than something unique and new.

S.H.I.E.L.D. has also long been criticized by fans for failing to match the fantastical elements of the movies, though season 4 has introduced Ghost Rider in his full demonic glory and has won raves for its pod of episodes set in the Hydra-controlled virtual reality of the Framework. The contrast between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the movies has never been the fault of the series itself; Marvel Television operates on smaller production budgets than the movies. Moreover, Marvel Studios, which produces the feature films, and Marvel Television are two arms of the same company separated by strange internal politics that don't allow their movie star superheroes to meet their fellow heroes on ABC or on Netflix. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Defenders, and now Inhumans ostensibly live in the same universe as the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, but must toil from afar in a decidedly less amazing TV ghetto, with the more glamorous and popular heroes of the MCU out of reach to them.

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