As folks make plans for the Labor Day weekend, one activity I’m sure is high on everyone’s list is running out to see Marvel’s Inhumans on IMAX, right on the to do list after changing the kitty litter and cleaning out the microwave, I’m sure. In fact I just checked the 7 pm showing at my local, and if you haven’t made plans, some good seats are available:
Reactions to this project since it was announced have been unique among comics based film and TV, ranging from hostility to hearty laughter. The problems seem to go right back to its genesis as a sort of “X-Men Alternative.” If backroom chatter is to be believed, Marvel chairman Isaac Perlmutter decided to push the Inhumans in print and on the screen as an alternative to the X-men, whose media rights are controlled by Fox. Ire with the Fox X-men led to killing off a lot of mutants, and the emphasis of “Terrigen mists” as a way to make mutants that aren’t X-men and thus free for Marvel to use. The Inhumans and Terrigen Mists go back to Silver Age Marvel, but were played up on season 2 of Agents of Shield when the Inhumans were introduced on the show. It all seemed to be a very organizaed push,
Around the same time, Inhumans was announced as an upcoming Marvel/Disney film. This idea was first hinted at in 2011, and Inhumans was actually announced as a film, with a logo and release date in November, 2018, all the way back in 2014, as part of Marvel’s Phase 3 movie roll-out.
However Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige just…never seemed on board with the Inhumans. While the rest of Phase 3 has rolled out all the way, with only a few months adjustment, the Inhumans movie languished. And two years ago, when Perlmutter was directly removed from overseeing Marvel’s films, Inhumans was distinctly slow-tracked. It didn’t take long – April 2016 to be exact – for Inhumans to be removed from the movie schedule entirely. And then, one imagines, they were never to be spoken of in the halls of the MCU again.
While Perlmutter no longer controls the movie side of Marvel, he still runs publishing, licensing and the TV division, where Jeph Loeb is basically the head honcho. And like a dogged dreamer who will never give up, rumors of the Inhumans as a TV project soon emerged. Last November, the whole Imax plan was revealed, with Imax helping finance the first two episodes (allowing for a higher VFX budget) and the full cast was announced in March.
IN case you’ve forgotten, after the film debuts in Imax, it will be a regular series on ABC, airing on Fridays, a graveyard of TV even for stuff that people enjoy.
Given the on again, off again history of the project, and Marvel Comic’s ongoing (and mostly futile) efforts to get a successful Inhumans comic going, the show was met with a lot of skepticism, and maybe even some yawning.
And then the visuals started coming out.
In May the first cast photo surfaced. And as we noted at the time, “Medusa’s wig looks EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE.” This is the same wig that actor Serinda Swan would later compare to wearing a dead cat. Nailed it!
Since then, the show has been kind of a punching bag. It isn’t helped by the showrunner, Scott Buck, who is kind of the Akiva Goldsman of our generation, with the awful final season of Dexter and the poorly received Netflix Iron Fist show to his credit.
Despite the naysayers, Marvel/ABC have been hammering away on reminding us that Inhumans show is coming. I got a taste of this firsthand at Marvel’s retailer luncheon presentation at San Diego. SVP David Gabriel warned that we were going to be shown exclusive footage and no phones would be allowed so don’t do it, just don’t. (Such was the secrecy that a man in a suit made me delete a photo I took of a publicly released X-men cover, but that’s security for ya.) When the secret footage turned out to be an extra long helping of Ihhumans, I saw retailers visibly squirming. This followed a similar presentation in April that press was banned from, which garnered very little enthusiasm.
Look, I love the quirky Inhumans as much as anyone – Karnak and Lockjaw are always on lists of the goofiest Marvel characters. But they don’t really have a signature Silver or Bronze Age storyline that speaks to current fans.
And the footage that has been released has been…not really competitive with the level of superhero filmmaking that’s going on now. The footage I’ve seen has been stilted, middle view action with catchy tunes grafted on in hopes of raising spirits. The words most people have applied to it is “Cheap looking.” Far from the disaster that some anti Feige forces predicted when he got sole control, his pricey filmmaking seems to be working still, and the frugal budgets that Perlmutter favors are being paraded for all to see and the results aren’t pretty.
All of this has led to a press tour and rollout that has been labelled “uncomfortable” – and that’s one of the KIND reactions.
Looper has a good general round up, but here’s some of the best of the worst:
§ When the first trailer came out in June – and Medusa’s hair continued to get dragged, even the shows’ director, Roel Reine, admitted he didn’t like the trailer:
“I felt like it didn’t give you the scope, it didn’t give you a lot of secrets or visual effects,” Reine, who directed the first two episodes of the series, told Metro of his thoughts on the trailer. “I felt like it was a little bit too early because the visual effects were not ready– Medusa’s hair was not ready. So I was really nervous about it and would think the fans would not really like it.”
Reine added that, as a director, he doesn’t get involved much in the marketing, so he couldn’t stop the trailer from going out before he thought it was ready. His comments, though, should be reassuring to a lot of fans, with many criticizing the trailer for looking cheap. If special effects for the project truly weren’t completed when it was released, there could still be a lot of work to be done to get it up to snuff.
