Before I start this review for She-Hulk episode one, I need to clearly state my bias for Jennifer Walters’ character. I love She-Hulk. She is easily my favorite Marvel female superhero. It is not even close. I adored the John Byrne She-Hulk. If you have never read that then you need to stop reading this article and immediately go get your hands on Byrne’s She-Hulk and read it. You will thank me for it. It is fantastic.
I should also clearly state that I have been largely unimpressed with Disney’s MCU streaming shows. WandaVision started off in an interesting fashion and then quickly devolved into your standard issue MCU story complete with a lack of internal logic and plot holes. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had a few nice moments that were overshadowed by bad writing and a general blandness. Loki had some incredible sets and some good moments with Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston. But, the story was a slow slog at times and the writing fell apart as the show progressed. Moon Knight was slow and boring from start to finish. Ms. Marvel was a total mess. Hawkeye was not perfect, but it was my favorite of all of the MCU shows. It at least had good comedy, solid action, great chemistry between Kate and Clint, and plenty of heart.
But, in general, all of the Disney+ MCU shows have been average at best. It has gotten to the point where I do not watch the MCU shows until I have nothing else to watch. There are just too many other far superior offerings from Apple+, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.
So, needless to say, when I first heard that Disney would be rolling out a new She-Hulk TV show I was excited. Then I remembered all the meh Disney+ TV shows that we have gotten over the years and my excitement quickly subsided. I figured that if Disney could find a way to screw up Jennifer’s character then they certainly would. Still, I was hopeful that maybe we would get a good MCU Disney+ show.
Then the leaks came of She-Hulk’s CGI and special effects. To call them bad would be generous. They looked awful. This had been a growing trend as the special effects on Thor: Love and Thunder and Ms. Marvel were also rather bad. Then we got the news of Disney overworking their special effects groups like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.
Despite the poor special effects, I really did like the overall design for She-Hulk. I was glad that Kevin Feige was smart enough to go with She-Hulk’s look since she debuted in 1980. I was legitimately worried that Feige might be dumb enough to use the horrendous and unpopular She-Hulk design from Jason Aaron’s Avengers.
I also liked the casting of Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters. I enjoyed Tatiana’s work in Orphan Black. So, I thought she had the acting chops to play Jennifer. I also liked Tatiana’s look. Tatiana is a small woman at 5’ 4” and maybe 110-120 pounds. This was brilliant since it allows an even more dramatic transformation when Tatiana turns into the 6’ 7” She-Hulk.
Of course, the teaser trailers immediately split fans up into two distinct camps. It appeared that there was a good chance that Feige was going to have the writers lean into “The Message” when delivering their superhero romp. This always starts a big fight before any new movie or TV show.
As with all things Marvel these days, this inevitable split in the audience quickly formed before the debut of She-Hulk episode one on August 18, 2022. She-Hulk was massively positive review bombed and negative review bombed on IMDB before the first episode even debuted. Seriously, it was ridiculous. There were an insane amount of 10-star reviews and a massive amount of 0-stars reviews before anyone had even watched the show. This shows how there is a contingent of people on both sides of the debate that are determined to either love or hate this show before they have even watched it. Look, She-Hulk is absolutely not in any universe anything resembling a 10/10 show. On the other hand, She-Hulk is also absolutely not in any universe anything resembling a 0/10 show. In reality, She-Hulk is a slightly below-average show. I would give it a 4/10.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a rough go recently. Thor: Love and Thunder struggled to get over the $700 million mark which it had to hit before Disney started to see a profit. The latest Thor movie also dealt with a surprising amount of negative reviews from mainstream outlets. This is something that is rarely seen in an MCU movie.
Then we had Ms. Marvel bombing on Disney+ during the summer. It was important to Disney to see the MCU hit a home run with She-Hulk. Another failure would be a real black eye for Disney’s cash machine.
I want to approach She-Hulk Episode 1 in three parts. The first part will deal with “The Message” and if that gets in the way of telling an entertaining and quality story that will appeal to a wide audience. The second part will deal with the technical aspects of the show. Was it well crafted super-hero show? The third part will deal with the target audience and if this will be a recipe for success that Marvel Studios may continue to try in the future.
