If the new theatrical release of”Marvel’s Inhumans” was intended to create some healthy buzz around the forthcoming ABC show of that name, then the result has had the opposite effect: The IMAX preview — stitched together from the series’s first two episodes — is increasing the critical bleeding.
Previously, over the summer, early looks at the new series were met with everything from concern to scorn, including some boos at San Diego Comic-Con. Yet the fan hope was that what looked like shoddy production values in the first trailers would yield to a burnished, Marvel-worthy look on the big screen.
So far, the news is only worse.
On Sept. 1, “Marvel’s Inhumans” opened for a two-week theatrical run on nearly 400 IMAX screens. The film grossed $1.5 million domestically in the first weekend. Yet the movie currently has a “zero” freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews — a score even the lowly “Emoji Movie” was eventually able to avert.
In other words: Can Marvel somehow avoid a rare major misfire?
The reviews of the theatrical release read like accident reports from first-responders surveying the flaming wreckage.
“The show is a disappointment on every level,” writes IGN’s Joshua Yehl.
“Even a bigger budget wouldn’t have fixed the stilted dialogue, one-dimensional characters and questionable acting,” writes Las Vegas Weekly’s Josh Bell.
The Inhumans, of course, are Marvel’s odd royal family of lower-tier superheroes who are armed with the quirkiest of powers. ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has introduced the Inhuman lineage with such leading characters as Agent Daisy Johnson, but “Inhumans” introduces a separate cinematic universe.
Now, Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Medusa (Serinda Swan) and family must flee their Attilan moon kingdom in a coup, and some of the Inhumans end up along the gorgeous shores of Honolulu, which you would think might improve the look of the project, even if only naturally.
Instead, “Inhumans” is said to be a dingy, dull experiment in so many ways.
“The costumes and makeup look like a group of friends decided to do Inhumans cosplay the day before Comic-Con,” IGN writes. “The royal palace, a main setting, looks like a warehouse on the outside and is full of bland, forgettable spaces on the inside. (And) the clunky dialogue sounds like a first draft, not the sharp material you’d expect from the MCU.”
Vulture is among the media outlets invoking the word “chintzy”:
“Much has already been made of the CGI in the show, especially that of lead character Medusa’s prehensile and weaponized hair. A 52-foot-by-72-foot screen does that crimson mane no favors, merely accentuating the ways in which it looks chintzy and odd.
“The same goes for virtually all of the high-profile effects, from the newly formed wings of a teenager who undergoes a superpowered transformation to the face of a sentient wall,” Vulture’s Abraham Riesman continues. “Worse still is the bear-sized teleporting dog known as Lockjaw, whose patently artificial rendering makes the cartoon dragon from the original ‘Pete’s Dragon’ look downright lifelike.”
And Las Vegas Weekly writes of the action: “The high-level maneuvering in a hidden civilization of superpowered beings should be exciting and dangerous, but instead it’s mostly stultifying, and the interior of the royal palace looks like the waiting rooms in a fancy office building.”
This theatrical release raises two central questions. For the filmgoer, the issue is: “Should I pay up to $20 for this?” And the reviewers are replying: Not if you have anything else remotely interesting and/or valuable to do.
The bigger question, for the studio, is why Marvel chose to make this an ABC series instead of a feature film. Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel TV, defended that decision in recent days, saying that they wanted the longer run of a show to give more time to develop these characters. He told CBR that he wanted an “opportunity where you’re not entirely reliant on epic and spectacle and the rollercoaster ride which are the Marvel movies; which I absolutely love and there is no bigger fan.”
But even that raises the question: Why tease the series with this IMAX release, which only seems to magnify the flaws?
Vulture notes that series creator and showrunner Scott Buck was behind Season 1 of the worst-received of the Marvel/Netflix series, “Iron Fist.” ” ‘Inhumans’ shares that show’s awkward pacing and preference for turgid arguments over rousing action,” Riesman writes. “Buck and director Roel Reiné do their best to make the theatrical version feel like a real Marvel movie, all the way up to a post-credits stinger, but the comparisons to Marvel’s features only make the show look worse.”
Marvel now must hope that expectations will be smaller on the smaller screen.
TV’s “Marvel’s Inhumans” debuts Sept. 29 on ABC.