4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress — Marvel’s Inhumans

Introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four, the Inhumans—a closed community of humans who have super-powers thanks to experimentation by the Kree—have been a part of the Marvel comics universe since the 1960s, though they didn’t really come into their own as anything but supporting characters (mostly in the pages of FF) until their twelve-issue miniseries by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee debuted in 1998. Since the turn of the century, they’ve become major players in the comics.

Making them part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven more problematic.

Originally introduced via single appearances by Medusa and Gorgon, the Inhuman society appeared as a group in Fantastic Four #45. Stan Lee & Jack Kirby took the hidden city of Attilan from an old backup story in Captain America Comics in the 1940s and retconned that as the Inhumans’ home.

Over the decades, Attilan moved from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Andes to the Himalayas to the “blue area” of the moon (a section that has a breathable atmosphere) to the Kree homeworld of Hala and the Hudson River outside New York City.

The Inhumans have mostly been seen in the personages of their royal family: Black Bolt, the silent leader whose voice is incredibly destructive; Medusa, who can animate her powerful long red hair; Gorgon, a strongman with a stomp you wouldn’t believe; Karnak, who can strike with amazing precision; Crystal, who can control the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water; the amphibious Triton; Lockjaw, a dog who can teleport over vast distances; and Maximus, Black Bolt’s mad telepathic brother, who covets the throne.

After being supporting characters in FF, having a series in the 1970s, and also being featured in Amazing Adventures, having a backup feature in Thor, and starring in a graphic novel by Ann Nocenti & Bret Blevins in 1988, the Inhumans hit the big time with the Jenkins/Lee miniseries.

To that end, them becoming part of the MCU seemed inevitable, especially since the process by which Inhumans are created—humans exposed to the Terrigen mists and getting powers—enabled the MCU to do their equivalent of mutants, since the X-Men characters were controlled by Fox. The TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spent a good chunk of its third season dealing with the Inhumans, specifically with people being turned into Inhumans (most notably, Chloe Bennet’s Daisy Johnson). We even see a “hidden city” of Inhumans, though they don’t include any of the royal family.

This was theoretically done to set up an Inhumans movie, which was announced as part of Marvel’s Phase 3 films in 2014, but then never had any movement made on it. Instead, Marvel partnered with IMAX to create an Inhumans TV show that would run eight episodes, and take place during AoS’s hiatus, much as the two seasons of Agent Carter had. As part of the partnership with IMAX, the first two episodes were released theatrically as an IMAX movie, which is why we’re covering it in this rewatch.

Anson Mount—recently seen kicking all the ass as Captain Christopher Pike on the second season of Star Trek: Discovery—was cast as Black Bolt, with Serinda Swan as Medusa, and Iwan Rheon as Maximus. Rounding out the cast are the great Ken Leung as Karnak, Eme Ikwuakor as Gorgon, Isabelle Cornish as Crystal, Mike Moh as Triton, and Sonya Balmores as Auran.

Scott Buck—who will forevermore be known as the guy who totally botched Iron Fist—was hired to develop and run the show and write the first two episodes, with Roel Reiné, one of the show’s other executive producers, directing. Amusingly, almost every episode of the show had a title that was also used as a title of an Inhumans-focused issue of a comic book. The two used to make up this movie included “Behold…The Inhumans,” which is a variation on the title of their first appearance in FF #45, “Among Us Hide…The Inhumans”; and “Those Who Would Destroy Us,” the title of their second appearance in issue #46.

The TV show was a complete flop, both commercially and critically, the first true failure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Agent Carter had poor ratings, but was a critical success—and also, I gotta say, fucking brilliant. One can possibly put Iron Fist here, too, but we don’t know what kind of viewing numbers it got, since Netflix keeps that to itself.) Whatever chance there might be of an Inhumans film probably died with the wholesale rejection by all and sundry of this miniseries, especially since Disney now has control of the X-books, so the whole underclass-of-powered-humans storyline with the Inhumans (which AoS did a good job with in its third season in particular) can now be done with mutants like in the comics.

 

“No one will be left to observe this…”

Marvel’s Inhumans
Written by Scott Buck
Directed by Roel Reiné
Produced by Jeph Loeb, Scott Buck, Jim Chory, and Roel Reiné
Original release date: September 1, 2017

Screenshot: ABC

A woman with odd eyes is being chased through the jungles of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i by mercenaries. She’s one of the people who was exposed to Terrigen on Earth and gained superpowers (as seen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Triton, a green-skinned, lizard-like man approaches her, saying he comes from a place called Attilan, where Inhumans live in hiding. But the mercenaries shoot them both down before they can get very far.

On the moon, we see that there is a city within one of the craters, hidden from sight and detection. This is Attilan, of which Triton spoke. A moon rover approaches it and is crushed by Gorgon, one of the royal family of Inhumans who rule Attilan. Black Bolt is the king of the Inhumans, and his voice is so powerful that it would destroy anything nearby—he accidentally killed his parents after he gained his powers when he asked them why—so he remains mute, with Medusa, his wife and queen, interpreting his words for everyone else.

