The most iconic line Marvel is associated with is “with great power must also come great responsibility.” But the one responsibility that Marvel Studios has shirked is taking care of the VFX artists working for them. Back then, the number of products they were churning out was bearable. So, the issues weren’t glaring. Things have gone past the point of saturation, and literally, every department, not just VFX, is struggling to make anything synonymous with the word “good.” “She-Hulk” is one of the recent examples that has been in the firepits of the internet because of the CGI around its titular character. People are nitpicking the color of her skin, the bounciness of her hair, and the muscle tension in her limbs so that they can say how bad it looks. I’m here to report that the CGI is not the worst aspect of the show.
Created by Jessica Gao and directed by Kat Coiro and Anu Valia, “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” follows Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), who is a lawyer. In the opening moments of the show, we are told by Jennifer (yes, she breaks the fourth wall) that she’s a Hulk now. And then, she turns back the time to the day she took a car ride with her cousin, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). They got into an accident after coming face-to-face with a Sakaarian vessel. Bruce’s blood bled into Jennifer’s open wound, and that’s how she became the Hulk. She does a better job than Bruce in terms of controlling her anger and merging her human and Hulk personalities. Primarily because she is very adamant about going back to her normal life and continuing her job as an attorney. But her cover is blown when Titania (Jameela Jamil) risks the lives of the people in her courtroom.
Apart from maybe Spider-Man (Tom Holland), we’ve not really seen any character aspire to live a regular life. Or even if they do, they don’t express it very often. But Jennifer is clearly driven by her urge to be a normal woman, tackling all the hurdles that exist in this patriarchal society and pursuing her job as a lawyer. So, when she’s outed as the She-Hulk, that endeavor is not only thrown into jeopardy, but she’s also expected to completely rid herself of her human identity. That opens the doors to some mild commentary on what the world wants a woman to be versus how they treat the woman behind that persona. That segues seamlessly into the show’s exploration of body image issues and how they have been aggravated by the shallow opinions on social media. And all of this is placed against the backdrop of the unapologetic sexism exhibited by men and then propagated by the mainstream media.
“She-Hulk” takes social media into account very heavily. And that has its pros and cons. As mentioned earlier, the upside to it is that it reminds us how insensitive, reactionary, and offensive people can be because there’s little to no accountability. The downside to it is that Gao hinges the humor on fan theories and fan requests that exist outside the show and in real life. Therefore, if there’s a popular theory about a popular character that has been doing the rounds, “She-Hulk” is here to put it to rest, even though it has nothing to do with the plot. If there’s a particular character that fans on social media want to see more of, “She-Hulk” is here to give you all the Wong you want, even if it shifts the focus away from the titular character. And the worst part is that Gao tries to critic-proof this lazy writing by breaking the fourth wall to say, “isn’t that what you wanted?”
It’s true that comics are replete with crossovers, and you can say that there’s nothing wrong with catering to fans. But here’s the issue: if the central character of your show (or movie) isn’t on solid ground, the fanservice feels like a hackneyed way of ironing out the kinks. For example, purely on a visual level, “She-Hulk” looks atrocious. Every single shot is bland, flat, and devoid of any style or texture. The conversation scenes are so boringly composed and edited that you can shut off whatever you are viewing the show on and just listen to it like an audio-book or radio program. The VFX are decent, initially. But as soon as the She-Hulk is placed among actual humans, the lighting and tangibility issues arise. Now, how is a cameo of Wong or Megan Thee Stallion (the quality of the latter is on par with Ed Sheeran’s cameo in “Game of Thrones” and David Beckham’s cameo in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”) supposed to make all this palatable?
As for the performances, Tatiana Maslany is fine. To be honest, she’s wasted here. Go and watch “Orphan Black” and witness the downgrade. However, that’s not entirely her fault. The writing and direction are just so mind-numbingly boring that it’s impossible to achieve lift-off. Her interactions with Mark Ruffalo can get a chuckle or two out of you. Ruffalo, though, seems to be sleep-walking through his role as the Hulk. And I’m not even comparing this to his work outside the MCU (which is stellar). Ginger Gonzaga, Drew Matthews, and Josh Segarrar do justice to their roles. Tim Roth shows hints of Emil Blonsky’s manipulative, sniveling, and malicious nature, which is then buried under heaps of jokes about soulmates and performative regret. Benedict Wong is expectedly good because, as always, he over-commits to this role. He plays it like his life depends on it, and that’s why he’s so enjoyable to watch. Then again, as the show wants you to know, he isn’t the star here. He’s only “Twitter armor.”
Just like “I Am Groot” that Marvel released last week, “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” is yet another skippable product coming out of Phase 4. At the cost of sounding repetitive, the inconsequential nature of Marvel’s latest outings isn’t because of the lack of an overarching narrative or a big bad villain. There’s an overarching narrative about multiversal warfare, and there’s a big bad in the form of Kang (Jonathan Majors). But the issue is that there’s no weight to it. These characters feel more like conduits for exposition and dry jokes that one can neither relate to nor empathize with. These movies and shows all seem to be forcing their way into the sitcom sub-genre instead of adhering to the tone that the story stems from. But, hey, as long as people are tuning in to this kind of “content,” thereby sending the message that they want more of this, what’s the point of critiquing, right?