At this point, I am going to give a full-spoiler warning. There is no way I can delve into the details of She-Hulk and give a detailed critical review without spoiling everything about Episode 1. So, if you do not want She-Hulk Episode 1 to be spoiled then stop reading and go watch the episode. Then come back here and read the rest of this review.
Let’s talk about “The Message.” Everything from Hollywood has “The Message.” Now, what “The Message” is can change based on what the writers are trying to get across to the audience. And often “The Message” does not get in the way of the story. I fully know and expect to get served “The Message” in everything that I watch.
If “The Message” is done in an intelligent and subtle manner that actually works with the characters and enhances the story then I don’t mind it. If the story is well done, the acting is strong, and the action is entertaining, then “The Message” does not ruin my enjoyment of the product. I simply roll my eyes at The Message” and go back to enjoying the well-done and entertaining story.
However, when “The Message” feels forced and dumb and runs contrary to the story and characters then it ruins the viewing experience. Unfortunately, I found “The Message” in She-Hulk Episode 1 to be more of the latter than the former. Of course, your experience may differ greatly from mine. So, let’s examine the two most obvious moments of “The Message” in She-Hulk Episode 1.
After Jen gets her new Hulk powers, Bruce sits down with her to try and explain how the Hulk powers operate and the challenge of trying to control the Hulk powers.
“Bruce: The triggers are anger and fear.
Jen: Those are, like, the baseline of any woman just existing.”
So, the writers believe that the baseline of any woman in the entire world is one of anger and fear. That is a rather hyperbolic take on women. That line immediately made my wife raise her eyebrow and chuckle. Ms. Rokk is a talented attorney and a proud liberal. But, even she thought that line was idiotic. I would imagine that some women feel this way. However, I am sure many are like my wife and find such a blanket statement to be silly. It is writing like this that goes over like a fart in the elevator. It is just so ham-fisted.
The next scene that obviously delivers “The Message” is the scene where Bruce is trying to convince Jennifer to stay with him and undergo training on how to control her anger and her newfound Hulk powers.
“Jen: Here’s the thing, Bruce. I’m great at controlling my anger.
Jen: I do it all the time. When I’m catcalled in the street, when incompetent men explain my own area of expertise to me. I do it pretty much every day because if I don’t, I will get called emotional, or difficult, or might just literally get murdered. So I’m an expert at controlling my anger because I do it infinitely more than you.”
There are only two conclusions to draw from this dialogue. One, the writer group clearly has no working knowledge of Bruce Banner’s character at all. Two, the writer group does have knowledge of Bruce Banner’s past but willingly ignores it and sacrifices it in order to further “The Message.” Neither explanation is a positive one.
Bruce Banner was abused as a child. Bruce then witnessed his father killing his mother. Bruce had the woman he loved (Black Widow) die. Bruce then tried to commit suicide only to have the Hulk defeat his efforts. Bruce also watched thousands of people die in various battles. Yet, Jen being catcalled and mansplained makes her far better at controlling her anger than Bruce. This is such crude writing that it absolutely slaps the viewer in the face and leaves them slack-jawed.
For the writers to either not know Bruce’s past or to place what Jennifer has been through as far more egregious and traumatic than what Bruce has been through is beyond stupid. This is an example of “The Message” just stomping all over the story and the characters like Godzilla in Tokyo.
This scene was disrespectful to Bruce’s character or anyone who has been the victim of child abuse, the loss of a loved one, or struggled with suicide. This scene was also disrespectful of Jen’s character as the writers saddled her character with a victimhood complex that runs contrary to her confident and strong character.
The scene also made Jen look like a massive narcissistic jerk since she is Bruce’s cousin and obviously knows about his history. Yet, she had no problems placing catcalling and mansplaining above the traumas in Bruce’s life.