Gorgon adds the rover to the big pile of human surveillance equipment they’ve had to destroy. Maximus, Black Bolt’s brother, believes that they should go to Earth, where they originally came from before they’re finally discovered by the humans. But Black Bolt thinks there will be war if they do, so they stay hidden.

We also see the process by which people become Inhumans. Two young people approach the Terrigen chamber, where the crystals are inserted into a cubby in the chamber and shattered. The mists cover them—the young woman grows butterfly wings, while Bronaja seems to have no powers. But when Maximus puts a hand on his shoulder to console him, he has a seizure and collapses, having seen a vision of Maximus attacked by snakes and thrown against a wall.

Crystal, Medusa’s sister, is late to the ceremony because she was too busy having fun, but when she is reminded that she’s late, she has her pet dog, Lockjaw, teleport her to the Terrigenesis chamber.

People who do not gain powers from Terrigen are sent to the mines to work—except for Maximus, because he is the king’s brother.

Maximus reports to the royal family that Triton has been killed. An Inhuman who can apparently project images with his eyes shows Triton’s final moments as he’s killed. Black Bolt reveals that he sent Triton to Earth to bring people who have become Inhumans on Earth to Attilan. Maximus points out that Attilan cannot handle a population explosion, while Gorgon and Karnak are upset that Black Bolt didn’t tell either of them about this. Black Bolt has Lockjaw send Gorgon to Earth to find out what happened to Triton, and confirm his death or bring back his body.

Black Bolt goes into a large stone chamber where he can meditate in peace. Maximus then confronts Medusa, who uses her prehensile hair to grab him and slam him into the wall. Maximus recalls Bronaja’s words after Terrigenesis about snakes grabbing him and throwing him into a wall…

Accompanied by Auran, part of Attilan’s security forces, Maximus visits Kitang, the head of the Genetic Council. He asks if Bronaja received powers from Terrigen, and Kitang said he wasn’t sure, but he did touch him and Bronaja said he saw Kitang lying down in a pretty river. Since there are no rivers on the moon, this was odd.

Maximus thinks Black Bolt will lead them to ruin, and wants Kitang on his side. Kitang agrees, but Black Bolt is king and to go against him is treason, and he sadly requests that Auran arrest Maximus. Instead, Auran kills Kitang, and he winds up face down in a river of his own blood.

With the security forces on his side, and with Gorgon, the head of security, on Earth, Maximus makes his move. We also discover that the mercenaries we saw going after Triton and the Inhuman in O‘ahu were, in fact, in Maximus’s employ.

Security goes after Karnak, but Karnak takes down his attackers. Karnak warns Gorgon to stay on Earth and he goes to Crystal and Lockjaw to get them to safety. Crystal sends Karnak to Earth—which was not what he wanted—and then comes back to get Medusa and Black Bolt. Meanwhile, Maximus captures Medusa and shaves her hair off, making her in essence powerless—however, Lockjaw takes her away before she can be imprisoned. Maximus then goes after Black Bolt, and Black Bolt almost opens his mouth to speak, which would kill his brother, but Lockjaw spirits him away to Earth, also, before he can. However, Maximus captures and incapacitates Lockjaw before he can take Crystal away, and Lockjaw is imprisoned, with Crystal confined to her apartment.

Lockjaw was not precise in his teleporting, so he sent Medusa to Diamond Head Crater, Karnak to a cliff, and Black Bolt to the center of Honolulu. Meanwhile, Gorgon nearly drowns while trying to find Triton, and is saved by some surfer dudes. Gorgon feels helpless waiting for something to happen, and the surfer dudes convince him to make something happen, so he activates his comlink and taunts Maximus, telling him to come get him.

Maximus tries to convince Crystal to come to his side. Her and Medusa’s parents hated Black Bolt and Maximus’s parents, and they were killed for treason. Medusa and Crystal were spared, and Medusa fell in love with Black Bolt, even though everyone else was afraid of him, and they became king and queen. Crystal is popular with the people, and having her on his side will help Maximus, but Crystal refuses.

Later, Auran brings Crystal food, and Crystal uses her powers to blast the tray, which also knocks Auran’s comlink off her wrist. After Auran leaves, Crystal uses the comlink to contact Medusa, but the queen realizes this was a plant—Auran isn’t that sloppy—and sure enough, Maximus now knows where Medusa is. Using an Inhuman who can teleport people, Auran goes alone to Earth to deal with the royal family, as she feels a single-person strike force would be more efficient and discreet.

This proves a less-than-efficacious strategy, as Auran goes after Medusa expecting to be able to take her down quickly and easily since she doesn’t have her fancy hair, but Medusa stabs her with a switchblade she stole from a tourist and leaves her for dead.

Black Bolt exchanges his Attilan garb for a nice suit, but doesn’t understand about “paying” and so just walks out of the store. The cops—already looking out for him because he appeared in the middle of the street—catch up to him and subdue him. At one point he gasps in pain, and that little utterance sends a squad car careening down the street, and badly damages a few more cars as well.

However, Black Bolt eventually cooperates, despite being able to get out of the handcuffs without a problem, recognizing that the cops are the authority here.

