Inhumans suffers from its brand synergy in an unexpected way. The first two episodes of Marvel’s newest TV show — set to debut on ABC in late September — have just been released as a cinematic product that you can view in Imax at a multiplex near you. But before the 80-odd minutes of its superheroic adventuring roll on the big screen, you see trailers for the next two proper Marvel movies: Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. These trailers aren’t new, but they remain as thrilling as they were when they debuted weeks and months ago, respectively. Their special effects seamlessly integrate with the actors present. Their moments of humanity resonate in high definition. And then the feature presentation begins.
The question facing Marvel fans is whether you should shell out nearly $20 to see Inhumans in Imax, or just wait until it hits the airwaves. The answer is as clear as crystal (not to be confused with the Inhuman named Crystal, whose inner life is actually quite opaque): Hold out for the small screen. I’ll leave the assessment of the content to Vulture’s professional critics, but suffice it to say that, on a purely technical level, the Imax experience is wasted on the visuals of Inhumans.
Thanks to Inhumans’ trailers, 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, which greatly resembles the visages from the too-oft-forgotten 1990s cartoon ReBoot. 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.
Yes, there’s a chance that all of this stuff might translate better on network television. Our expectations will be lower and our viewing apparatuses more primitive. But when blown up to massive proportions and put in the same physical context as a summer blockbuster, the finished product is diminished. As we learn early in the show, the titular Inhumans gain their special abilities by going through a process called Terrigenesis, in which their latent powers appear after a magical transformation. Putting Inhumans into Imax is a kind of reverse Terrigenesis, in which a transformation from one thing into another only leads to reduction.