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Inhumans Is An Epic Misfire

Gabby

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Airing on September 29, Inhumans is Marvel’s latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Being a part of the Marvel brand, Inhumans has a lot to live up to, so let’s jump on in.

This recap and review include Episode 1 & 2, which premiered together.

Recap

The episode begins on the island of Oahu with an Inhuman girl being hunted by a strike team. Triton (Mike Moh), an Inhuman with the ability to breath underwater, finds her and tells her she will be safe in Attilan, the Inhuman city located on the moon. Before he can transport them to Attilan, the strike team finds them. The girl is killed, and Triton is shot in the stomach. As he tries to escape, he accidentally falls from a cliff and into the sea.

Meanwhile, at Callisto Aerospace Control Center in California, Louise (Ellen Woglon) is operating a moon rover when it collides with the invisible barrier hiding Attilan. Suddenly it is hit from above and is disconnected. As she replays the footage to find out what hit the rover, she see’s what appears to be a hoof.

In Attilan, Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and Medusa (Serinda Swan), the king and queen of the Inhumans, hold a meeting with the other member’s of the Royal Family concerning the moon rover. They find out that Gorgon, (Eme Ikwuakor), a faun-like Inhuman, and leader of the Royal Guard, was responsible. Karnak, Triton’s brother and Black Bolt’s cousin, is concerned with Gorgon’s tactic’s, particularly with how humans will react. Black Bolt wants to let the matter go, but his brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) states that they need to take action against the humans. He believes that once the humans discover Attilan, they will try to destroy the Inhumans out of fear. Gorgon taunts Maximus for being just like humans since he never received Inhuman abilities.

Later, the Inhuman Royal Family attends a Terrigen ceremony where Inhumans are exposed to Terrigen Mists that reveals their powers. On Attilan, since space and resources are sparse, Inhuman powers determine your social status. Iridia (Andra Nechita) receives the ability to fly, which is highly regarded, while her brother, Bronaja (Ari Dalbert) doesn’t appear to have any powers. When Maximus goes to consoles him by patting him on the shoulder, Bronaja reacts violently, falling to the floor in spasms. When he recovers, he tells Maximus he saw him pinned against the wall with snakes wrapped around him.

Afterward, Maximus learns of Triton’s fate and confronts Black Bolt. Black Bolt reveals that he sent Triton to Earth to find humans-turned-Inhuman who were exposed to Terrigen after it contaminated their water supply. Triton was to bring them to Attilan to live without fear of prosecution. Black Bolt decides to send Gorgon to Earth in hopes of rescuing Triton.

Black Bolt goes off to think on his own, and Maximus approaches Medusa. He talks about how close they used to be and how things would have been different between them if she hadn’t married Black Bolt. He asks her if she regrets marrying him and Medusa attacks Maximus using her powers to manipulate her hair. After she lets him go, he realizes that Bronaja can see the future.

On Earth, Gorgon is tracking Triton’s path when the strike team from the beginning surrounds him. It turns out they work for Maximus, and he orders them to kill Gorgon. Gorgon manages to fight them off and escapes. Tired of Black Bolt’s inability to act, Maximus decided to organize a coup to remove him and the rest of the Royal Family from power. Karnak manages to escape capture and warns the others of Maximus’s plan. Maximus tries to persuade Medusa to join him, but when she refuses, he has her head shaven, stripping her of her power. Crystal (Isabella Cornish), Medusa’s sister, has her giant dog, Lockjaw, teleport Medusa and Karnak to Earth.

Perpetual Scowl.

Maximus goads Black Bolt about his inadequacy as a ruler and further taunts him with the fact that he accidentally killed their parents with his hypersonic voice when he was young. Maximus challenges Black Bolt to speak, and just when he’s about to, Crystal appears with Lockjaw who transports him away to Earth. Lockjaw returns for Crystal but is subdued, and she is captured by Maximus.

