Ending its nine-episode-long debut season today, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law has turned out to be quite a mixed bag. The first few episodes did take time for Tatiana Maslany’s take on She-Hulk to find her footing but by the latter half, the show’s self-aware humour finally started to work culminating in today’s (October 13) finale.
Dealing with the personal, legal, and superhero aspects of lawyer Jennifer “Jen” Walter’s life, the courtroom comedy series finds the lawyer finding the perfect work-life balance eventually stepping out of the shadow of her cousin brother, the original Hulk.
The pilot offered some promise with Jen’s origin story (read our more detailed review of the first episode here) but was followed by a slew of filler episodes, each of which followed a “case of the day” format. Basically, every episode would begin with an absurd case involving an absurd superhero or villain that Jen would represent in special trials.
The comedy seemed to be excessive or forced at times but things did begin to take a slightly better turn after Episode 4 that guest-starred Benedict Wong’s sorcerer Wong (whom we first saw in Doctor Strange). As Wong counters a fake magician and strikes an unlikely friendship with a woman called Madisynn King (played by a delightfully in-form Patty Guggenheim), the potential to connect with audiences finally starts getting established.
More “case of the day” stories follow in the subsequent episodes until a common thread is formed: the incels vs She-Hulk.
For those unacquainted with Gen-Z lingo, an incel is generally used as an umbrella term for men on online communities (like Reddit groups) who usually hate on women and propagate exclusive notions of toxic masculinity. Unable to see a female Hulk inheriting powers from her cousin brother, a darkweb community of incels target her, their conspiracy getting fully fleshed out in the last two episodes.
It is an interesting plot element to add for a series that stars a female superhero. Be it with trolls hating on Gal Gadot not being “busty” enough to play Wonder Woman to cyber-bullying Star Wars actress Kelly Marie-Tran for her weight and Asian ethnicity, incels have been a major threat to pop culture fandoms like Marvel, DC, Star Wars and the like. Turning them into primary antagonists is a breath of fresh air.
Not to spoil anything but the finale does stand out with She-Hulk tackling real-world issues instead of just smashing up aliens from outer space. True to her comic-book legacy, She-Hulk actively breaks the fourth wall (chronologically speaking, the character started this trend in the comics even before Deadpool). As was evident from the very first teaser, the series is also filled with moments of observational humor with Jen/She-Hulk just staring into the camera and letting out a sarcastic quip or two.
While the fourth wall approach does take time, like almost everything else in the show, it is still rewarding towards the finale with perhaps the most “meta” moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Turning up the satirical fourth-wall breaking on an unexpectedly higher level in the finale is bound to polarise viewers but it would definitely make for passionate discussions among Marvel fans.
Again without chartering any spoiler territory, the finale takes a moment to make fun of itself and the MCU in general, ranging from Marvel Studios CEO Kevin Fiege’s supreme status in the company to the shoddy VFX work of recent MCU offerings. To quote Jen herself,
“That’s what Hulks do. We smash things. Bruce smashes buildings. I smash fourth walls and bad endings.”
Other than the satire, what also sets She-Hulk apart is that Marvel seems to be maturing when it comes to the department of romantic relationships. Creator and writer Jessica Gao ensures that Jen goes through multiple flings and dating experiences with different sorts of men. Unstable and unpredictable romances add to her already-hectic schedule as a lawyer and a superhero, a far cry from the very straightforward romances we’ve seen in the MCU’s past.
At the same time, Jen getting linked with multiple men is handled in a normalised fashion instead of showing her as a promiscuous, sexualised figure. In fact, the writers’ room throws in some men who wish to date her only for a particular aspect of her persona (some are only into She-Hulk, while others would prefer Jen).
Indirectly or directly, such moments throw in the philosophy behind people having a “physical type” when it comes to dating and to what extent is this selective bias justified. And who would have thought that a Marvel show would address such concerns?
And Tatiana Maslany seems to be the perfect fit for the lead character, bringing out her mid-life crisis with deadpan humour and frustrated burnouts. Yes, the shoddy VFX work for She-Hulk is difficult to adjust to in the start but Maslany’s dramatic and comedic prowess still manages to add depth to both the human and green form of the character.
Tim Roth as a reformed “Zen” version of the villain Abomination (introduced in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk) is another standout performance from this season. His preachy monologues on living life make for some of the funniest (and sometimes unexpectedly philosophical) moments.
As for the guest stars, the aforementioned Benedict Wong shines in whatever little screen time he gets. Mark Ruffalo as Hulk plays a major role in the pilot but his post-Avengers: Endgame transition into a “smart Hulk” can get annoying for some fans. Thankfully, he doesn’t appear in any more episodes, giving She-Hulk her own spotlight to shine under. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion also plays a version of herself in what seems like a forced cameo.
But, of course, one of the biggest reveals was the introduction of a rebranded Daredevil with actor Charlie Cox reprising his role from the cancelled Netflix series. While this version of Daredevil is less violent and depressed, Cox’s feel-good nature still makes him a character to root for ever since he is introduced in the penultimate episode.
If nothing else, Daredevil gets to fight goons in a dim-lit hallway (an obvious recreation of a similar scene in the grittier Netflix series). Armed with his batons, the blind superhero uses his superhearing skills for some finely executed, street-level hand-t0-hand combat, a rarity in MCU action scenes. While Daredevil’s own Disney+ series eyes a 2024 release date, She-Hulk succeeds in creating enough hype for the new directions that the character would take.
Coming back to She-Hulk, the comedy might not have the most ambitious set pieces and definitely suffers from laughable VFX (Maslany and other cast members have gone on record to state how Marvel visual artists are overworked with so many projects). It is by no means a perfect show and the wait for a new episode was indeed frustrating. Instead, the overall viewing experience would have been even better if viewers got all episodes at once, quickly sifting through the filler episodes and then balancing it with the good ones.
But the performances and desire to try out new changes still make She-Hulk a somewhat better alternative to recent MCU offerings like the disappointing Doctor Strange sequel or Thor: Love and Thunder which some found to be unnecessarily too over-the-top. With the never-ending multiverse connections and bazillion phases within the MCU, it is good to have a light-hearted segue in between.
As for the incel fans of Marvel, they are bound to hate it as they would obviously feel personally attacked!
We’re going with 3.5 out 5 stars for She-Hulk: Attorney At Law!