Anghus Houvouras on why Marvel need to bury the Inhumans…
Back when Marvel was first drawing up battle plans for their eventual takeover of blockbuster cinema, there were a few weapons in their arsenal that seemed unconventional in their selection. No one was surprised to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3, but the inclusion of lesser known assets like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy felt like riskier maneuvers.
Hindsight has shown us that Marvel’s golden touch has applied to all their comic book adaptations. Both Guardians and Ant-Man were great successes for the studio as their unrivaled streak continues. Now it seems completely feasible for movies like Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel to be successes carried by the momentum of the massive success that is Marvel Movies (Excelsior).
There has, however, been one sore thumb sticking out of their lineup. One that has been scrutinized, shifted, and ultimately removed from the release slate. That sore thumb belongs to the Inhumans.
You have to sympathize with Marvel. Ok, not really. They completely revolutionized the Hollywood blockbuster and are having a winning streak that makes Australia’s sixteen test wins from 1999 to 2001 look like Sri Lanka’s streak of nine test wins from 2001 – 2002. And that’s something.
But you can certainly sense the frustration from those post-bankruptcy film licensing deals that have forced them to rethink how their cinematic universe will unfold. We all know that the Inhumans are a creative workaround to their mutant problem, or lack thereof. As long as Fox is churning out successful X-Men movies, there’s no chance of getting that arrow back into the quiver. Without mutants, there are a number of major Marvel crossovers and potential story arcs that remain unfulfilled. Without Wolverine, Magneto and the other merry mutants, Marvel decided to go the Inhuman route.
Like many of their stories, they first went to the intellectual property form that has become the comics. Over the last few years Marvel has tried to make the Inhumans more relevant. The characters have been given the spotlight but there has been precious little shine as a result. They’ve involved them in yearly event comics like Infinity and tried to force their relevance by making them responsible for a crisis now threatening the mutant community.
None of it is working. Which is what leads me to believe nothing will work for the Inhumans movie either, thus why it’s been yanked from the schedule and placed into development limbo.
Let’s face it: the Inhumans could easily be a stumbling block for Marvel, who up until now has managed to bottle lightning for a lot its second tier characters. The problem with the Inhumans is that these aren’t just second or even third tier characters. These are complete unknowns to a wide swath of the ticket buying public. And the naysayers will bring up Ant-Man, but he had the benefit of being in the Avengers off and on for the last 50 years. Or they’ll tell you the Inhumans are no more unknown than Doctor Strange or Captain Marvel, but I would humbly disagree. Doctor Strange has the benefit of being the inaugural film that will take viewers into the Mystic side of the Marvel Universe. Captain Marvel gets to piggyback on the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and the Galactic side of the Marvel Universe.
Of all the films in Marvel’s battle plan, Inhumans was the most obscure. The hardest sell. The sticky widget that just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest. It features obtuse characters that lack an easy in for an audience. The expansive world of Galactic Marvel was made easily accessible by Peter Quill, who gave the audience an entry point. Doctor Strange gives us Stephen Strange: a broken man looking for redemption who discovers the secrets of the Mystical Marvel Universe along with the audience. What is the entry point for the Inhumans? Black Bolt, a powerful king who doesn’t speak? Gorgon: Half man/Half horse? Karnak: the intergalactic karate master? These are characters who work well when used in stories featuring The Fantastic Four or The Avengers, but as the main focus the Inhumans has always faltered. There have been admirable runs by many creators, but there isn’t a defining story that screams ADAPT ME!
For me, the fate of the Inhumans movie was sealed the minute Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began using the concept. Now that they’ve made it a primary focus of the second and third season, the concept already feels played out. At best, it’s a chance for Marvel to try to shoehorn in an X-Men like scenario into their cinematic universe while waiting for Fox to drop the ball. At worst, it’s an obscenely difficult world to try and walk audiences into and will come across as extremely derivative since the X-Men films have been staking claim in theaters for 15 years.
I’m not saying there isn’t an amazing film that couldn’t be made from the source material for the Inhumans. What I’m saying is given Marvel’s current game plan, there’s no way to work the Inhumans into their grand design. It’s a landscape of obscure characters that are a little too weird to be the mutants of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a little too grounded on Earth to be a grand space opera or science fiction.
I give credit for Marvel pulling it from the schedule. To me, there are other areas of the Marvel Universe that would be better served with an adaptation (more on that later this week). It shows that they are capable of course correction when needed and aren’t afraid to move things around if the cylinders aren’t firing. And it’s a good call.
If I were a gambling man, I’d bet this might be the last we hear about the Inhumans for quite some time.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.