‘She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’ Review: Marvel’s Latest Has Lots of Potential (and Problems)
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has one of Marvel’s best TV premises. It’s a superhero version of a lawyer show, with the title character getting involved in cases about people with powers. What if you got into a relationship with a shapeshifter only to discover they weren’t you thought they were? What happens when a hugely powerful super-villain genuinely reforms and wants parole? These are the sorts of mundane yet very important questions that would need answering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and on She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, they get to play out.
That’s the welcome and exciting part of the show; it’s got a lot of potential. But at least the first couple of episodes, which Disney made available to critics, also have a lot of problems. Most involve pacing; since She-Hulk has never appeared in a Marvel movie or show before, that intriguing premise needs to be built from the ground up. The entire first episode is devoted to introducing both She-Hulk’s alter ego, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), and her supporting cast, and it also has to explain how she becomes a Hulk like her cousin, uh, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Most of the second episode lays the groundwork for the rest of her status quo; her law firm, her rationale for taking the job, her conflicted relationship with her superheroic alter ego. It’s not really until Episode 3 that you get something like what I presume most typical She-Hulks will be moving forward.
Once the show gets there, it works a lot better. It’s easy to see She-Hulk becoming a likable and very watchable show in a super-powered-case-of-the-week vein that Marvel could continue indefinitely. It’s just got to get through those rocky first episodes — and endure some special effects that have already drawn a lot of negative attention.
Does She-Hulk: Attorney at Law really look that bad? In the episodes I watched, I didn’t think so. But it also doesn’t look great, either. As Jennifer Walters, Maslany has a bright and expressive face. When she transforms into a She-Hulk, she looks like a big green statue. In isolated moments, you can accept the reality of the situation. But when she moves or talks, the gestures and facial expressions don’t quite pass the smell test.
Part of that may have to do with the tone of the show, which is broader and more openly comedic than almost everything else Marvel has done. Drawing inspiration from a cultishly popular She-Hulk comic from the late ’80s and early ’90s by writer and artist John Byrne, Maslany’s character can break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. Sometimes she explains details of plot and character; sometimes she outright makes fun of her own show and the Marvel tropes that are quickly turning into clichés — like the company’s tendency to rely on big-name guest stars. Jen Walters promises viewers that her show won’t be like that, before conceding that since She-Hulk features Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Tim Roth’s Abomination (along with at least one more familiar Marvel hero I won’t spoil), well, maybe it will be like that.
The concept is fun, but the show’s She-Hulk never seems animated and alive enough to work within it; she’s this big, stiff mass at the center of things. Plus, the series uses the breaking the fourth-wall device so sparingly (at least in the first few episodes), that it’s easy to forget about it between its infrequent appearances. So far, it feels less like a bold stylistic choice than a storytelling crutch used to work around awkward story beats. It definitely needs to be better integrated into the show.
It’s tough to rate the performances on a show like this because so many of them are being given by computer-generated characters. Maslany has an effervescent presence, at least when she’s not replaced by green CGI, which is often. The real standout in the cast is Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, who’s mellowed in the years since we last saw him as the Abomination. He understands precisely the tone She-Hulk wants, and he really brings just the right energy to his scenes.
This is a strange review. On the one hand, I have to confess that I did not particularly enjoy most of the She-Hulk episodes I watched. On the other hand, I am curious about the rest of this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if in a year or two this was one of the most well-liked Marvel Disney+ shows. The potential is there. She-Hulk just needs to embrace that smart, fun investigation into what a world with superheroes would really be like, and maybe refine those She-Hulk effects a little. Do that, and I could see She-Hulk growing into a big green hit.
Sign up for Disney+ here.