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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Inhumans Casting Breakdown

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As the future of Marvel TV lurches forever forward the time has finally come to speak once more about the Inhumans.  I actually blew most of my article formats on this particular Marvel property 2 years ago when it first looked like Agents of SHIELD was going to lead into the Inhumans.  Allegedly that’s still happening only now their debut will be in the form of a prestige TV show rather than a film, which is probably for the best.  Marvel spent 5 years trying to make the Inhumans into a suitable substitute for the X-Men with exactly zero success so abandoning that plan in the name of a television show is probably smart. 

However, there are still some pretty big red flags when it comes to the Inhumans show but rather than go through them in a list format I figured I’d naturally address them through a casting breakdown.  After all, an Inhumans show is going to have to focus heavily on a very small collection of characters, and while I’ve already discussed their comic book origins, the actors involved raise a whole new dimension to the conversation.  So, with that in mind let’s talk about the casting of Marvel’s Inhumans. 

We start with the biggest name on the list- Black Bolt.  For those with no grounding in the Inhumans, they’re a secret of genetically altered humans created by the alien Kree thousands of years ago.  The Kree have already appeared in the MCU, they were Ronan’s people from Guardians of the Galaxy, and I seem to recall them appearing in Agents of SHIELD season 2 as well.  The Inhumans are usually relegated to the hidden city of Attilan, a technologically advanced metropolis sometimes hidden in the Himalayas and sometimes on the moon- it varies.

At puberty, each Inhuman is exposed to a substance called the Terrigen mists triggering something called Terrigenesis, a process by which the Inhuman is transformed into an incredibly powerful and freakish being.  In the case of Black Bolt, his Terrigenesis afforded him the most powerful voice in the universe.  Basically, his voice is a supremely powerful sonic blast that he can’t control at all so even a single whisper can destroy an aircraft carrier. 

Given that limitation, the actor involved in the part needs to be more expressive than anything else, and I think Anson Mount will probably do the role justice.  He’s a veteran of forgotten TV and movie projects that you vaguely remember like Non-Stop or Straw Dogs (2011.) 

However, he’s got a very expressive and beautiful face that I think is a nice fit for Black Bolt.  The role requires someone with stage presence and an aged gravitas, which Mount can muster pretty easily.  I’m not exactly sure how the show will work with a major character who can’t speak, but he also has powers of flight and lightning, so there’s certainly a trade-off being made. 

Another notable TV fixture, Serinda Swan has actually done the superhero dance before, appearing in a trio of Smallville episodes as the magician Zatanna.  Since then she, much like Mount, has been a consistently growing TV staple, making a name for herself in Graceland, Chicago Fire, and Ballers.  I’m not completely on board with her as Medusa, but that’s mainly because I’m not terribly on board with Medusa the character. 

She’s long been the weak link in the Inhumans chain as evidenced by the fact she was originally just a random super-villain on the Frightful Four.  Admittedly, she was at the heart of the Inhumans premiere arc in the pages of Fantastic Four, but she’s always had a hard time getting out from under her husband Black Bolt’s shadow.  Her power is prehensile hair which sounds infinitely more impressive than the FX budget Marvel shows are usually allotted. 

In the case of Swan, a lot of her career is based around doing sexy action, which is by no means a mark against her as an actor.  Being sexy while beating people to a pulp is no easy feat, and Lord knows Marvel loves to take time out to show off their various beefcake male heroes for the women and gay men in the audience.  It’s an aesthetic with a place though I’m not sure its one best suited to Medusa.  A lot of this will be informed by how the show handles the Inhumans as that same restrictive budget will probably keep us out of their secret high-tech city so maybe having sexy action girl Medusa will be more suited to a “monarchs on the run” story. 

Meet the one name on this list I was at all familiar with before setting out to break this casting down.  For the unfamiliar Iwan Rheon got his break on the bizarre “jerks with super powers” series Misfits before making the jump to Game of Thrones where he earned the title of “most hated character” as Ramsay Bolton.  His role on Inhumans is Maximus, the Mad, King Black Bolt’s scheming brother with vague mind control powers. 

