Phases 1-3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe aka MCU set a precedent of establishing a large inter-woven universe full of unique characters, places and stories that genre bend what a comic book movie can do. Riding high on the euphoric wave post Endgame, there was much to anticipate going into the next phase. It’s practically all anyone can talk about – an embarrassment of riches as collectively, an impossible feat has been accomplished with flying colors. Have there been some duds and missteps along the way? Absolutely, but the good far outweighs the miniscule bad. If the dubbed ‘Infinity Saga’ was already a substantial undertaking, Phase 4 doubles down on fulfilling the expectation Marvel Studios has established with film after film for well over a decade.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is the final Disney Plus series to release in phase 4. As the 8th series to come out in a little under 2 years, the celebration should never have stopped from the release of Wandavision till now. However, with less than stellar efforts at integrating new heroes into this sprawling, seemingly infinite universe, telling their stories in meaningful ways and establishing the connective tissue between the astounding 15 projects, the result hasn’t been so clean cut. For the first time Marvel fatigue has set in with more projects lined up in the coming years.
Out of the 8 series streaming, 6 of them have had the uphill battle of only being 6 episodes per limited miniseries. How 6 episodes justifies the term series with runtimes of each episode coming in under an hour in length, sometimes 45 minutes with 7 of those saved for credits is beyond reason. With those ‘rules’ established, phase 4 is already playing catch up, setting up ambitious storylines that rarely stuck the landing. Only next to Wandavision, She-Hulk finally came up to bat with 9 episodes and something the MCU hasn’t done before – an episodic legal comedy drama procedural in the style of an Ally McBeal.
Someone should probably tell that to the writers of She-Hulk, the comedy aspect is sorely missing 75% of the time. A laugh here and there, once or twice an episode. Overall, the writing just isn’t funny. For even more flair, She-Hulk follows her comic counterpart in 4th wall breaks,something that predates Deadpool breaking the 4th wall, making snarky and crude jokes directly to the viewer. Just like the comedy, the 4th wall breaks come few and far in between for what was promised to be unlike anything Marvel Studios has done before.
The series follows the titular She-Hulk also known as Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) as she navigates everyday life after getting into a car accident with her cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and his gamma radiated infused blood mixes with hers, through a laceration, turning her 6 foot 7 inches and green on command. Before turning into a Hulk, Jennifer lived her life in San Francisco as a prosecutor but once she becomes the against her will named ‘She-Hulk’, a rival firm, GLK&H hires Jennifer to lead the new superhuman law division but as the She-Hulk along with paralegal and best friend Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga).
Starting off strong, Maslany commands the screen, she’s the anchor the series needed to stay grounded to the story the writing staff was attempting to convey. Beyond Maslany, those closest to Jennifer, Nikki and Pug (Josh Segarra) are the standouts a good main character needs in their life. Outside of these 3, characters are shallow, underdeveloped and one dimensional. If any connection is made between the 7 series Marvel Studios has to offer, it’s in the sloppy writing. Being labeled as a comedy, scripts are used mostly to poke fun inwardly that too many unnecessary plot lines are created and rushed through while the “villain” has zero motivations and complexity for their actions against the hero’s and heroine’s.
After getting off the ground with an origin episode, no other episode stands out until the back half. Certain set ups and mysteries disappear after a brief tease of the potential of the main narrative while a few fan favorites make a quick appearance. Early on Jennifer is tasked with defending Emil Blonsky aka the Abomination (Tim Roth) in a parole hearing with sorcerer supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) filtering in and out, nearly stealing the spotlight from Jennifer. While the Abomination story thread is sprinkled throughout, another early episode has She-Hulk defending a man who was dating a Megan Thee Stallion imposter. Once the show leans more into the wackiness this world can offer, She-Hulk hits a stride, but it’s rare the series stays silly and often falls victim to a misguided premise.
It isn’t until the latter half of the series that the story picks up. The episode “Ribbit and Rip It” sees the grand return of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), everyone’s other favorite lawyer suit up in his DareDevil costume to assist She-Hulk in some everyday superhero lessons. Charlie hasn’t missed a beat playing Matt, he fits back into the role like a glove as if he never left the role after 3 brilliant seasons on Netflix.
She-Hulk works the most when the everyday balance of being regular person who gains superpowers is the focus. All of the responsibility of using the newfound gifts to help people while learning to adapt to how you’re viewed by those who have an agenda is one of the strengths the show never fully embraces. During these moments, Maslany’s talent bursts off screen, handling the quiet fury of anger and rage of being a marginalized character with grace. There just isn’t enough of these moments during the 9 episodes that run a total of 30-35 minutes. Marvel is shooting themselves in the foot with incomplete plots that end up being a disappointment and She-Hulk isn’t the first show to experience this.
Leave it to this season finale to fully embrace the bonkers nature and finally explore the self-awareness of it all through the best fourth-wall break. The risk comes a few episodes too late, but Maslany does what she can with a sinking ship, making a mountain out of a molehill.
Overall, She-Hulk lands toward the bottom half of Phase 4. Not a complete fire, there are moments the show is brilliantly exploring social commentaries. Now that it’s been made public that this new saga is titled “The Multiverse Saga”, the expectation of the same excellence from phases 1-3 is higher than ever. As for She-Hulk, the concept was there, solid casting and a great score lead the way however many of the characters are wasted, Titania (Jameela Jamil) being the most prominent. I mean, did you see the effort of Jameela promoting this series on Twitter? Whether independent or part of the marketing, Jameela has too much talent to be working with what she is given. Much of She-Hulk results in trying to fit a square peg in a round hole but there are hints of promise, they are just hidden in plain sight.
Created By: Jessica Gao
Episodes Directed By: Kat Coiro & Anu Valia
Music By: Amie Doherty
Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus & Doug Chamberlain
Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Jameela Jamil, Ginger Gonzaga, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Segarra, Tim Roth, Benedict Wong, Renée Elise, Charlie Cox, Griffin Matthews
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: August 18, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Based On: She-Hulk by Stan Lee & John Buscema