Charlie von Peterffy ‘24 / Entertainment Monthly Staff Writer
For Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, quality has become an expectation. Over the years, Marvel has had many greats; watching Avengers: Endgame for the first time in theaters is an unmatched experience. Unfortunately, the MCU also has mediocrity, like Alan Taylor’s infamously hollow Thor: The Dark World and Academy Award-winner Chloé Zhao’s logic-void Eternals. A debate among fans is whether the MCU has lost its charm, as new movies and TV series continue to meet middling reception. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, the first Hulk character-centric MCU installment since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, is no exception. Since the premiere episode, viewers have complained about an apparent lack of creativity and no backbone to the series. Some say the writing is weak; some say the plot is convoluted; others say She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslani) is too strong, appearing stronger than Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). While many of these complaints are inherently misogynistic, others make some solid points. She-Hulk may not be the MCU’s best, but it has plenty to offer in its characters, performances, overarching themes, and overall self-awareness.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a TV show about lawyer Jennifer Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner, after some of Banner’s blood drips in her system in a car accident. In the show, she explores striking a balance between her career and being a Hulk, tries to spark her love life, and struggles to accept her new identity. In doing so, Walters faces endless emotional and physical goals, whether getting rejected on dates or beaten by thugs. Ultimately, she learns what it means to be a Hulk, finding a new purpose in her life as a lawyer and a superhero.
The story, for the most part, is decent. As a series of stand-alone episodes connected by Walters’ character development, the show explores new corners of the MCU left unexplored until now. This strategy proves to be both beneficial and disadvantageous. On one hand, it allows new kinds of characters to appear in the franchise, bringing lighthearted, refreshing, and unique qualities. Plus, with its fourth wall breaking, the show gets a sense of self-awareness that other MCU properties cannot. It prides itself in precisely what it does and gives no apologies. These new personalities and storytelling techniques are some of the many strengths that keep the show afloat.
However, the writing is too hamfisted to allow these new concepts and characters to reach their full potential. Especially in the first five episodes, the script feels devoid of logic and emotional resonance. Instead of finding ways to advance its story, develop its characters, or deepen its urbanity, it attempts to make itself seem sharp by overusing quips and gags. These gags make the show feel desperate to entrap new viewers, further degrading its appeal to fans and newcomers. Fortunately, the series finds its footing towards its latter half, exponentially lessening its disruptive quips and increasing its heart and depth. The story may struggle, but it almost makes up for these flaws by the series’ end.
The cast is the most robust component of the entire series. Maslany is perfect as She-Hulk. She brings nuance, charisma, and intelligence to the role, making her the ideal person to anchor as unique a show as this one. Her co-stars and guest stars also do wonders. Ruffalo, for his few appearances, is as great as ever. Other celebrities, like Ginger Gonzaga (Nikki Ramos) and Josh Segarra (Pug), boost their characters in hilarious ways.
Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky/Abomination) also deserves praise. After 14 years from the role, Roth returns as if he never left, morphing his personality to match his character’s new outlook and position. However, the star who steals the show (even if he only appears in the series’ final episodes) is Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil. After years of waiting for a return, Cox comes back and fulfills––occasionally exceeding––expectations. Not only does he fit back into his previous Netflix role with ease, but he adjusts to the more lighthearted, quippy tones that the MCU requires. Whether making a joke of his own, beating up bad guys, or getting into gritty details of his past or emotional hardships, he pulls off every scene he appears in.
In addition, his appearance in the show seems to canonize the events of the original Netflix Daredevil adaptation. Several references to his past arise, such as his running a pro bono law firm in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. While nothing directly confirms whether Daredevil is canon, nothing contradicts the show’s established lore. This is an exciting new development, as it could open the door for the return of other Netflix Marvel characters like Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Frank Castle/Punisher (Jon Bernthal).
The characters themselves, for the most part, are also stellar. While the show’s lack of good writing restricts some characters from feeling wholly fleshed out, it maintains a complete arc for Walters and the other main stars. Walters goes through a lot in the show, rendering her a different character. Watching her grow and adapt to new scenarios, anchored by Maslany’s hypnotic performance, is intriguing. While the show itself is flawed, Walters is one of the better-written new protagonists of Phase 4 of the MCU.
Sadly, the show’s CGI is the worst in the franchise. She-Hulk looks like a shiny, green conglomeration of different graphics. Like an underdeveloped video game model, she jarringly sticks against the background in every scene. Unfortunately, anything and everything else made out of CGI in the show suffers the same fate. The cinematography and other shooting techniques are fine, but they cannot distract from the show’s ugly, unfinished CGI. The show even cracks a fourth-wall joke about it in the last episode, which at least shows that Marvel is aware of the issue. While it does not help solve the problem, it brings some needed comical clarity.
Overall, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is flawed fun. It struggles to disguise its visually abysmal qualities and create a consistently entertaining story, thanks to shallow writing. However, thanks to some of the best performances in the MCU, unique storytelling, exciting new developments, a satisfactory conclusion to the plot threads of The Incredible Hulk, and decently rounded characters, the show succeeds more than it strains. As long as these flaws are understood by MCU fans and newcomers alike, they will find the show a decent pastime.