Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Inhumans have had a weird, rocky road to inclusion in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea of introducing the Attilan Royal family was first rumored as far back as 2011 and by August of 2013 Joe Robert Cole was announced as writing the script. Progress moved in fits and starts, with a release date tentatively set for 2019. At one point rumors swirled the film was canceled since Inhumans had begun to play a significant role on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Most recently, Marvel announced Inhumans will begin life as an eight-episode television series this September — with the first two premiering in IMAX theaters — before the feature film, the release date of which is currently in flux.
Now THR is reporting that director Roel Reine (Death Race 2) has been tapped to helm the two Inhumans episodes that will play in over 1,000 IMAX theaters this Labor Day weekend before the show moves to the small screen. The limited-run series will introduce audiences at large to the Inhuman Royals, including King Black Bolt and his wife, Medusa. This will be the first time a superhero franchise has truly interconnect its live-action universes across multiple platforms. Despite the fact Agents of SHIELD and Netflix’s street-level superheroes, The Defenders take place in the same continuity, the logistics of production schedules have left them mostly hermetically sealed off from the larger MCU. So much so the people working on Captain America: Civil War didn’t even know Inhumans* had been added to the plot of S.H.I.E.L.D.
(*The Inhumans on S.H.I.E.L.D. differ from Royal Inhumans in that they are the product of interspecies relations with Earthlings.)
So why now, and why with the Inhumans? There’s no way to know for sure, as Marvel is understandably tight-lipped about its plans, but my guess would be to inoculate against the Inhumans feature film from having to be an origin story. Much like the Avengers or the X-Men, the Inhumans are a complex and wide-ranging group of people with a variety of powers, interpersonal relationships, and emotional baggage. You could do an entire franchise just about the adventures and mishaps of the Royal family without ever touching on the wider Marvel universe. Without a preamble of some sort, any Inhumans movie would be bogged down in exposition and character introductions for at least the first third of the film.
But while a television show can act as a prequel, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ratings prove, not everyone is a completist and won’t necessarily tune in to watch. So I’d hazard to guess Marvel is hedging its bets by placing the first two episodes into theaters to hook audiences into following the rest of the story at home. It’s a gamble, but should it play out then Black Bolt, Medusa, and the rest of the gang will be able to spring forth fully-formed and get straight to the matter at hand whenever the release date firms up, a feat usually reserved for the second installment in a film franchise.
If this is indeed what Marvel’s plan is, if it works you should expect to see other cinematic universes follow in their footsteps. Perhaps it’s not too late for The Dark Tower to be a franchise for both the silver and small screens.