Could Inhumans become Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Imax-sized flop? We look for hints at an audience with director Roel Reine

Hong Kong audience unimpressed by below-par effects at a screening of ‘unfinished’ footage from the upcoming Imax/TV hybrid series about lesser-known Marvel superheroes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 6:59pm

If there’s one thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it is that it has always been able to prove conventional wisdom wrong.

The grand vision behind MCU – to connect multiple superhero films that would collectively build towards a team-up movie in 2012 – was considered too ambitious by industry insiders ... until The Avengers took US$1.5 billion at the global box office and changed the landscape of Hollywood.

When MCU branched out to the small screen, some wondered if the drastically different production schedules and storytelling structure would ruin the continuity of the universe; it mostly didn’t.

By 2014, when MCU managed to turn an obscure team of corny superheroes – one of whom is a talking raccoon – into the critically acclaimed, almost US$800 million-grossing hit Guardians of the Galaxy, people finally learnt to stop doubting Marvel Studio president Kevin Feige.

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But MCU may finally have bitten off more than it can chew with Inhumans, an ambitious series whose first two episodes were shot on Alexa 65mm Imax cameras and will enjoy a worldwide Imax cinematic run for two weeks, before the other eight episodes of the season are aired on television.

This hybrid big screen/small screen project is a first for a live-action television series, but so far, early buzz about the show, from both fans and US television critics who have seen clips and trailers, has been negative.

The Post got the chance to view the trailer and four short clips last month at a Disney promotional event held at UA iSquare in Tsim Sha Tsui, and we can say that the footage, while not totally terrible by TV standards, feels like it deserves neither the hype nor the Imax stage.

The director of the first two episodes, Roel Reine, agreed the early footage looked below par. Speaking to UK newspaper Metro earlier this month, the Dutch filmmaker said: “I was mixed about the trailer as well. I felt like it didn’t give you the scope ... I was really nervous about it and would think the fans would not really like it.”

The biggest gripe fans had with the first trailer, released in late June, was the below-par special effects, particularly the CGI animation of the character Medusa’s free-flowing, prehensile bright red hair.

In Hong Kong for the press event, Roel assures the Post that these have been fixed. “The first two episodes had over 600 FX shots, and the toughest ones were for Medusa’s hair. The footage we screened today [in Hong Kong] is still not finished, really, but you can see her hair looks better than the [footage from June].”

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Based on the fictional group of technologically advanced alien superhumans that first appeared on the pages of Marvel comics in 1965, Inhumans tells the story of the species’ “royal family”, led by their king, Black Bolt, and queen Medusa. There are five other members of the family, including Black Bolt’s power-hungry brother Maximus. The series focuses on the latter’s betrayal and overtaking of the kingdom.

Reine believes this family and political dynamic make Inhumans different from other Marvel properties.

“The show is about seven characters and the politics between not just them, but the land they rule,” says Reine. “Within the Inhumans race and culture there’s a class system that decides who’s destined to do what, and I think this has parallels to the real world, especially the politics in the US right now with all the racism and classism.”

Reine says though he wasn’t familiar with the comic material when he accepted the job – to be fair, most people are not, as the characters are as minor and unpopular as superheroes can get – he quickly did his homework, particularly catching up on another Marvel TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that had introduced some members of the Inhumans race already.

“I definitely took the developments of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into consideration, since everything in the MCU is connected,” he says. Not that Reine had a choice.

Marvel president Feige is notorious for being hands-on and controlling with MCU properties to ensure everything falls into his larger universe-building plan. It’s a system that comic fans love – the consistency in plot points and character continuity throughout 16 films and half a dozen TV series are unprecedented in entertainment history – but some filmmakers find restricting. Several directors, including Edgar Wright and Joss Whedon, have departed MCU projects on bad terms.

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Being an origin story set mostly in a distant world, Inhumans shouldn’t be too bogged down by the drama of the main MCU world yet – half the Avengers are wanted fugitives while a purple alien is heading towards earth with a vengeance – but Reine acknowledges everything could tie together down the line.

Does this mean Reine has been briefed by Feige on what will happen in the highly anticipated 2018 film Avengers: Infinity War? “I have been told [some things]. But if I say anything Marvel would kill me,” he says.

Whether Inhumans will get a second season is worth pondering, considering the negative word of mouth that’s spreading all over the internet. Speculation as to what led to this rare potential Marvel misfire include a rushed production schedule, which Reine confirmed in a recent interview to CNET, calling the schedule “super-tight” and suggesting that he was hired by Marvel because of his ability to work fast and cheap due to his background of directing mostly low-budget straight-to-DVD movies.

Another belief among some fans is that the source material was uninteresting to begin with – there’s a reason Inhumans are considered D-list superheroes. That Reine is saddled with such a lame duck group is a shame, considering he seems to understand the problems that plague big, dumb Hollywood blockbusters.

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“I hate how Hollywood does action and fight scenes,” Reine says. “It’s all quick cuts and close-ups, so you can’t really see anything.”

He much prefers the Hong Kong cinema approach – that of the ’80s and ’90s, anyway – of wide shots and long takes. In fact, Reine says one action scene in Inhumans is shot “Hong Kong-style”.

The Hong Kong press was, sadly, not treated to that Hong Kong-inspired action scene, but we did get to see a dining room scene involving the king and queen that, according to Reine, was influenced by Wong Kar-wai. “I am a huge fan of Wong,” Reine says, “and of Hong Kong cinema. I knew with the Imax canvas I could make use of the extra space.”

The first two episodes of Inhumans open in Imax cinemas on August 31

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