It’s not easy being green. Just ask that musical amphibian, for example. In fact, this sentiment expressed through the power of song seems to ring true whether you just happen to be a Jolly Giant, a Yuletide-thieving Grinch, or the Incredible rage-fuelled alter-ego of a scientist whom you wouldn’t like when they’re angry.
Having been a mainstay of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since as far back as the second movie to be released in the franchise, the Incredible Hulk himself now has to share the spotlight with a new kid on the block. Lucky he isn’t a green-eyed monster, that fellow, just a green-skinned one. Ladies, gentlemen and others, please welcome to the (small) screen Jennifer Walters, who is perhaps better (if rather reluctantly) known as She-Hulk.
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Jen is the cousin of Bruce Banner, and through an accident in which she happens to absorb some of Bruce’s volatile blood, she gets the same ability to transform herself. However, Jen is just a girl who wants to carry on living her everyday life as a lawyer, fighting the good fight in the courtroom, using her intellect to win battles, rather than her fists. Everyday life, however, has other plans for her, and Jen ends up having to come to terms with being a superhero, trying to make sense of her new status, while also juggling her career.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is Marvel Studios’ first full-on foray into sitcom territory, having previously dabbled with its love letter to decades of TV comedies in WandaVision as their initial entry on Disney+, giving some characters chance to shine away from the focus of the blockbuster movies and focus-pulling A-list heroes. Think of She-Hulk perhaps as a ‘roided-up Better Call Saul, a superpowered Boston Legal, a gamma-irradiated Ally McBeal. Yes, this show is ostensibly a legal comedy.
And that may garner objections from a number of counsels, some wiser and more learned than others. She-Hulk is not a series which takes itself at all seriously, with its breaking of the fourth wall being faithful to the convention established in the original comic book version during John Byrne’s run as creative lead. People who may want to cry that this is just a rip-off of Deadpool need to bear in mind Shulkie was doing that schtick years before the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ was even a glint in Rob Liefeld’s eye.
If you like Deadpool’s style, then you may well warm to this, with Jen’s asides to the audience firmly cocking a snook and thumbing a nose at not just the conventions of storytelling, but also irreverently deconstructing the genre of superhero movies, culminating in gleefully taking potshots at Marvel Studios, and head honcho Kevin Feige in a completely joyous moment which may just have you punching the air, in which She-Hulk not just breaks that fourth wall, but climbs right out, reminiscent of the first episode of The Strange World Of Gurney Slade.
Marvel has always mostly had a sense of humour to varying degrees, unlike the sullen, po-faced and uber-serious DC Extended Universe, where – under Zack Snyder – the colour palette used on screen has at times been as drab as the tone of the storytelling. One of the MCU’s best features – Thor: Ragnarok – is basically a buddy comedy road-trip romp, but humour might sometimes not sit particularly well, judging from Taika Waititi’s follow-up – Thor: Love and Thunder – being tonally all over the place, managing not to balance the yuks against decide and terminal cancer.
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If you happen to be getting a bit of superhero fatigue, then She-Hulk may be the programme for you. Not afraid to be quite merciless and lampoon the medium, its lighthearted view askew at everything capes and tights-related should end up annoying the (alt-)right people for the right reasons. For beneath all the outward jokiness, She-Hulk does tackle a whole series of issues, going from the perils of online dating, to the glass ceiling, objectification and commoditisation of women, the dangers posed by social media influencers, and the rise of organised online hatred against females.
Yes, She-Hulk certainly does know its audience, particularly the vocal segment who will shout loudly in digital fora about how much they despise the rise of the so-called ‘M-She-U’ – introducing more female characters and giving them greater prominence – while still religiously tuning in to hate-watch. A spoonful of laughter truly helps the social commentary go down, that is unless you happen to be one of those trolls who hang out on misogynistic message boards like 4chan, which is sent up so deliciously in the form of Intelligencia, users of which despise there being a female Hulk.
She-Hulk definitely goes for the jugular at times, and lands most of its blows with skilful precision, although some are a tad less subtle. Perhaps the strength comes from the fact of the showrunner, writers and directors all being women, as it means they can speak about their personal hopes, fears and experiences through the Trojan Horse of an entry in what is a predominantly male-led environment. It really is refreshing to have so many female voices entering the field, and being able to make themselves heard, while delivering something which is distinctly different to usual Marvel fare.
As the heart of the show, Tatiana Maslany truly makes for a superb lead, playing the dual roles perfectly. Her Jennifer is simply so adorkable, her career-driven nerdish booksmarts contrasting beautifully against when she is portraying the self-assured, empowered Jade Giantess. While some of the motion capture CGI renderings fall short from time to time (a criticism which was so loudly voiced after the first trailer was released), there is still more than enough nuance and expression which comes through in Maslany’s performance as She-Hulk.
In fact, the whole ensemble in Jen’s world is cast beautifully, even down to bit-part players like Patty Guggenheim as the frequently inebriated party girl Madisynn King. Beyond the entourage of supporting players here, we also get some big names turning up for cameos, such as Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner / the Hulk, and Tim Roth as the now somewhat more karmically-aligned and zen Emil Blonsky / the Abomination. The ever-wonderful Benedict Wong – part of the connective tissue of the MCU – always gives good value, and here he is glorious as ever as Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme (plus secret reality TV show maven).
In a series which seems to chiefly consist of ever-increasing highlights, it really is hard to pick out a genuine pinnacle, but perhaps the biggest crowd pleasing fangasm comes with the appearance of Charlie Cox. Having already shown up as Matt Murdock in Spider-Man: No Way Home, here we finally get the long-awaited return of Daredevil. With a real clamour to get far more of the ‘Man Without Fear’ after his Netflix series was axed in 2018, Cox’s Daredevil does not disappoint, and we even get to see a much lighter side of the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’, although this brief respite from the grimness and grittiness has rankled a few diehards.
She-Hulk is just the kind of kick in the pants that was badly needed for the MCU as we stagger towards the end of Phase Four, being just the breath of fresh air required to revitalise a franchise which was in danger of seemingly treading water at times. While clearly not going to be to everybody’s liking, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is definitely a Hulk smash.