Maximus is basically the one villain core to the limited Inhumans franchise and spends most time vying between carrying out amoral missions for Black Bolt and scheming to overthrow him and take the throne for himself.  He’s basically your off the shelf “evil relative” character from every example of royal/courtly intrigue story you’ve ever heard, which is exactly why this casting has me so worried. 

While Iwan Rheon is pretty much a pitch-perfect Maximus, his casting hints at something I’ve feared about the Inhumans show from day one- that it’ll try to be Game of Thrones but with super powers.  That’s been Marvel’s Inhumans pitch for 5 years straight ever since they decided they didn’t want to promote the X-Men anymore because they didn’t own the movie rights to that IP. 

The thing is that the Inhumans are a terrible Game of Thrones riff because there’s only 1 kingdom and 1 royal family.  You can’t sell credible intrigue without external threats and multiple vying force of control but the Inhumans is limited to one scheming brother so transparently evil his title is “the mad manipulator.”  So yeah, consider this the red flag among the casting choices, a solid actor suggesting a lame approach to adaptation. 

Now we’re back in the Inhuman casting’s comfort zone with Eme Ikwuakor. Ikwuakor is yet another veteran character actor of numerous popular shows that haven’t actually proved impactful on pop culture.  The main difference between him and Mount and Swan is that he’s never really had a lead defining role for some unaccountable reason. 

His most prolonged part was in the series Extant but by the same token, his character there went unnamed.  However, he’s popped up consistently in the likes of Colony, How to Get Away with Murder, NCIS: Los Angeles, Hawaii Five-0, and Silicon Valley.  He’s a TV casting stand by waiting for his big break, which I reckon Gorgon could easily be. 

Gorgon is basically “the lovable one” in the Inhumans boy band.  His superpower is creating massive and destructive shockwaves by stamping his hoof-like feet, which is admittedly cool to be sure.  However, it’s his personality that sells the show- a bawdy, loud, hard-drinking barbarian type warrior that everyone likes.  He basically looks and acts like an RPG player who's just a little too into this whole tavern experience. 

However, casting Ikwuakor could easily end up a little awkward as the Inhumans are actually slavers.  Granted, their version of slaves are a genetically engineered race of slaves called the “alpha primitives, family friendly” but that’s still pretty bad.  Either way, it’s going to be pretty dissonant and unwelcome featuring a black guy as a slaver in your big, family-friendly, sci-fi series but maybe the slavery will get chopped out along with Attilan and all the interesting bits of the mythos. 

After Iwan Rheon Ken Leung is probably the most successful actor in this bunch.  Like the other folks mentioned he’s had a long and sporadic history of side roles like a whole slew of different characters on Law & Order, a brief stint on Person of Interest, an episode of The Sopranos, and a handful of movie bit roles.  He was the spiky young mutant in X-Men: The Last Stand, which technically makes him a returning superhero veteran.  

He also played one of the hostages in Inside Man, specifically one obsessed with women’s breast sizes, so that helped him stand out, certainly more so than his role as one of the admirals in Star Wars: Force Awakens.  However, his most prominent role was in Lost as Miles Straume, a character he played for about 3 years. 

Overall if I was trying to boil Leung’s roles to a single identity he feels like a supporting actor more than anything else, most often slotting into the role of a detective’s partner or the like.  I’m not sure that’s the best pitch for Karnak, though he does often end up playing the serious foil to Gorgon’s bombast and mirth.  However, Karnak is just as often slotted into the role of lone wolf detective, especially in recent comics. 

That stems from the fact he’s the only Inhuman who hasn’t undergone Terrigenesis, so all his abilities come from meditation and being an incredibly powerful martial artists.  In particular, he’s harnessed his chi in such a way that allows him to sense structural flaws in anything he looks at, which is definitely a cool power as far as these things go.  I realize that it’s probably a little tasteless to cast an Asian character as “Mr. Kung-Fu, ” but it’s also probably better to have SOME Asian characters rather than none. 

