Is Marvel TV universe stretched too thin?

The cast of Inhumans (from far left) Eme Ikwuakor, Ken Leung, Anson Mount, Serinda Swan, Isabelle Cornish and Iwan Rheon.
The cast of Inhumans (from left) Eme Ikwuakor, Ken Leung, Anson Mount, Serinda Swan, Isabelle Cornish and Iwan Rheon.PHOTO: MARVEL

Its new television series Inhumans is the second flop in recent months, calling its superhero universe into question even as it rolls out more of such shows

Has Marvel finally overplayed its hand?

Six months after its Netflix series Iron Fist was critically panned, yet another new Marvel television offering, Inhumans, has been eviscerated - which might suggest the relentless expansion of its superhero universe is losing steam.

Marvel Studios' ongoing film franchises, such as The Avengers (2012 to present), Thor (2011 to present) and Captain America (2011 to present), have dominated the box office, and several edgy shows co-produced by its television division, such as Jessica Jones (2015 to present) and Legion (just launched this year), have been critical hits.

But that only makes missteps such as Inhumans - a new series about a superhuman royal family - even more glaring. And when Marvel Television chief Jeph Loeb was grilled about it at a recent Los Angeles press day, things got awkward.

Speaking to The Straits Times and other media at the event, he maintained that each offering would be unique.

This includes two more titles it plans to add to the saturated superhero genre: Runaways, out next month, and next year's Cloak And Dagger, both of which are aimed at teenagers and will air on the Hooq streaming service in Singapore.

 

Mr Loeb says: "We're hoping that each of our shows - whether it is Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans, Jessica Jones, Daredevil or Runaways - feels like a different kind of series in the same kind of way.

"We're hoping that when you tune into a Marvel television show, it's a brand-new experience for you, that it is not, 'This is the hero of the week, this is the villain of the week and they are going to fight each other', and when you come back next week, (it's the same)."

But he reacts defensively when one reviewer suggests the episode of Inhumans screened for a group of American critics in August was not of the same quality as other Marvel shows.

"The show that you have seen is not the finished product," he says. "If you're asking me whether or not it was done, it's not. And to be perfectly honest, I don't understand your question."

Another critic took issue with Marvel's decision to also screen the first two episodes as a 75-minute movie at Imax theatres in the United States and elsewhere.

She remarked that what reviewers had seen did not seem suitable for Imax's wide, high-definition format and wondered if people would be charged Imax's usual premium ticket prices to see something they could catch a few days later on TV.

Clearly angry, Mr Loeb dismisses the question about ticket prices. "I think you're making an editorial statement and I'm wondering what the question is."

But it was not just critics who had issues with Inhumans, which is airing in Singapore on Hooq. When the first trailers were released in June, they met a chorus of boos on social media, many noting the shoddy-looking production values, including with the animation of the Medusa character's hair.

This prompted the release of a revamped trailer, with Medusa now sporting a shaved head. Yet the series still debuted to middling ratings and scathing notices in the US and other countries last week.

This time, critics took issue with the writing, too. "Underwhelming" and the "TV disaster of the year", said one, while another said this could be the biggest critical flop for Marvel since Iron Fist, which was savaged by reviewers when it debuted this year.

The Imax release was similarly panned, one critic pronouncing it "the worst thing Marvel has done in decades".

More successful was The Gifted, a spin-off of Marvel's X-Men stories that follows a family of mutants on the run. It debuted in Singapore this week and airs on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330, StarHub TV Channel 505).

This show, however, is not strictly a Marvel one; it is mainly produced by 20th Century Fox TV, which owns the X-Men movie rights and shares the TV ones with Marvel.

As Mr Loeb speaks to reporters, he pre-empts a question the studio gets a lot, which is: Are there too many superhero genre shows?

"My answer to that is: 'Would you ask that question if it were a medical show, a lawyer show, a police show?' You probably wouldn't. And it's because the people that are working on those shows, even though they have a lot of the same elements, try to make each one different.

"Some of that's (with the) cast, some of that's writing, some of that's tone."

He says Inhumans' story of a superhuman clan will resonate with many viewers, especially younger ones.

And if all else fails, there is Lockjaw, a giant computer-animated bulldog that has proven to be one of the more popular characters.

A viewer "may just watch it and say 'The dog is cool,'" he says. "If a seven-year-old can't enjoy a 2,000-pound slobbering, teleporting bulldog, then I'm not sure who would."

• The Gifted airs in Singapore on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330, StarHub TV Channel 505) on Tuesdays at 9pm. Inhumans is available on Hooq's streaming service, where Runaways will also air next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2017, with the headline 'Marvel's super mistake?'. Print Edition | Subscribe