Back on Earth, the Royal Family has been separated to different parts of the island. Karnak is lost in the jungle. Gorgon nearly drowns, but his saved by some friendly surfers. Medusa uses her communication device to locate Black Bolt, who Lockjaw has transported to Honolulu. When she finds on where he is, she sneaks onto a tour bus heading back to the city. In the Honolulu, Black Bolt is arrested and sent to jail for causing a minor crash and shoplifting. Meanwhile, Louise, the moon rover operator, is slowly discovering what actually happened on the moon.

On Attilan, Crystal manages to contact Medusa who realizes that it’s a trap for Maximus to locate her. Maximus sends Auran (Sonya Balmores), his head of security, to Earth to bring the Royal Family back, dead or alive. Auran finds Medusa, and they fight, ending with Medusa stabbing Auran to death. Maximus has now become king and promises the people a new era of hope. Later that night it is revealed that Auran is not dead and that she has regenerative healing powers. She contacts Maximus asking for backup to capture the Royal Family.

Review

Marvel TV really, really, really wants Inhumans to feel like a cinematic experience on the small screen. The opening scene is filled with swooping aerial shots, slow-motion running, and dramatic music that is just begging to be called epic.

Marvel TV even went as far as to premiere a 75-minute cut of episodes 1 & 2 in IMAX theaters. I can’t speak for those who saw it in theaters, but if there was any cinematic quality to be found there, it was lost on the small screen. Inhumans in its TV form feels small and cheap.

For a show that boasted a higher budget because of its collaboration with IMAX, it sure doesn’t look it. The production design for Attilan, the Inhuman city, was bland and uninspired. There was nothing that stood out as otherworldly or any different from what you would see on Earth. Some of the sets literally just looked like nice hotel rooms. At times the minimalist design choices made me think of The Hunger Games, but there was still the cheap and underwhelming finish about it. Of course, the portions shot in Hawaii were beautiful (it’s Hawaii), but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Honestly, the CGI is just barely above what you see on other Marvel TV shows. The limited budget severely renders seeing the characters use their powers. Medusa’s hair is conveniently shaved in the first episode and Crystal, who can manipulate the elements, shots off one little fireball. I imagine most of the CGI budget went to creating Lockjaw, who is adorable, but in a story about superhumans, not seeing their powers used to their full potential is disappointing.

Oh no, girl. That hair – just no.

There is talent to be found in the cast, but even the best couldn’t make the unnatural, jarring dialogue sound good. While it might be tempting to compare Iwan Rheon’s Maximus to his role on Game of Thrones (you may have heard of it), I don’t believe that is a fair comparison. Maximus reminds me more of Marvel’s favorite villain, Loki, but reserved and not nearly as fleshed out. Rheon gives depth where he can, yet there is still something lacking in his character. Serinda Swan’s Medusa is put through the ringer a few times, which ultimately felt more melodramatic than just dramatic. Ken Leung’s Karnak and Eme Ikwuakor’s Gorgon supplied some comic relief but were stuck in the stereotypical, sidekick archetypes. Anson Mount’s Black Bolt, who is voluntarily mute, doesn’t have much to do but scowl. Isabelle Cornish’s Crystal… I’m honestly not sure how she plays into the story yet besides that fact that she has a teleporting dog (Lockjaw might be my favorite character).

What a cutie. Wouldn’t want to clean up after him though.

The plot strives for family drama and political intrigue but falls short. By the end of the first episode the Royal Family has been torn apart, but there’s no build-up or time to get to know the characters. We barely know anything about the character’s relationship or why we should care if they ever see each other again. See, if you don’t give the audience time to actually care about the characters, we’re not going to care about their struggles. If Marvel can get people to care about a talking tree, then they can get us to care about anyone. Considering that showrunner Scott Buck is also the showrunner for the first season of Iron Fist on Netflix, the disastrous execution of Inhumans makes so much more sense.

