Not every Hulk is the same. And that’s okay.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law follows Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), a brilliant and successful defense attorney. When travelling with her cousin, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a car accident results in her receiving his Hulk-infused blood, transforming her into the She-Hulk. Determined to resume her life, Walters returns to her old life with her new body and begins to specialize in superhuman-oriented legal cases, while still navigating life as a single, 30-something.
Now in the second year of the Disney+ experiment, we have seen that other Marvel series like Hawkeye, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or Wandavision have taken themselves with a sense of urgency or seriousness. (Even more comedic entries such as Ms. Marvel or Loki still carried a sense of importance.) But She-Hulk has its own tone and style. Villains are more laughable than fearsome. Playfulness in its lawyer drama akin to famed 90s comedy Ally McBeal gives us a winking eye into the world of the MCU. Appearances from characters such as Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk combo, Benedict Wong, and Tim Roth help place the series firmly within the Marvel Universe and the goofiness seems to flesh out their characters, in some ways. (And, surprisingly, Ruffalo seems quite comfortable with more comedic material.)
What is apparent, however, is that She-Hulk wants to create something new for the Marvel universe. Billed as a comedic ‘lawyer show’, the series feels more like a sitcom than any of the other standard MCU fare. Unlike their more tepid style of humour, conversations about Captain America’s virginity, Hulk-sized hangovers give the show an edge that points the needle more firmly in the direction of Deadpool. (In fact, in a move also similar to the Merc with the Mouth, Jessica also frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the audience.) As a result, there’s a silliness about the show that makes it different.
To be fair, ‘different’ is always welcome, especially in the cookie-cutter MCU.
Whether or not that always works is another story entirely.
Interestingly, one of the more divisive parts of the series may be Maslany herself. While only the first few episodes have been screened to critics, Maslany feels both instantly likeable and out-of-place at the same time. Maybe it’s the show’s tone or writing but her performance initially feels as split as her personality within the series. Without question, Maslany is a remarkable talent and fully willing to engage in sci-fi material. (Just revisit Orphan Black. You’ll thank me later.) When she steps into the role of Walters as lawyer, Maslany lights up the screen with confidence. To Walters, her most powerful weapon is her mind and she is willing to defend the most controversial of characters so that they can have a fair trial. However, when she ‘hulks out’, part of that confidence seems to fade away. Perhaps it’s the CGI or even just her newness to the role but, at times, it feels like something gets lost in the transformation.
What is most interesting about the series though is the fact that this She-Hulk is a more fully integrated version of Ruffalo’s Big Green Beast. Unlike Banner, Walters is also stronger, faster and instantly psychologically integrated. Within her, there is no other ‘hand on the wheel’ or battle for control of her mind. Instead, she is at once both She-Hulk and Jessica, able to control herself more easily than her tormented cousin. But, in doing so, thankfully She-Hulk avoids any potential ‘man-splaining’ of her training. (Though not for lack of his trying…) In this way, there’s an empowering spirit to Walters onscreen. She maintains her passion for justice and fights for her clients. She is willing to express her femininity and ferocity equally in positive ways. There’s a self-awareness within this series that allows Walters to embark on her own personal journey, without mimicking the original character.
Again, there’s genuine potential in this series. Like Walters herself, the series simply hasn’t fully realized it… yet…
The first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is available on Disney+ on Thursday, August 18th, 2022 with new episodes available every Thursday.