Oh Disney, what happened to you? You used to be fun.
Bring on all the sad Bill Murray eyes, because if the first four episodes are anything to judge, the latest MCU series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is going downhill at breakneck speed. And not even the awesome might of Tatiana Maslany as the titular superpowered heroine can prevent that. Not even after you get used to the weird CGI.
Much like its protagonist Jennifer Walters (Maslany), the show is going through a bit of an identity crisis, unable to decide if it’s a legal drama, a comic book show, or a character-driven comedy about a young woman who is forced to start over and find her place in the genre – I mean world.
But working through it would mean allowing Walters to actually have the spotlight to herself, and Disney seems to think she needs a little backup after an accident with her cousin Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), ends up mixing his blood with hers and giving Jennifer abilities similar to his. There are a few differences, such as a lack of a destructive alter ego living in her head, but for the most part, expect most of the powers with fewer complications.
Maybe if the series weren’t so busy reminding us how much it gets women it would find the time to figure out how to balance Disney’s demands while giving its heroine some consistent development. Head writer Jessica Gao may have quite a few TV credits to her name, but none seem to have included requirements such as ensuring beloved side characters are there to make audiences (and Twitter) more comfortable with a female superhero and ensuring that a real-life celeb gets her due when she shows up for an admittedly kickass cameo.
Such anxious concern tends to require dialogue that’s embarrassingly insistent on its good intentions, and sure enough, within the first ten minutes, Jennifer literally shoves her cartoonishly sexist coworker out of the room, and gets prettied up by other women in the bathroom who believe she’s been roughed up by a guy, and scares away some entitled harassers, all while also acquiring her powers. A few minutes later she even takes the time to explain to Bruce how she already has to control her emotions so she doesn’t get labeled as emotional, difficult, or you know, get murdered.
Anyway, after Bruce shows her many of the ins and outs of the superhero life, Jennifer decides she wants to continue with her job and life as a lawyer, despite Bruce’s insistence that she will be unable to return to anything resembling normalcy. He’s partly right, since she’s forced to use her abilities during her first court case, resulting in her losing said job and taking a new one working for a high-powered law firm in its new division, which specializes in cases involving superhumans.
Jennifer still insists in one of many screw-the-fourth-wall moments that this is a lawyer show. More complications are bound to call her belief into question, but here’s hoping the series at least figures out its identity, or gains some confidence in either its star or the audience. Subtlety is one of the few things that Disney does not have a monopoly on (yet), but when you feel the need for your character to not only speak in such obvious talking points but literally tell audiences when they’re connecting their A and B stories, there’s something deeper going on with such a lack of faith in their ability to grasp basic plot maneuvers.
And One More Thing…
It’s certainly difficult to imagine anything but a modern Disney show having an episode that involves actually trying to regulate magic. A plot point like that is cringeworthy in itself, but having Jennifer not only argue for this in court while portraying her as still firmly on the side of good, not to mention having her answer to a clearly evil boss, is a dystopian move if there ever was one.
Marvel not only can do better, it did do better once. There would’ve been precedence in the comics and Disney’s own filmography for Walters to go truly independent by setting up her own private practice and going the Jessica Jones route, albeit in a far more lighthearted fashion. That show also proved Marvel could include queer stories, while Jennifer’s BFF Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) is only allowed to say she’s queer, making the representation in Thor: Love and Thunder look downright radical. Yeesh.
There are still five episodes yet to be viewed, so such mistakes don’t necessarily have to define She-Hulk. But as the show itself warns in its first episode, those with the most power have the most to answer for.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is streaming on Disney+.
Rating: 3/10 SPECS
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.
She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.