She-Hulk is a delightful, funny and incredibly self-aware series that showcases the charisma of Tatiana Maslany and smashes through that fourth wall. Literally.
This review contains some spoilers for the Season 1 of ‘She-Hulk’.
A peruse through the comment section of any article or video about Disney+ and Marvel’s She-Hulk will inevitably produce a litany of comments complaining about Marvel going ‘woke’, the ‘feminists winning’ or how they’d ‘totally make the same complaints if it were a guy’. Even before a single episode had aired, there seemed to be a backlash against Jennifer Walters making her MCU (TV edition) debut from the ugly corner of the internet where the basement-dwelling, chatroom-occupying trolls tend to fester. But despite them – or, perhaps more accurately, in spite of them – She-Hulk is a delight. It’s funny, it breaks the fourth wall in a way that feels really in keeping with the comic character and it’s very, very clever.
After a car crash causes her cousin Bruce’s (Mark Ruffalo) blood to accidentally mix with hers, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), attorney at law, becomes ‘She-Hulk’: a green, seven foot tall, somewhat reluctant superhero with unexplainably perfect hair. After adjusting to her new abilities incredibly quickly, Jen goes back to practicing law, heading up a ‘Superhero Division’ and defending a host of old and new super-faces, including Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong). But soon Jen finds herself the target of some angry internet trolls, and a malicious plot to steal some of her blood and be rid of her once and for all starts gaining traction.
For all its light-heartedness, the throughline running through She-Hulk is the idea that it’s a struggle for women to be taken seriously. Both in Jennifer’s fictional world and, as the keyboard warriors proved by review-bombing the series straight off the bat, in real life too. The show is incredibly self-aware, and utilises its cleverness to subtly – and at times not so subtly – let audiences know it. Lines like “those are just the baseline of any woman existing”, after Bruce instructs her to channel ‘anger and fear’ when summoning the Hulk, and the self-explanatory “some guy with an internet connection will still think he can do better”, feel incredibly pointed. But, most importantly, they aren’t shoehorned in to simply make a statement. Instead, head writer Jessica Gao uses this as the means in which to tell Jennifer’s story in a way that feels authentic. These are feelings that women inherently understand, particularly any woman who garners success in a field traditionally seen as ‘for men’, and it has the added bonus of being a big middle finger to the trolls who wish for Jennifer to fail.
Even the ‘big villain’ is essentially just some shitty guys, who think the ultimate ‘get’ of a woman is to consistently belittle her abilities and achievements, shame her sexually, make her justifiably angry and then point the finger and declare her ‘too emotional’. Gao and series director Kat Coiro use this very real threat to women on the internet as a clever way of simultaneously introducing Jennifer to the MCU and addressing some of the problems within the MCU, all the while framing it in such a way that it will: a) sail completely over the heads of the man babies it’s referencing; or b) compel them to do exactly what the show is making fun of them for, but unironically.
While it could feel a little on the nose, the show strikes a perfect balance and manages to make a very sentient point with genuine laugh-out-loud humour, charm and wit. And it is very funny. It’s off-beat, a little bit snarky and not afraid to make the obvious jokes. Maslany’s breaking of the fourth wall feels perfectly timed, there’s at least two hilarious one-liners an episode – seriously, what does Hawkeye do with his arrows? – and episode eight delivers what could very well be the best scene from a Marvel TV show yet. (Think three words: ‘Daredevil’, ‘walk’ and ‘shame.’)
The cast dynamics are also really great, with Ginger Gonzaga’s Nikki, Josh Segarra’s Pug and Renée Elise Goldsberry’s Mallory rounding out the main supporting cast. Jameela Jamil’s Titania is perhaps the odd one out, but it’s more a case of that character feeling a little bit thin and unnecessary than anything to do with Jamil’s performance. Roth and Wong are great familiar faces, as is Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, but perhaps the series’ stand out guest star is Patty Guggenheim as Madisynn. Gao and Coiro keep her contained to just one episode, but that feels like the right decision to avoid oversaturating the show with her enthusiasm.
But, with her name literally in the title, the draw here is She-Hulk herself. Tatiana Maslany is an incredibly versatile actor, and she’s really able to lean in to the comedy, deliver on the action – even if the effects are still a little on the dodgy side – and also provide moments of genuine pathos as Jen. When she compares her super-persona as having an overshadowing ‘hot friend’, it feels really genuine and a great glimpse into the depths of a character who, from the outset, has felt fully formed. It’s also a great way of making commentary on the treatment of women based on looks. The ways in which Jen – short, smart and as plain as the beautiful Tatiana Maslany can be – and She-Hulk – super tall, statuesque, able to kick ass in court and in alleyways – are treated, not just by the media, but by dates, family members and co-workers, feels really considered and deliberate. There’s nuance to Jen in both forms, but she’s reduced to much more base impressions by everyone around her. Maslany plays these slightly more vulnerable moments and the more obvious action- and comedy-based ones with equal aplomb. She’s so charismatic, that it’d be a real shame not to use her in as much Marvel material going forward as feasibly possible.
Overall, She-Hulk is one of Marvel’s most daring and genuinely fun series so far. The finale might prove divisive for some, but it offered a wonderful fourth wall break that was as meta, self-aware and witty as the entire rest of the series had been. The, and let’s be frank here, losers online who are so unreceptive to change, trying something new and – heaven forbid – a woman leading a superhero show shouldn’t get to ruin how good of a time She-Hulk is. Let’s hope Marvel are as supportive of their female led endeavours as they are of their male counterparts, because – to quote K.E.V.I.N – they’ve been somewhat “light in that department” so far.
Season 1 of She Hulk is now available to watch on Disney Plus.