I couldn’t afford to watch Star Trek Discovery. (I’ve never seen so many people eager to catch STD!) So against my better judgment, I watched both of the new TV series about Marvel Comics’ genetic superhumans, Inhumans & The Gifted. So strap in for an extra long spoilerific double review!
The best part of discount Thor featuring lunar muties was that my cat tried to ensnuggle me for 3/4 of it. Brought to you by the man who gifted the world with lumberjack Dexter & dragon-free Iron Fist, Inhumans shows glimpses of cool stuff only to yank them away. I may have some controversial views on the state of Lucasfilm, but I think we can all agree that Marvel Studios letting Scott Buck helm two series was a mistake. Did it lose a contractual bet with Sony or Fox to make Inhumans’ cinematic demotion as underwhelming as possible? It’s a pity this is set when when the Agents of SHIELD are indisposed because it could desperately use some charismatic protagonists (not to mention their writers). None of the visuals justified IMAX cameras. ABC can’t make this miniseries look as good as even one of The CW’s four DC series. It takes itself way too seriously without the necessary prerequisite of actuality being quality.
Iwan Rheon speaking with a Canadian disguise voice as Maximus The Mad was one of the prime reasons I bothered tuning in. Even as a prince of the Inhuman royal family, he’s treated with outright contempt for not having manifested any powers following Terragenesis. Despite not (yet?) having his mind control ability, he’s pretty persuasive: An isolationist city-state with limited resources run by an absolute monarchy with eugenics based caste system shouldn’t be kidnapping new inhabitants. It’s unfortunate that Marvel Studios doesn’t have the guts to make him the unequivocal hero of this tale. Even when doing downright villainous acts, much like Gormenghast’s Steerpike, he’s still more compelling than the supposed heroes.
Instead of the lunar city of Attilan being a source of wonder, the show makes its concrete architecture oppressively claustrophobic & dull. How’d the Inhumans colonize the Moon? Where does their food come from? Why doesn’t Terragenesis put Inhumans into cocoons like on Agents of SHIELD? Why do the powerless Inhumans have to mine instead of the empowered that could mine more efficiently? (This may be even worse than having the Alpha Primitive slave caste, a variation of which already appeared on TV, do the labor since they’re engineered not to understand freedom.) It’s Bizarro Genosha. What are they even mining for? Is it green cheese?
Black Bolt accidentally vaporizing his parents was unintentionally hilarious. It makes sense that Anson Mount devised his own sign language for the character, but the show didn’t follow his lead by making a Kree dialect for the Inhumans. Shouldn’t more characters be able to translate his ISL than just Medusa? If nobody understands what he’s signing, why doesn’t he just use a dry erase board? Mount makes a few clever expressions, but the character is still too inscrutable to root for. Just like the comics, he gets the best costume of all the Inhumans despite it egregiously lacking his distinctive mask & underarm wings. (One scene of a tiny tuning fork on a headband doesn’t cut it!) So of course he ditches his kingly leather jacket for conventional Earth attire in episode two. Four police cars come for King Blackagar Boltagon because Hawaii takes shoplifting seriously.
Queen Medusa has the power of prehensile hair, which translates to Medusa’s action figures have giant chunks of immobile plastic glued to their heads. (Hasbro forbid they give her bendy hair tendrils since Marvel Legends are all about articulation.) After being fairly maligned in the trailer, her hair effects finally look alright. So naturally they shave it off by they end of episode one because it’s too costly to animate. Her buzzcut looks better on ex-Zatanna Serinda Swan than the wig anyway, which isn’t the response you want to get when a character’s main selling point is her luxurious locks.
Political sell-out Crystal has the powers of Korra & does nothing with them. Too bad the MCU killed off its Quicksilver before they could hook up. Her most important contribution is telling Lockjaw where to bamf. As much as I prefer cats, I concede Lockjaw is adorable. So of course they send him to the doghouse ASAP.
Ken Leung’s Karnak looks weird without a beard. He has the power of super-nitpicking whereas my nitpicking is stunted at a normal level. I only know this from being a comic nerd because they don’t explain it in the show. The new light-up sigils are more visually dynamic though. His powers inexplicably don’t work on Earth because he couldn’t tell that vine was an unsafe way to descend a hill, but they weren’t that stupendous in Attilan either.
Gorgon starts off unexpectedly jovial before devolving into a meathead. How does he wear normal boots over his hooves? Triton’s micro-fin make-up under a black hoodie may be lamer than Medusa’s wig. It’s too bad they didn’t use the redesign that makes him resemble Death Adder. Even Sonya Balmores is disappointed Auran doesn’t have yellow skin & giant adorable ears. I guess regeneration is a cheaper mutation if she’s not injured that often. It just wouldn’t be the MCU’s X-Men without a Wolverine!