Isabelle Cornish is the newest actor cast in Inhumans, with only a couple of productions under her belt- Home and Away and Puberty Blues.  Those are both Australian teen shows, if you’re curious, which is most likely why I’ve never heard of them.  Australia seems to be the new it place for Hollywood to poach hot up and coming actors from like Margot Robbie or the Hemsworth brothers.  

In that respect, I suppose Isabelle Cornish has a pretty solid pedigree though the fact, so few Australian TV enterprises ended up imported to the US certainly gives me pause.  However, I feel her two stand out previous role do fit well with the character of Crystal. 

Crystal is the princess of the Inhumans, which I suppose technically makes her a Disney princess now.  She’s the younger sister of Medusa and has always been the Inhuman most involved with the human world.  She’s been an Avenger and part of the Fantastic Four and carried on relationships with the Human Torch, Quicksilver, and Ronan, so she tends to get around the Marvel mythos.  

She’s also the most classically powered Inhuman with the ability to manipulate the classical elements of wind, fire, earth, and water.  She’s sort of the young and na├»ve yet decidedly powerful member of the Inhuman family so casting her with an actor who excels at teen stories makes a lot of sense, even if she isn’t a terribly seasoned pro. 

This was pretty much always going to be an odd entry to get a handle on.  Triton is the eldest Inhuman, uncle to Black Bolt, and also a fish person.  He’s cover in green scales, can breathe underwater, and often goes around with a trident because that’s what you do when you live under the sea.  However, that casual bit of aquamarine physiology has probably already relegated him to being either a bit character on the show or completely re-imagined. 

I’ve mentioned before that Marvel shows rarely get much budget and I suspect Inhumans will be the hardest hit in this particular category, much the same way the show runner’s previous project Iron Fist had to lose all the cool Kung-Fu magic and hidden city stuff due to budget reasons.  In the case of Triton, I’d expect a few latex gills, and that’s about it, nothing on the technical level of Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies despite the characters’ outward similarities. 

As for actor Mike Moh he seems a solid actor overall, but it’s just very hard to tell how he’ll be in a part that screams “seriously reworked” before we’ve even started.  Moh’s acting career includes a stint on Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, so he’s at least got history working under costume and such, though more commonly he ends up as Ryu in various Street Fighter TV mini-series.  More recently he’s found steady work as a supporting character on Empire, the record/hip-hop industry’s answer to Dynasty and Dallas. 

As I said, I’m hard pressed to say exactly what to expect from Triton’s realization but I honestly kind of expect he’ll end up more of an action-oriented character than previous incarnations.  Moh has the most history with choreography and action scenes of the various actors I’ve seen here so he’d certainly be a fitting choice if they decided to make Triton an action fish instead of a kindly uncle. 

Let me just open this entry by saying I don’t really care for Auran.  I don’t have anything against the character, just that I’ve never really been able to find an in to the era of Inhumans that spawned her.  She was introduced as the head of Inhuman security with the power to hear anything in the world at any time.  She’s the most recent character in the bunch, with only a handful of comic appearances under her belt so far but apparently she’s quite the fan base. 

From what I’ve been told, after her character was killed off, she was brought back to life thanks to fan demand.  I don’t really know why that is, having read over her stuff she seems fine if not terribly engaging, but it at least explains why she’s getting a spot alongside the Royal Family.  She’s actually being pushed as the series protagonist, which certainly raises a lot of questions about how much of her character will make it through the adaptation process. 

Marvel shows are usually made very much on the cheap so I’m not sure how much of Attilan Inhumans will feature, so the idea of her being in charge of security is much more up in the air.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if, like Triton, he visual design was a bit more stripped down and less animalistic.  Some of the leaked photos from Hawaii seem to show Black Bolt, the Inhuman king, on the run, so I could see the plot revolving around Auran tracking him down. 

Given that Black Bolt is the one who killed her in the books, that also raises a few questions about whether Auran will survive, doubly so given how much Marvel wants to push Inhumans as their Game of Thrones.  As for Sonya Balmores, she’s a fine actor though her filmography leans weirdly heavy on surf adventure fair.  It’ll be nice to see her wings beyond that genre here, though push comes to shove the ensemble nature of the show should be able to give her breathing room to grow, especially if she needs to work under heavy make-up. 

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