Non-spoiler review for the first four episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
Yet another Disney+ Marvel Studios series is coming out on August 18, 2022. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law stars Tatiana Maslany as lawyer Jennifer Walters, cousin of Bruce Banner, aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Through an event that I won’t spoil here (and this review will be as spoiler-free as I can make it), Jennifer gets some of Bruce’s blood, and turns into She-Hulk. Unlike her cousin though, she doesn’t have to deal with the change in emotions or the overwhelming anger.
Jennifer gets a grip on her powers pretty quickly and without any seeming effort other than dealing with her cousin’s attempts to help her – then tries to go back to work. She’s recruited to head up a superhuman law firm, and given a high profile case to deal with in the form of Emil Blonsky (aka Abomination, played by Tim Roth).
As you may recall in Shang-Chi, Wong (Benedict Wong) brought Abomination to an illegal fighting ring to compete, breaking him out of his supermax prison with magic, then returning him.
I’m just going to jump right in here and deal with the name She-Hulk. We all know that some of the names of female superheroes are stupid and derivative. We’ve heard the jokes before and the, “oh, I didn’t make it up and I don’t like it, but oh well” thing they try to do here has been done so many times. Just throwing Supergirl out there as an example. That joke, unfortunately, is representative of the entire series.
There is a good show in here somewhere that seems to have gotten lost in the Disney machine. I’m not saying that as a dig, honestly. I love a whole lot of the Disney+ series, both Marvel Studios and Star Wars. It’s just that it feels like, if She-Hulk: Attorney at Law was given some time to breathe, maybe some longer episodes so it wasn’t just a series of quips and dated jokes about women, dating, and not wanting to be a superhero, it would have felt more grounded.
Grounding is definitely something this series needs. You can feel it trying to capture the freshness and laughter of the comic book, with the fourth wall breaking, and the quips. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law just never quite does. Everything just feels very light and fluffy. Turning into a Hulk, and even more than that, the accident that turns her in the first place, are treated like someone at Starbucks got her order wrong.
Yeah, it’s annoying, but no biggie. Finding clothes is a pain, but whatever. (Also, the clothing thing sometimes makes sense and sometimes doesn’t. Who makes spandex suits for the courtroom that stretch that much? Why are they sometimes too big and other times, not at all?)
Nothing has any stakes here, and good comedy does, even when it’s outrageous or a joke hose. Everything feels silly, from Blonsky’s pen pal prison romances, to a rare heartfelt moment with Bruce looking at Tony Stark’s carved initials in his bar, being tossed aside in seconds. Jennifer breaks the bar, destroying them, and it’s never mentioned again.
It feels like there were two scripts here, and the good one keeps peeking out in little moments. Like when Jennifer seems sad that her dates only want one side of her but not the other, or that moment with the initials are looked at. Then bam, jokes aplenty, emotion forgotten.
There are a few beats in here that are fun, like a certain drunk lady that ends up being a character that I want to see more of, but mostly the series just feels like it has no weight to it. A huge event happens in the beginning, connected to Jennifer’s change, and they barely mention it. In any other show, this would have been a big deal, but Jen and Bruce just banter along with each other, never bringing it up again.
I have to address the CGI, since that’s the first thing anyone mentions when they talk about the trailers, and yes, it’s still terrible. With all the information out there about how little time and consideration VFX people are getting, it makes sense, but it doesn’t look good. If you’re going to do a show like this, that’s sort of a priority, I would think.
Either that’s something that’s going to bother you, or you can ignore it. Your mileage may vary. I let it go early on, but it’s there in the back of your mind every time the camera focuses on She-Hulk’s eyes and mouth, which is a lot. Add to that the fact that her makeup seems to transform with her — stretching to fit and changing color — and it’s a lot of suspension of disbelief.
This sounds pretty dire, but one thing does save it, and that’s the performances. Tatiana Maslany — and this is no surprise — is fantastic. She does wonders with what she’s given, as does Ginger Gonzaga, who plays her best friend and paralegal Nikki. Some of the jokes that would have fallen flat are lifted up by their performances. Add in Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, and Benedict Wong as fan-favorite Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme, and you have the potential for a show that I really want to see.
I think what’s bothering me the most here is that you can glimpse the show that didn’t make it to the screen, hiding in here. I don’t know if there were studio notes that changed things, time constraints (which everything has had through Covid), or what, but as I said before, it feels like there are two scripts.
The good one shows up in moments, and the not-so-great one shoves it back down. I really want to see the show underneath – the one that takes its time, doesn’t try to shove a thousand references in, and lets these wonderful actors do their jobs without constraint.
It feels more like a sketch show or a comedy bit from the early 2000s that says, “Ugh, men, am I right?” As a woman who works online and has dealt with a lot of jerks (as we all have), I’m your target audience for that. It should have worked, but it doesn’t. I want to see Jennifer Walters feel something, or really react. The series could have been funny. In fact, it should be. The comics certainly are.
It’s so frustrating, because I wanted this show to exist. I wanted to love it. I’m willing to love the future episodes. I’m just disappointed because here we have a great character, wonderful actors, a funny premise, and the chance to do something different.
What She-Hulk: Attorney at Law feels like is a place to dump a lot of references, with no real stakes or emotion. I hope it gets better. I’m rooting for Jennifer Walters.
Also, be warned about two things. First, there was very little of Titania and the amazing Jameela Jamil in the first four episodes, which was disappointing. Second, if you haven’t seen The Sopranos, you will be spoiled for some major plot points. If that matters to you, you should know it going in.