There are other moments of delivering “The Message” but those two scenes are the most obvious and hyperbolic instances of it. Your reaction to those two scenes will largely dictate if you will enjoy the show or not. If reading those two scenes does not bother you or actually seem cool to you then you will definitely enjoy She-Hulk Episode 1. If those two scenes are a big turnoff to you then you probably are going to have a tough time enjoying She-Hulk Episode 1.
All right, now that we have dealt with “The Message” let’s move on to the story itself, the writing, the acting, the directing, and the action. Because there is not a lot of positive to be found for most viewers.
The writers decided to change Jennifer’s origin of her powers. This was a bizarre choice and kicked off Episode 1 in a goofy fashion. She-Hulk’s origin has always been that Jen was with Bruce talking about one of her clients she was defending. Jen believed that her client was being framed by Nick Trask. Jen is then shot in the back by a hitman hired by Trask. Bruce rushed Jen back to his lab and gave her a blood transfusion of his own blood in order to save her life. This then gave Jen a milder version of Bruce’s Hulk powers. This milder version of Bruce’s Hulk powers also allowed Jen to retain her mind when she was She-Hulk. The milder version also explains Jen’s physical look and why she is not as powerful as Bruce.
However, for some reason, this origin was not good enough for the writers. I have no idea why. It successfully highlighted Jen’s role as a talented and fearless attorney. It established Jen’s connection with Bruce. It also explained why Jen retained control of her mind when She-Hulk. It was a very simple and effective origin.
Who knows why the writers did not like this origin? Maybe this origin was too passive to Bruce to be an acceptable origin for She-Hulk? Therefore, the writers have Bruce and Jen get in an accident and then have Jen save Bruce from the wrecked car. Upon doing so, Bruce bleeds on Jen and she gains Hulk powers.
Again, the problem with making unnecessary changes for perceived ideological reasons means that the story tends to get broken. This origin did not make any sense. If this is how Hulk is created then shouldn’t there be tons of Hulks around Earth and the universe from all the massive fights and battles that Bruce/Hulk have been through in the past ten years? After all, surely Bruce/Hulk has been bloody while in battle with all of his opponents.
Further, This new origin removed the easy and logical explanation of why Jen is not as powerful as the Hulk, why she does not transform into a creature as large as the Hulk, and why she retains control over her mind when She-Hulk. Therefore, the writers had to introduce the stupid logic that Jen can control her powers because of catcalling and mansplaining rather than her having a lower dose of Gamma radiation than Bruce.
Instead of a logical science fiction explanation for the situation, the writers give us the explanation that Jen can control her powers immediately because she is better than Bruce. Why is she better? Because she is a woman and Bruce is a dude. Again, it is not a zero-sum game. A new character in She-Hulk can be introduced as cool and amazing without having to make an established character in Hulk look inferior and dumb.
Further, the writers completely leave untouched why Jen does not turn into a creature as large as the Hulk. At no point do the writers discuss the power differential between the Hulk and She-Hulk.
Changing the origin introduced questions in the reader’s mind about why we have not seen more Hulks created in the numerous battles in the past. It also made it necessary for the writers to either come up with a new explanation for She-Hulk’s powers that hurt the story or simply ignore other aspects of She-Hulk’s powers completely.
The dialogue from start to finish is either cheesy at best or downright cringe at worst. At no point is any of the dialogue well-crafted nor does the dialogue feel natural. The dialogue is way too on-the-nose and simply of low quality. It is so bad that the viewer will audibly groan or giggle at the dialogue all through Episode 1.
The poor dialogue also prevents any real chemistry between Bruce and Jen at all. Instead, the writers crafted dialogue that just makes Jen look like a scold and Bruce look like a gelded male as he dutifully takes his well-deserved verbal abuse.
There is zero character work at all. The writers have Jen the same at the end of the episode as she is at the beginning of the episode. I guess because Jen is already perfect even before she was She-Hulk. Therefore, there is no need for any character growth or evolution. For those people looking for a fascinating character arc for Jen, I think you are going to be disappointed.