Earlier in August, the Television Critic’s Association tour, traditionally a place where new fall shows are hyped in typical bland fashion, got testy and executive producer Jeph Loeb finally lashed out against his tormenters, pointing out that the show was not even finished yet, for crying out loud:
When the first trailer for Marvel’s Inhumans arrived in June, fans of the franchise were not too impressed, and much negative discussion ensued about the lackluster appearance of Medusa’s wig. At TCA, the criticism continued, including comments on the unclear abilities of the Karnak (Ken Leung) character, and that the show did not look visually suitable for its special September 1st IMAX release.
EP Jeph Loeb had addressed the IMAX release at the opening of the panel, saying that the imagery in the show was “simply extraordinary and should be seen on that screen.” Later, when it was pointed out the show did not appear IMAX-centric, Loeb elaborated, saying, “I can tell you that the show you have seen is not the finished product, so if you’re asking me whether it’s done, it’s not.”
And Medusa’s wig again, with Swan unveiling her immortal dead cat comment:
Here again, Loeb explained that the show is not yet finished. “What you’ve seen so far is something that’s unfinished,” he repeated. “Once you’ve seen the whole finished product you actually do [understand].”
The infamous Medusa wig had an outing too, with its wearer Serinda Swan both praising its construction and confessing it was less than comfortable to wear. “It’s very heavy,” she said. “You put it on and everyone is like, ‘You’ve such good posture, you’re so regal,’ but no, my head is being pulled backwards.” The heat was also an issue for her, she said. “There were definitely days shooting in Hawaii with a four-pound red wig down to my shins, which felt like a very warm cat settling on my head, one that I was probably allergic to.”
You'll be happy to know that the Inhumans panel is just as uncomfortable as the Inhumans pilot. #TCA17
— Libby Hill (@midwestspitfire) August 6, 2017
The odd thing about Marvel people is they seem eternally surprised that some critics think their ABC shows are terrible. Which they are.
— Robert Bianco (@BiancoRobert) August 6, 2017
Star Anson “Black Bolt’ Mount even compared himself to “Sad Affleck” at one point. It went so badly, they apparently ended it early.
ABC is cutting this Inhumans panel off a few minutes early. #TCA17
— Jason Lynch (@jasonlynch) August 6, 2017
And earlier this week, what is usually in Hollywood, a bland hyping affair, the movie premiere, instead led to yet more uncomfortable questions with the cast:
Poor Ken Leung (Karnek) gamely tried to distance the show from the comics – as if that was the problem – and Mount debunked the rumor that the cast had walked out of the TCA press conference:
“We are kind of just loosely based on the comics,” Leung said. “The source of some of the mixed reactions to the little that people have seen so far [is] that a lot of people love the comics, they have been around for decades and it remains to be seen how people will accept something that is its own iteration of something that’s already beloved.”
Leung went on to state that the show is introducing a new King Blackagar “Black Bolt” Boltagon, played by Anson Mount, as well as refreshed versions of the other heroes. Additionally, Inhumans won’t be of the same caliber as other Netflix and Marvel-collaborated shows like Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage; instead, the series and its characters will have a cinematic feel to them.
For Mount, his only hope is that that audiences give the series a chance before forming a definitive opinion. The actor also cleared up the claims that the Inhumans cast stepped away from a Q&A session at the Television Critics Association press tour in July, an allegation that has added another layer of tension to the series’ already strained pre-release reputation. “I think that the quote-unquote awkwardness at the [TCAs] was blown out of proportions. There was all this news that we ended the Q&A early, which we did not. It was actually scheduled to end at that time. I think people should just see the thing,” said Mount.
Serinda Swan – who seems like the kind of blunt loose cannon that makes any party a blast – even said the show is for kids, even though, she added, the first five minutes aren’t.
As if this wasn’t all bad enough, the early reviews of the pilot have been…as bad as Medusa’s wig:
“Simply awful. I’m so disappointed since I generally love everything Marvel does. But this is absolutely terrible. The dialogue is atrocious. The fight sequences are shockingly choreographed. The sets (or more-so the obvious green-screen) aren’t that crash hot either. It’s only saving grace is Lockjaw who is adorable. As one of the few people that actually liked Iron Fist, I can easily say that this is Scott Buck’s worst work yet.”
Box’s review has perhaps a more kind outlook, although that comes under the category of damning with faint praise:
For starters, I’ve only seen half of the 90-ish-minute presentation that will be shown in IMAX theaters beginning September 1 (before its ABC debut on September 22 — both versions of the premiere will be subtly different from each other). And what I have seen was clearly marked as “incomplete” and “not for review.”
The Guardian just buries it: Marvel’s The Inhumans: destined to be the TV disaster of the year
So what have we learned? Well, that expectations for Marvel-branded entertainment are every high, and you can’t pass off the equivalent of a ’70s Saturday morning TV show (Think Electro Woman and Dyna Girl) as for spirit of Marvel. Ike’s brand of cheapness has finally come around to bite him, although he’ll never admit it. Trying to shove dodgy content down fans throats just because its MARVEL!!!!! is not going to work any more.The MCU and Disney made an obscure team name The Guardians of the Galaxy America’s sweethearts, so it can be done, but that sensibility is not present in Inhumans, it seems.
I would say, lay off Jeph Loeb and the cast. They know they’ve been plunged into a turd, and they are just trying to be professionals about it. This isn’t Loeb’s first rodeo – I think he invented the Rodeo – and his peevishness is almost forgivable given his professional duties.
And you can buy your Inhumans tickets for Imax now or tomorrow. Report back if you go!
For now, as it’s Jack Kirby week, I’ll leave you with Jack Kirby, because that makes everything better.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.