Inhumans wanted to straddle the line between movies and television. It wanted to give the experience of the watching Marvel movie but in a TV format. Try as it might, with IMAX showings and two-hour TV premieres, it just didn’t live up to its own hype. The first two episodes of Inhumans weren’t just bad by Marvel’s standards; they were just bad. I doubt the rest of the season will improve, but miracles are known to happen. Just look at Thor: Ragnarok. Until next week, stay awesome.


Images courtesy of Marvel/ABC Television Studios

Recent college graduate who's just trying to figure out what to do with her degree, while simultaneously reading as many books as possible.

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‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is a Stylish Deconstructionist Dazzler

Jeremiah

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While watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse it occurred to me how narrow-minded and timid studios are when it comes to thinking of new ways to tell stories. Yes, I already knew this, but sometimes, it takes a movie like Into the Spider-Verse to throw it into sharp relief.

More and more audiences have been noticing the staleness, in both DC and Marvel, in how they frame their action scenes as well as their stories. Marvel has ushered in a new age of the studio as the auteur and in the process brought back the assembly line production of the olden days of Hollywood. They’ve reproduced the efficiency and the functionality of the system, but they’ve also little care or worry about the content or the style.

I mention all of this because Into the Spider-Verse is such a breath of fresh air, not just for the genre, but for the form as well. Pixar’s animation is flawless, but their prowess seems to more and more lie in animating every blade of grass and strand of hair. It’s gorgeous, but the animation is supposed to free us from reality not reproduce it so faithfully we can’t tell the difference.

Into the Spider-Verse is never ashamed of its cartoon roots and in fact leans into its surrealism to great effect. Comics and cartoons are two sides of the same coin; with each form almost an extension of other. Both lack a fidelity to the laws of physics most movies are wed to while also being able to play with time in a more abstract sense than even movies do.

Incredibles 2 was a mess of a movie, but its action was thrilling and inventive because Brad Bird was allowed to handle the visual depiction himself without being forced to hand it over to a separate department. Into the Spider-Verse isn’t a mess and is an exhilarating spectacle to behold with a script chock full of gonzo bonkers storytelling twists and turns.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the ones getting all the love and kudos. While Lord helped write the screenplay along with Rodney Rothman and Peter Ramsey; and Miller helped produce the film; they are not the names that you should be committing to memory. They are the names already known to us, so we cite them over Ramsey, Rothman, and others.

The names on the tip of our tongues should also include Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman; the directors of Into the Spider-Verse. Lord and Miller may have had some input and even helped it get off the ground. But let us not forget the names of Rothman, Ramsey, and Persichetti. Like Tinkers to Evers to Chance, they are a crucial trinity to the success of this groundbreaking and joyous cinematic experiment.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), much like Peter Parker (Chris Pine) once was, is just an average kid. Confused and scared, Miles never asked for any of this. But after getting bitten by the infamous radioactive spider, he finds himself thrust into greatness.

A lesser comic book movie would have left it at that and been fine. But Into the Spider-Verse, turns it up to eleven and introduces not just Spider-Men from alternate realities but alternate Peter Parkers. It does so while also, killing off the actual Parker.

In addition to pushing the form into new and exciting places, Into the Spider-Verse, also deconstructs the Spider-Man mythos and Parker himself. Even better it does so without denigrating the actual character. Unlike most deconstructions which believe that in order to look at a character truthfully you have to ground it in “realism.” A realism that isn’t actually realism. More an exaggerated machismo tone hellbent on doing everything the opposite of what we’re used to seeing of the character.

The Spider-Persons of the alternate realities are prisms of the original Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Even Miles is an updated version of the iconic web-slinger. Each version has their own Uncle Ben/Father/Friend who has died. The deaths of Uncle Ben, like the deaths of Jonathan Kent, are not meant to be purely tragic fuel for their angst. They illustrate, each in their own way, a pulsating reminder of there are things you can not control.

