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TV review: 'She-Hulk' sabotages feminist series with Marvel Easter eggs

1/5
Tatiana Maslany stars as Jennifer Walters, or "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law." Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios
Tatiana Maslany stars as Jennifer Walters, or "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law." Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Many of the recent Marvel Disney+ series start strong and stretch too thin by the end. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, premiering Thursday, starts out lackluster.

The entire first episode is all exposition about how Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) became She-Hulk. A spaceship ran her off the road when she was driving with cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and their blood mixed, giving her his Hulk gamma powers.

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This may hold the record for the most rushed origin story in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most heroes get at least one whole movie, and Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel spent most of their first season developing their characters' powers.

The first episode of She-Hulk is so anxious to turn Jennifer into a Hulk that it introduces a spaceship, only to write it off in a phone call in Episode 2. Even the scenes of Bruce training Jennifer in her Hulk powers feel hurried, when a series has the luxury of taking its time.

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Jennifer possesses the power to control her Hulk form, so she skips right to Smart She-Hulk in green form, which took Bruce several movies to attain. There's some Hulk vs. Hulk action, but a little spectacle doesn't make up for the weak storytelling.

Bruce's character is written as very condescending in this episode. That may be relevant to larger gender dynamics, but it doesn't seem consistent with the humble Bruce we know from all the previous movies.

As much as Marvel wants to bill She-Hulk as a half-hour comedy, it's no different than any other Marvel show or movie. It's the exact same tone with as much comic relief, and deals with much more interconnectivity than many of the other standalones, too.

You really need to know who Bruce, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) and Wong (Benedict Wong) are because She-Hulk devotes most of its plot to resolving their stories from previous movies. That includes all of their previous actions in The Incredible Hulk, Thor: Ragnarok, the Avengers movies and Shang-Chi.

She-Hulk drops plenty of other names just to make sure you know it acknowledges the larger universe. The Blip, Tony Stark, Natasha Romanoff and Steve Rogers are discussed ad nauseum, as well as a Pixar movie for corporate synergy.

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The show happens to involve former villains who would need a lawyer now. That doesn't make it a legal show. Jennifer is just a lawyer for Marvel characters now.

This may be the first Marvel show to break the fourth wall and let Jennifer talk directly to the audience. That's not a major difference and feels like a reasonable extension of Ant-Man's lip sync recaps.

The show sprinkles some very basic gender commentary throughout the episodes, but it's much more interested in the MCU connections. And if this is supposed to be a feminist Marvel show, it completely sidelines Titania (Jameela Jamil) for the first four episodes.

Yes, men usurp women's opportunities. Yes, women get punished even when they bail men out of trouble.

The theme of She-Hulk should be fertile ground for episodic television. Jennifer is a superhero who would rather be respected for her educational and professional accomplishments, but the world wants She-Hulk.

Even the name the public gives her is derivative. But since Jennifer has to Hulk out at least once a week to fight bad guys, the show itself leaves little room to examine who she wants to be.

She-Hulk makes superficial mention of those issues. By the way, Supergirl said all of this and more, and still had room for comic book action and Easter eggs.

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Maslany is great. She brings the same level she brought to all the clones in Orphan Black, although Jennifer and She-Hulk are really all one character this time.

Jamil is probably great, too. We'll find out when we ever get to see her character.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a disappointment not just for Marvel. It was a chance to try something genuinely different but opted to do the same old thing. It feels all the more rote for the squandered opportunity.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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