Karnak, meanwhile, is stuck in the jungle with a head wound after falling down a cliff. Gorgon is still hanging out waiting for someone to come after him. Black Bolt is in jail, and Medusa is going to him.

Auran then wakes up and heals her stab wound, then contacts Maximus on her comlink, asking for backup.

 

“…no one left to care”

Screenshot: ABC

One of the reasons why S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, the Punisher, and Peggy Carter all worked on television is because they’re all smaller scale. Most of the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (past and present) are normal folks with cool toys, and the occasional super-powered foe. The folks done on Netflix are all street-level and don’t require much by way of fancy-shmancy F/X.

The Inhumans, though, are a whole ‘nother kettle of beeswax, he says, mixing his metaphors. All the Inhumans have significant powers, and they also include a big dog and an exotic hidden city.

Doing all this on a TV budget is just asking for trouble, and Inhumans doesn’t just ask, but begs for it. Medusa’s hair is a) awful and b) shaved off in the second hour so they don’t have to deal with it. This takes all the fun out of even having Medusa there, as part of what’s appealing about doing the Inhumans is getting to see Medusa’s “mood hair” in action. Instead, we see it used to hide Serinda Swan’s and Anson Mount’s full nudity in their sex scene and to lamely throw Maximus against a wall and to fight off security mediocrely, and that’s about it. Either it’s a big obvious wig, or it’s an obvious CGI construction atop Swan’s head. It’s a massive letdown. Swan plays Medusa’s sadness at losing her hair decently, at least, and her righteous anger when she fights Auran is palpable, but it’s still frustrating.

And that’s just the start. Mike Moh looks like he’s wearing a bad Triton cosplay, and he’s also dispensed with before the credits so we don’t have to see how bad his makeup is for long. Auran is changed from a yellow-skinned, large-eared Inhuman who can hear anything to a normal-looking badass who was apparently told to act as much like Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May as possible. (Seriously, she’s got the same attitude, same snarl, same way of carrying herself, same deadpan, and the same haircut.) And while Lockjaw is awesome, we only really see him for a few minutes before he’s locked in a cage.

Attilan itself looks nothing like a grand old lost city, instead having the feel of a mid-level university designed by the architect who gave the lowest contract bid.

The whole thing feels like it’s been constructed to save as much money as possible, and the plot choices are dictated by that rather than what makes a good story, particularly shaving Medusa’s hair and the fact that Crystal never actually uses her powers when Maximus is coming after her for no good reason that the script can bother to provide.

None of this would matter if the writing and acting were good, but they really aren’t. While Swan handles the fight against Auran well enough, and her love for Black Bolt definitely comes across, her performance is not nearly as vivid as it should be given the kickass history of the character she’s playing. Isabelle Cornish plays Crystal as a dumb teenager, mostly, which doesn’t do the character any favors, and Iwan Rheon sounds more like a whiny emo dudebro than he does someone who could convincingly take over Attilan.

Most disappointing is Anson Mount. I didn’t think much of his Black Bolt when I first saw Inhumans, and after watching Mount kill it on the second season of Discovery, I wanted to see if my memory was as bad as the reality. In particular, Mount impressed me as Christopher Pike with his capacity for subtle facial expressions that show his every emotion, which should be perfect for Black Bolt.

This particular entry is only half a rewatch, as I saw the first episode (which makes up the first half of the movie) but never watched past that. It also explains my bad impression of Mount’s Black Bolt, because his acting while on the moon as king in the first hour is all in one dimension: basically, he scowls a lot. He’s much stronger when he’s trapped in Honolulu in the second hour, as we get differing emotions, more facial expressions, and his obvious struggle to deal with this new situation without Medusa, or his throne, to help him.

The only parts of the movie that are truly bearable are any time Ken Leung’s Karnak and/or Eme Ikwuakor’s Gorgon are on screen, because they’re delightful. Karnak’s ability to see the weakness of anything is taken to its absurdist extreme to good comic effect, and Ikwuakor is just having so much fun as Gorgon, it’s infectious. Karnak’s taking down of the security forces, with him seeing twelve steps ahead, is particularly impressive.

But it’s not enough to save this slog of a movie, especially since the biggest flaw in it is that Maximus comes across in the script as the heroic character—despite his committing murder—because he’s trying to free his people. The actual setup of Attilan is pretty icky, and Maximus’s arguments all make sense. Black Bolt and Medusa and the rest are the epitome of yucky privilege, and I find myself more on Maximus’s side of the argument than the nominal heroes’.

 

Next week, Spider-Man wandering over to the MCU didn’t stop Sony from making Spider-adjacent movies, starting with 2018’s Venom.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is an author guest at FanX in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend. He’ll be spending most of his time at Bard’s Tower, Booth 729, on the exhibit floor, selling and signing books. Accompanying him at the Tower will be fellow scribes Timothy Zahn, Jonathan Maberry, Kevin J. Anderson, Dan Wells, Carlos Ferro, Larry Correia, Jody Lynn Nye, Christopher Ruocchio, John Jackson Miller, Ryk E. Spoor, Mario Acevedo, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Brian Lee Durfee, Sanan Kolva, Michelle Cori, Phil Foglio, and lots and lots more.

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