In the case of Miles, he has a loving family and is attending a private school for gifted students. Miles has both a father, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), a Black cop and a mother, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), a nurse. Miles Morales is a rarity; if only because he does not come from a broken home or tragic beginnings to fulfill his destiny. Spider-Man exists and is a real hero until a tragic incident leaving Miles alone to figure out his newfound powers.

Even his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) is unable to help him. Miles is left to stop Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) on his own until he meets Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). Describing  the plot of Into the Spider-Verse calls to mind the moment of The Big Lebowski where the Dude intones, “Lotta ins, lotta outs.”

Kingpin wants to open up a door to alternate realities regardless of the cost to the one he’s in. Thus we get a plethora of variations on the Spider-Man character. We get Johnson’s Parker, whose life has taken a few wrong turns. Unshaven, depressed, with a little bit of a belly, he is not the mentor Miles wanted. Divorced and barely making ends meet he arrives in the new dimension in a worn out Spider-Man costume and sweatpants.

Soon they meet Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), otherwise known to Miles as Gwen Stacy, the cool new girl at school he’s been crushing on. Gwen and Peter make up the basic trio who help Miles as they try to find a way to get them home and stop Kingpin.

It’s hard to describe the joy I had watching Into the Spider-Verse; of seeing a movie relish and lean into its characters and playing with them. Steinfeld’s Gwen is a punky loner who, much like alternate Peter, wants to go in alone. Both have lost someone they love and so believe the job of Spider-Man must be a lonely one.

Miles does not agree. Even after he experiences his own tragic loss, his first instinct is to run to his father. For reasons, you’ll understand after seeing the movie he can’t, but the desire is there. Unlike all the other iterations he doesn’t believe being a hero means going it alone. Miles already understands how great power demands great responsibility, but that doesn’t mean sequestering yourself away from human interaction.

Into the Spider-Verse, along with Black Panther, has a diverse and fresh soundtrack. Hip-hop mixed with an electronica vibe that doesn’t feel like it was made to copy every other musical score currently out in theaters. It has a personality and a style; two things that separate it from almost every other modern day comic book movie.

Ramsey, Rothman, and Persichetti imbue the film with a sense of urgency, humor, and gravitas. The mixture of visual styles makes for a heady concoction. I especially liked the decision to focus on the shapes of objects making them pop out of the scene. It lends a texture lacking in even the most visual live-action comic book movie; a sense of reality by exaggeration.

Movies aren’t real but rather warped mirror images. Somehow it’s in the funhouse version of reality things seem more real. The art production team led by Patrick O’Keefe succeeds with such exacting talent I still think about them days after the movie is over. Moments such as when Miles slaps a sticker on a street sign. Or when he jumps off a skyscraper, his body arched as he free falls.

There is much I haven’t even touched on about Into the Spider-Verse. Nic Cage as a black and white noir Spider-Man, John Mulvaney’s talking pig from a cartoon universe, the character design of Kingpin, and much more. In fact, if there is a complaint is that the “too muchness” of the movie is a bit too much. Oscar Isaac is listed in the credits, and yet I can’t recall his character at all.  

Ramsey, Rothman, and Persichetti spin fifty plates, and they do a herculean job of keeping them all spinning. But this comes at the expense of character development of all the varying Spider-People. At one point a character loses a trusted friend, and I found myself not really caring. It’s all a little bit overwhelming which leads to at crucial moments we the audience feeling underwhelmed.

When I say I was breathless by the time the credits rolled I’m not being hyperbolic. I felt invigorated and a little out of breath. The film is a brave new step for comic book movies but what exactly the lesson other studios will take from this remains to be seen. 

Into the Spider-Verse is daring, shockingly so for a studio film. For once I wasn’t checked out during the obligatory third act battle. A beautiful marriage of style and narrative I found myself deliriously overjoyed by the end. I can’t wait to see it again.


Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

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Away In A Manger: Black Lightning 2×09, “Gift of Magi”

Sarah

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Black Lightning, Anissa, and Jennifer with the phrase Get Lit

Well, my friends, we’re nearing the end of Black Lightning S2, and I think it’s time to declare a sophomore slump. Anyone here with me? Let’s get into this week’s episode and discuss.

Jen and Kahlil are still on the run, but Kahlil was cut with one of Cutter’s Special aka Poison knives, so he’s quickly succumbing. The pair find a barn, where there’s a lot of soft lantern light and Kahlil can curl up in the hay. At first they swap cute-funny stories about when they first met, but soon Kahlil can’t manage talking let alone breathing well, so Jen goes out to steal some antibiotics from a hospital. (They don’t yet know that it’s poison, they assume his wound is infected). Jen is getting really good not only at controlling her powers, but using them for specific tasks, and I’m here for it although I really wish it wasn’t in the context of this storyline.

Manger

She manages to get the antibiotics and injects Kahlil with it, but it doesn’t work. She grows increasingly desperate, and as Kahlil’s death seems imminent, she goes outside for some air and a good cry. That’s when she goes back to her brain-salon, where she sees Perenna (her brain-version of Perenna, not the real one) and a twin version of herself. Mind-Perenna tells Jen that she already has everything she needs inside of her; it’s very Inside Out. Together with her brain creations she figures out that Cutter is actually *right there* watching them through binoculars. She manages to capture her and tie her up, tasering her with her hands as a form of torture in order to get her to tell her what she did to Kahlil. It’s not long before she figures out it was a poison knife, and cuts Cutter with it so that she’ll be forced to show Jen where on her person the antidote is. Turns out, it’s in that very obvious vial on her necklace!

Twins

Jen goes to a dark place when she’s torturing Cutter, which is kind of hard to watch. Again, I’d be more interested if this whole thing didn’t revolve around Kahlil. Anyway, Jen gives both Kahlil and Cutter the antidote and they’re on their way again. But only after they declare their undying love for each other.

I’m happy to report that no one left Kahlil’s aunt for dead in her house, as Black Lightning, Thunder, and Gambi have set up camp there to help her recover from what turned out to be one of Kahlil’s pain pills and try to figure out how to find Jen. They know Kahlil is hurt so they check hospitals, and end up being in the same hospital as Jen at the same time!

So close, yet so far

Jefferson and Anissa figure out Jen was there because she left a trail aka scorch mark in her path, but the fact that she keep eluding them is driving Jefferson to be irrational and reckless. Gambi and Anissa manage to keep him under control, but Lynn is losing it too. When she’s not crying in the wreckage of Jen’s room that she destroyed, she’s trying to get Kahlil’s mom, and then his dad, to give her clues as to where they might be.

Of course neither of them can help, but along the way she grabs a gun from the Inner Sanctum aka Gambi’s basement so that’s concerning, considering her emotional state.

My heart breaks for this heartbreak

In a parallel storyline, Tobias has set his sights on a kid named Todd, an academic prodigy who has just been rejected for a research grant in favor of the white kid whose rich dad just funded a new wing of the university. It’s unclear what Tobias wants Todd to do, and Todd seems dubious at best until Tobias deposits $100,000 into his bank account. Money is the root of all evil, amirite? I mean, capitalism is. But that’s a discussion for another place.

An invitation I hope to never get

Lastly, this episode ends with a scene in which a mysterious someone murders everyone in a bar in Texas before getting a phone call from his boss telling him that his next job is in Freeland. I feel like we’re about to meet a bigger bad than Tobias, but time will tell! Just someone end this Kahlil-Jen nonsense and give us our family back kthanks.

What do you think is in store for the final episodes? Are you happy with this season so far? Black Lightning is going on hiatus until the end of January, so I’ll be back then to see where we’re at. Enjoy what’s left of the year, friends!


