Review: Marvel’s Inhumans may be game changing for IMAX, but is it a missed opportunity?

At the end of this month, Inhumans, the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe will kick off as a television series on ABC TV in the US – the home of the successful Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series, which will enter its fifth season later this year. Today, Inhumans – the third ABC studios series to form part of the MCU, and first since Agent Carter was cancelled last year – made history by becoming the first ever live action series to be filmed entirely with IMAX cameras; the first two episodes debuting on IMAX screens around the world as a 75 minute big screen adventure.

Even with the cinematic connection of the Marvel universe it co-habitates, it’s fair to say that the selection of the series to be the first to don the ALEXA IMAX 65mm cameras is something of a surprise. Game of Thrones this is not. As an ABC series, the show faces smaller budgets and production values than many of its counterparts. And as a commercial television network, what an ABC Studios series is able to get away with content wise is rather limited – something that often sees both acting and script quality take a hit along the way. You’re also not going to see the big names attach themselves to the project. The most well known name involved is arguably Iwan Rheon, who was last seen as the treacherous Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones. But like any series that places its bets on unknown actors, if successful, the likes of Anson Mount and Serinda Swan could certainly be household names by the time the series’ run comes to an end. That’s if Inhumans lives past its currently scheduled eight episode run.

The series, which was originally announced as a cinematic instalment for phase three of the MCU, is based around the superhumans of the same name developed in Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They were officially introduced in a Fantastic Four release in 1965, though the origins of the storyline go all the way back to the first Captain America Comic in 1941, where the home of the Inhumans, Attilan, was introduced. Then, true to the intertwined nature of the Marvel Universe, we saw the race introduced in the second series of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The first two episodes of Inhumans introduces us to the world established by Lee and Kirby all those years ago, focusing on the Inhuman royal family, who are thrust from power by the King’s “human” brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon), and end up stranded on earth, in Honolulu of all places. It seems Lost actor Ken Leung (he played Miles) can’t catch a break – once again stranded on the island where the iconic series was filmed. Here he plays Karnak, and is joined in Hawaii by Anson Mount as Black Bolt, the King, Serinda Swan as Medusa, the Queen and Eme Ikwuakor as the hoof-laden Gorgon. Meanwhile back on the moon, Maximus has trapped Aussie actress Isabella Cornish, the Queen’s sister, and her trusty, teleporting giant (CGI) bulldog Lockjaw, reminiscent of the recent Okja.

The introduction of these characters proves the series biggest weakness: they’re just not particularly likeable characters. It’s hard to know whether to root for the royal family who seem to act like spoilt rich kids, or the usurper who is every part the spoilt rich kid – something Iwan does well, a bit of GoT‘s Ramsay and a bit of Misfit‘s Simon visible within. Miles was also a favourite on Lost, so Lenug’s Karnak proves one of the few immediately likeable characters – though I expect some bias is involved here on my behalf. I expect the characters to develop over the eight episodes to the point where you can make up your mind on their likability more successfully, but with King Black Bolt a mute and Medusa a strong-willed, yet easily maniacal Queen, it’s hard to know which side of the coin they’ll end up on. This may have been a successful purpose of the comics, but on screen it detaches the audience.

As a storyline, the show is setting up something reasonably interesting – but these episodes are just that: the set up. Characters are being established (albeit often poorly), and the world is being born (something they’re far more successful with). We don’t embark on huge action sequences, nor big budget expositions that might have been hoped for on the large format screen. That said, the lenses capture a stunning setting in Hawaii, which does at times evoke some memories of Lost, while the storyline captures a few gags out of the Thor playbook – bewildered aliens interacting humorously with Earth’s creatures. There are some stunning shots in select sequences showing off the might of the cameras, but ultimately this is a Television pilot which fails to take advantage of the cinematic gaze. It’s telling, too, that the cut here is shorter than what we’ll see on TV – a sign perhaps that some scenes didn’t work with the larger lenses, though more likely that some repetitious scenes were removed, unnecessary in context of two episodes being screened together.

Even with TV production quality and the occasional moment of average acting or script moments – something anyone who watches Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be used to – watching the 75 minute IMAX version of the series’ first two episodes was wholly compelling, even if it lacked the wow-factor that the format deserves. This is a first for an episodic release – sure, Game of Thrones screened in IMAX, but being shot on IMAX cameras puts this release in another playing field entirely. It’s just a pity they didn’t do more to take advantage of that fact. If this is poorly received, who knows what other great shows we’ll miss in the format. In the meantime, I am left curious on the rest of the series, and in that respect the introduction to the new corner of the MCU has done its job.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Marvel’s Inhumans will screen for the next week at the IMAX Melbourne Museum, as well as select Hoyts IMAX locations. For more details on the Melbourne Museum sessions, head HERE.