Entertainment

Hulk-smash or pass? What works and doesn't in Marvel's She-Hulk

Are Marvel fans ready for the jade giantess? Eli Glasner runs down what works and doesn't in the new series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, starring Tatiana Maslany.

Tatiana Maslany flexes her comedic muscles in super-powered legal series

A green-skinned, muscle-bound man and woman face each other in a meditative pose.
'Smart Hulk' and his cousin work on finding a better balance in a scene from She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The Disney+ series stars Canadian Tatiana Maslany as the super-powered lawyer. (Marvel Studios)

With a gamma-powered leap and a wink, She-Hulk, the latest superhero with a series, has landed. The new show streaming on Disney+ stars Canadian Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, cousin to Bruce Banner (a.k.a. the Hulk), who, after an accident, finds herself with abilities similar to the green Avenger. 

When the trailer first dropped many fans focused on the special effects and computer animation of the much-loved Marvel character. Having seen the first four episodes, here's what does and doesn't work in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.

Smash! Maslany and the rest of the cast

A lawyer stands in a courtroom, with one sleeve of her jacket torn off.
She-Hulk, a.k.a. lawyer Jennifer Walters, struggles to balance her legal career with being a superhero. (Marvel Studios)

Maslany earned a legion of fans for her portrayal of multiple, cloned characters on Orphan Black. And while that show demonstrated her versatility, She-Hulk lets Maslany flex her comedic muscles , perfectly channelling the attitude of a legal eagle exhausted by her mansplaining colleagues. This She-Hulk isn't just a female version of Hulk, but someone who is physically (and perhaps mentally) better at blending her Hulk and human sides.

While her cousin — Mark Ruffalo, playing a more erudite "Smart Hulk" — cautions her against returning to her career too soon, Jennifer is eager to return to law. She wants to succeed in life on her own, everyday merits, but quickly learns it's her green-skinned alter-ego who gets the matches on dating apps. 

Head writer and series creator Jessica Gao, who worked on Rick and Morty and Robot Chicken, rounds out the series with a nice stable of characters. Ruffalo is there as the Obi-Wan of her superhero journey. Ginger Gonzaga adds some nice zing as Nikki, Jennifer's paralegal pal, and Benedict Wong returns as Wong, continuing his streak as the cameo king of Marvel universe.

And though having Jennifer work for a law firm that specializes in metahumans opens the show to a multiverse of possibilities, give me fewer annoying lawyer bros and more Awesome Andy the Android.

Pass. The CGI

A green-skinned woman stands in front of a courtroom's empty jury box.
When the trailer for the series arrived, many fans complained about the computer animation of the title character. (Marvel Studios)

When Jennifer transforms into She-Hulk it's not quite sensational but also not Shrek-level bad. In the first episode alone there seems to be a distracting mixture of hues for the jade giantess. Deciding to go fully digital for a character is always a risk, but someone as expressive as She-Hulk brings an added level of difficulty.

The first episode features an impressive level of action with a Hulk vs. She-Hulk wrestling match, but there are times when the technology fails to capture the subtleties of Maslany's performance. There are moments it appears She-Hulk is in danger of sliding into the uncanny valley, but Maslany's charisma sells the character in spite of the superficial faults. 

Pass. Breaking the 4th wall 

Two panels from a comic book, the last of which a green-skinned woman appears to be climbing out of, while yelling at her unseen illustrator.
Beginning in 1989 with the Sensational She-Hulk comic book series, written and drawn by John Byrne, the jade giantess set herself apart by breaking the fourth wall and addressing readers. (Marvel Comics)

There are moments in the series when She-Hulk directly addresses the camera, similar to Ryan Reynolds' schtick as Deadpool. Gao referenced the show Fleabag as a source of inspiration. Created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag used the technique to invite viewers into the head space of her character Lulu. 

She-Hulk doesn't speak to the audience quite as often and it's usually in to poke fun at audience expectations, or the Marvel universe in general.

There is a comic book precedent for this. Writer and artist John Byrne's 1989 Sensational She-Hulk series introduced a She-Hulk who smashed the fourth wall with abandon. Issue after issue she'd rant about the choice villain, complain about wardrobe and even stepped around the comic book panels to save time. While Bryne's book featured more than its share of sexist cheesecake, it also helped establish She-Hulk's voice. As for the TV version, Maslany certainly has fun with the technique, but could use better material than the mostly meta Marvel moments. 

Smash! Lawyer show!

A lawyer and her client face each other in a courtroom.
Jennifer faces down her a former colleague who has been conned by a shape-changing elf. (Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)

"Lawyer show!" is one of Maslany's quips to the camera as she introduces us to her world. At it's best She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a gamma-radiated fusion of Boston Legal and L.A. Law. Building on the success of Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight and Hawkeye, it has a tone all its own. With more Marvel shows than there are versions of Iron Man's armour, there's certainly enough material for a street-level show about superheroic hiccups and lawsuits. 

But if She-Hulk sufferers from anything it's the usual Marvel malady of being unable to fully commit. On one level it wants to be an Ally McBeal zany procedural with Walters trying to balance her love life and legal career. But Marvel being what it is, instead of cross-examining witnesses, we get the requisite C-level supervillain battles. Here's hope that, going forward, the office politics and legal casework doesn't take too much of a backseat to smashing bad guys. 

A tall, green-skinned woman in a glittery dress strides past a crowd of onlookers.
Jennifer quickly learns to enjoy the attention she gets as her green-skinned alter-ego. (Marvel Studios)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eli Glasner

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars and beyond.  

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