Images courtesy of The CW

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Winter Hiatus Blues

Seher

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Even in December with the broadcast networks hiatus for scripted series starting, and pilot season underway, there’s so much to discuss!

The continuing behind the scenes drama of Les Moonves’ ouster from CBS, ABC’s entertainment president Channing Dungey stepping down, NBC’s Greenblatt moving on, and FOX setting up for its new leadership once the merger goes through…every big 4 network has a lot to deal with between now and the TCAs in early February. The exec panels will sure be a time… Especially if ratings come up at all.

Ratings Race

As of this Tuesday, and as always, I’m talking about scripted ratings: FOX is number 1 with a 1.13 average followed by NBC, ABC, and CBS. CW of course is last with .35. Last month, four of the five networks had six shows at or above their overall average.

Now, ABC has eight shows, the CW has five, and the rest have six.

Across the five networks, only a third of new shows are performing above the average on their network. The Connors (considered a new show), FBI, The NeighborhoodLast Man StandingNew Amsterdam, and Manifest. The highest rated new show on The CW, Legacies hovers right below the network’s average.

Interestingly, across the board, long running shows are still high rating performers (or what’s high now) for the networks. The exception to this is SVU at a tenth below the average.

Their “success” indicates that we probably won’t lose any of the longest running shows anytime soon. Still, the network with the largest average season length (including shows yet to premiere) is FOX at 5.3 followed by CBS at 4.5. Removing the shows already cancelled and predicted as canceled doesn’t make an impact because of The Simpsons‘ whopping thirty seasons! (Unrelated but with the announcement for Crisis on Infinite Earths, DCTV isn’t going anywhere either.)

Of course some of this will shift when the rest of the new slate premieres begin in January. I do not envy the folks in charge of scheduling spring shows, especially as more time slots are lost to winter reality or competition shows.

Scheduling Shenanigans

You can put whatever new show after strong shows and still have a dud in the ratings race.

On The CW, ableist In The Dark has had zero promotion beyond the scheduling announcement that it starts after Supernatural. Their other new show Roswell: New Mexico or Roswell: TVD received the coveted post Flash slot plus actual promo. Except for The 100, their other spring shows already received cancellations, so ratings definitely don’t matter.

FOX  only has two newbies to premiere, with The Passage starting after The Resident and Proven Innocent taking the 9PM slot after Cool Kids. I don’t know that people watching an hour of comedy will stick around for a procedural, but anything can happen these days.

ABC on Wednesday revealed that in a vote of confidence (or in hopes to increase viewers or to get Whiskey Cavalier onto the schedule earlier) is moving the last bit of A Million Little Things behind Grey’s leaving current slot holder Station 19 off the schedule until March. Considering AMLT  hit a .7 last week… The Fix is the only other newbie to get a spring slot, starting in March in The Good Doctor‘s place. Grand Hotel is now a summer show. ABC what are you doing?!

NBC and CBS have yet to fully unveil their new schedules so more on that in January! However, pilot development is in full swing and reboots (and spin-offs) continue to rule the pack.

Pilot Predictions

Predicting what pilots will make it to series this early is silly, but I do think that a chunk of the reboots in development will definitely make it to air. If they’ll get renewed is another question. Even though this year, only Charmed received a back 9 order (Last Man Standing was ordered with 22 episodes). Last year, all the shows that received fewer than 9 episodes in the fall except for Good Doctor were cancelled. So now in May, that trend continues, or the new trend is that any back order indicates a renewal.

Which is why even though I think it’s silly to bank on so many reboots in development, I know that networks are still going to do it. I won’t list all of the shows in development because there are a lot and many will die by January. The CW has three alone! And NBC already has a series order for Law and Order: Hate Crimes or as my friend calls it, “SVU but grittier” making it the seventh L&O series.

By late January, early February, the big entertainment sites will have lists of all the pilots in contention and then we can really get into the details. Until then, what shows are y’all waiting to see for the first time (or again)?


 

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