Inhumans isn’t as terrible as it is a dull waste of potential. As much as I loathe the idea of mutants being replaced by Inhumans in the comics, I can see how it could work well in the MCU. It’s such a disservice to Agents of SHIELD that it spent so much time setting them up only for the royal family payoff to be botched. I’ve already invested in a quarter of the series though…
Of the two series, The Gifted is the loser in the name category. (The new X-Men show is really The GIF Ted, but nobody agrees how to say it.) All my misgivings about its trailer stand, however, it’s must-see TV in comparison to Inhumans. It’s much easier to sympathize with these characters, not just because they aren’t space royalty. The special effects aren’t embarrassing. Sadly the cat found its ensnuggling potential to be minimal.
Polaris’s hair will indeed be green. I attribute this change entirely to my vociferous complaining instead of something they were going to do anyway. Polaris is the character I was most excited about, so naturally she’s arrested early. It’s even less exciting when you recall how often Magneto wound up in non-ferrous prisons. From what little we see of her, Emma Dumont is very dynamic.
The Mutant Underground Railroad is surprisingly sprawling, but we only meet a handful of B-listers. Thunderbird’s tattoo glows whenever he uses his new psychometric powers. It remains to be seen if he’s as notoriously ill-fated as his comic book inspiration. So maybe don’t get too attached to him. Even after being recast from Days Of Future Past, Blink’s powers look superb! (Can we get Portia de Rossi as Emma Frost next?) Light-bleeding new character Eclipse is substitute Havok in terms of dynamics. His ringtone is the X-Men cartoon theme, which somehow hasn’t been used to great effect in the films. Hayley Lovitt will be Sage, the Hellfire Club’s ambulatory furniture turned overnight Mary Sue, which is a huge demotion from Wasp.
I wanted to spend as much time with those characters as possible. Unfortunately the focus shifts to the tribulations of the white-bread Strucker family (that probably aren’t HYDRA). I don’t get a sense of why Andy was being bullied, aside from cheap motivation to pull a Carrie. Since the movies have been heavily leaning into mutants as a metaphor for homosexuals without letting any of the non-heterosexual characters interact with their significant others, it’d add some textual depth if Andy were gay. The kids don’t activate like Wonder Twins, so they’re not Fenris.
While the moral of the X-Men is anti-prejudice, the Strucker kids definitely committed property damage & accosted federal agents. I don’t think it’s wrong to hold them accountable for this. (Remember in the cartoon when Beast proudly served out his sentence for civil disobedience to set an example?) So for now the government doesn’t seem as one-dimensionally evil as usual. Vampire Bill as Prosecutor Dad looks like he’ll be my least favorite televisual protagonist since Jim Gordon. Instead of using his legal acumen to get his progeny reduced sentences while fighting to change the system from inside, Prosecutor Dad immediately decides to break all the laws once his kids are the dangerous muties. He makes Daredevil look like a principled attorney. Quit shouting that your American family has rights when federal agents are trying to arrest them for their crimes! No doubt his character arc will be learning bigotry is wrong … when it affects your family.
The pilot directly references the X-Men & Brotherhood
of Evil Mutants being conveniently missing, but it’s anyone’s guess where this fits into the dog’s dinner of X-movie continuity. I don’t need guest appearances by any of the films’ casts (I hear Vampire Bill knows a girl…), but I would like something to suggest that it’s not just going to be broodier Heroes with some licensed names attached. (I’m weirdly excited to see Ahab the purple peg-legged cyborg whom became less goofy once I learned of Viktoria Modesta. Since this is filmed in Texas, could Forge be building the Sentinel drones?) Any relief that the mutants aren’t wearing black leather uniforms is cancelled out by them not bothering to wear costumes at all.
This could’ve used a two-part premiere, as episode one was basically just the trailer expanded. Is this show going to be more than mutants vs. the government? While that’s a dependable long range conflict, it’s also been beaten into the dirt by this point. It’s always gene jokes vs. flatscans! It’d be keen if we were finally presented with a middle ground. Matt Nix’s script is solid, but the problem is it’s so mundane in the wake of the mind-bending Legion. Maybe this series will deliver on all the rich character interactions, thorough worldbuilding, & gripping storylines that the films barely attempt, but at this point it’s hard to tell from this perfunctory introduction.
So in this televised tussle, Fox actually beat Marvel Studios? Inhumans wasn’t as awful as I’d been warned, but there also wasn’t much to say in its favor. The Gifted probably won’t be my dream X-Men TV series (that’d be X-Factor), but at least it’s competently made.