She-Hulk: Attorney at Law review: a lean, green, uncanny valley machine

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law review: a lean, green, uncanny valley machine

She-Hulk herself isn’t a telepath, but Disney Plus’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law knows exactly what you were thinking when you first saw its statuesque heroine in all her uncanny VFX glory, and it appreciates all the feedback. While She-Hulk’s frequent forays into the uncanny valley feel like an undeniable sign of the less than ideal conditions its visual effects were produced under, the show as a whole is a surprisingly refreshing spin on Marvel’s small screen character studies — one that feels like the precursor to something new yet very familiar.

After multiple Phases full of hero origin series like Daredevil and Moon Knight that gradually teased out how their titular vigilantes became super, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law switches things up by immediately dropping you into the deep end of Jennifer Walters’ (Tatiana Maslany) life with little warning. Much like her counterpart in the comics, She-Hulk’s Jen is an exceedingly talented but pathologically sheepish lawyer whose entire world is upended by a freak accident that leaves her with a set of superpowers very similar to her hulking cousin Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo).

Smart Hulk wearing a white a-shirt sitting with his hands pressed together while he smiles at She-Hulk, who is sitting across from him in the same position, and wearing a black tank top. In the background, a remote island is pictured.

Smart Hulk and She-Hulk meditating together on an island.
Image: Marvel Studios

The exact circumstances of how the MCU’s Jen — normally a mousy, easily frazzled woman Maslany plays very down the middle — wakes up super strong, more than a foot taller, and a striking shade of green are somewhat different than how it plays out in the comics. But enough of the source material’s beats are present to make it clear that She-Hulk’s well aware of its own absurdity, and the show wants you to get in on its jokes about itself. Almost from the moment Jennifer’s introduced, she’s already breaking the fourth wall to insist that She-Hulk isn’t exactly a superhero show and that nothing about her life has to change even with her newfound Hulk powers because she’s always in complete control.

This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth, and She-Hulk’s first few episodes are in large part a comedic study about what happens to an ordinary person who suddenly becomes an “enhanced individual” in the MCU. But instead of simply framing Jennifer as yet another brooding hero who has to self-actualize before taking a codename and putting on a costume, She-Hulk presents her reluctance about becoming a known super quantity as something crucial to understanding who she is. Hulk powers or not, Jennifer prefers fighting in the courtroom alongside her paralegal Nikki Ramos (Ginger Gonzaga), where she knows they can use their legal prowess to change lives in ways that none of the Avengers ever could. Even more importantly, though, Jen’s genuinely not all that interested in being a superhero even though it’s what the entire world and her own TV show expect from her.

More than any of the big-name heroes or villains Jen crosses paths with in a professional capacity, it’s managing people’s ideas about who and what she is that gives her the most trouble throughout She-Hulk’s first season. Regardless of whether she’s dealing with her sexist colleagues or her well-meaning cousin, scarcely anyone in Jennifer’s life really trusts her ability to make smart decisions. But that’s not quite the case when she’s in her She-Hulk form, and even though that double standard understandably pisses Jen off, it’s once she starts using it to her advantage that She-Hulk really starts to pick up.

Tim Roth sitting in a plexiglass enclosure, sitting in a chair, and wearing a stylish prisoner’s uniform.

Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, the Abomination.
Image: Marvel Studios

Though She-Hulk’s definitely Jen’s Ally McBeal-inspired “lawyer show,” it’s also one of Marvel’s more pointed attempts at tying together disparate parts of its multiverse to remind you that many of these characters from different movies and series kinda, sorta know each other. As the Earth’s sitting Sorcerer Supreme, it makes a certain sort of sense that Wong (Benedict Wong) might call on She-Hulk for delicate matters requiring an understanding of mortal laws, and his presence in Attorney at Law adds a pointed sense of timeliness to the series.

Like Wong, Tim Roth’s Abomination returns here both to remind viewers of the last big Marvel movie he was in and to help She-Hulk delve into the minutiae of the universe it’s set in as only an aggressively nerdy and rather horny legal comedy could. Though the star power of She-Hulk’s guest stars varies from week to week, with each of their subplots, the show finds different ways to make the MCU feel like a more lived-in place, where a countless number of people were only recently wished back into existence. Silly as many of her cases and clients are, Jen does what she does to act as a force of justice in the world, and She-Hulk leads with the idea that people like her are exactly what the public needs in times of crisis.

When She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s firmly in comedy mode and playing up the influence of John Byrne’s and Dan Slott’s comics or hammering home an important idea about the importance of rehabilitation over incarceration, the show feels like it’s in a pretty good spot. But in moments where She-Hulk tries to shift gears, the series occasionally seizes up a bit, almost as if it’s remembered just how much it’s trying to do and panicked.

Image: Marvel Studios

That same harried sense of panic similarly arises in a number of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s more technically complex scenes featuring Jen in her massive, curiously proportioned Hulk form that bears much more resemblance to Maslany than Smart Hulk does Ruffalo. There’s no denying the incredible amount of work that went into creating a She-Hulk model that’s more convincing than not. But it’s also impossible to ignore how off shots of the character in motion tend to be, particularly when the show’s drawing attention to her mane of luxurious but often distracting hair that calls to mind the way Inhumans handled Medusa.

Given how much more consistently She-Hulk’s able to pull off the visuals for characters like Smart Hulk and Abomination who aren’t as new to the MCU, it stands to reason that Marvel intends to refine its take on She-Hulk as she continues to pop up in more projects. Even if that’s the case, though, it’s still odd to see She-Hulk repeatedly falling face-first into the uncanny valley on her own television show when Marvel had to have known the risks involved with building an entire series around a CGI character whose voice would have to be dubbed in during post-production. Surprisingly, the audio mixing on both She-Hulk and Smart Hulk jumps out even more than the characters’ tendency to read (visually speaking) more cartoonishly than Marvel likely intends.

Individually, none of She-Hulk’s drawbacks keep it from being watchable, and when they’re all working in concert, the show’s able to get by relying on its irreverent sense of humor and ability to laugh at itself. While Jen might need a new game plan if and when she ever makes the leap over to Marvel’s films, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s approach to the bruiser works reasonably well for the small screen, and it’s almost certain to go down as one of Phase 4’s more inspired entries.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law also stars Jameela Jamil and premieres on August 18th.

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