Jen is not presented in a very likable manner. She is a total jerk to Bruce who is as passive as possible and is just trying to help her. Jen is written as a narcissistic know-it-all prick in most of the scenes. I do not think that was the goal of the writer group. I believe this was an unintentional result. I believe that the writers thought they were writing Jen in a fashion that made her look awesome. The funny thing is that Jen being a narcissistic know-it-all jerk actually is pretty damn consistent with most attorneys I have met. So, kudos to the writer group for unintentionally making Jen well written?
Seriously, the writer group fails in making Jen a character that the viewer wants to root for in this story. It is imperative that the writers lean into Jen realizing that she is a narcissistic jerk and has to learn and grow into being a better person who embraces the role of the hero. Because, at this point, there is nothing about Jen that makes me want to root for her in future episodes.
Jen’s paralegal is nothing more than your generic “you-go-girl” sidekick that we have seen numerous times before. There is not much else to say about that character.
For the male audience, you are not going to find any positive male characters in this first episode. Let’s go through the male characters that we get in this episode. We get Bruce Banner who is presented as inferior to Jen in every possible way. Bruce comes across like a buffoon who is just here to serve as a punching bag for Jen’s verbal jabs.
We also get the white male attorney named Denis in the opening scene who is your stereotypical mansplaining, obnoxious and inferior male. Then we get the three men outside of a bar who say that they are “just trying to be friendly” but evidently want to gang rape Jen. That’s about it, fellas. The presentation of male characters in this episode is either misandry or hilarious. It all depends on your personal viewpoint.
So much of the humor is just cringe-inducing. You get some humor about Captain America being a virgin. Your mileage may vary from me, but the constant making fun of Marvel’s alpha males in Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Thor is weird. The rest of the humor in She-Hulk is about what you would expect on a poorly written episode of Sex in the City or Ally McBeal. Seriously. And that is one of the biggest problems. It is fine if you want to write middle-aged wine mom humor. But, at least do it well. The writers in She-Hulk definitely do not do that style of comedy well.
On top of the bad dialogue and the bland character work, the story itself is poorly constructed. There is a total lack of focus as the plotting and pacing of She-Hulk episode one is a chaotic mess. The story moves in a choppy manner as it delivers one underdeveloped scene after the next. The scenes are all incredibly short and lack any real substance. The scenes do not build off each other in a logical fashion nor do they lead to some overarching goal. Further, the scenes end up beginning to become repetitious where it seems the writers are just finding different ways of having Jen say she is the best and Bruce is an idiot. The result is that Episode 1 feels like a superficial and jumbled mess.
The writers speed run through Jen’s origin. It is obvious that the writers have little interest in any scene involving science fiction or superhero themes. All the writers want to get to is writing their Ally McBeal inspired scenes and everything else is a necessary evil to get to those scenes.
The viewer crashes from quick scene to quick scene as the writers do their best to burn straight through all of that lame science fiction and super-hero stuff that most super-hero shows like to immerse themselves in so that the character is properly established. Part of the fun of a superhero story is building the fantastic universe and the rules for that universe that the superhero inhabits. The other part of the fun is delving into the interesting powers of the super-hero and how those powers either match or contrast with the hero’s personality. The rest of the fun is seeing how these new powers impact and change the hero. Well, we get absolutely none of that in She-Hulk Episode 1.
The writers do not care at all about the world that Jen inhabits. We get no development at all of the world in which Jen operates. The writers do not care for the science fiction or superhero themes, either. The writers also do not care about the biggest theme that has always been present in Jen’s world: The American legal system. She-Hulk is a show that naturally lends to being a legal procedural show. Unfortunately, head writer Jessica Gao admitted in an August 16, 2022 Variety interview that she originally pitched She-Hulk as a legal procedural with a trial that would span multiple episodes. However, once the writer group began writing the show they realized that none of the writers had the ability to write a legal procedural. Gao stated:
“And one thing that we all realized very slowly was none of us are that adept at writing, you know, rousing trial scenes.”
This is stunning. Gao is the head writer and the creator of She-Hulk. She is in charge. You would think that Gao would know that she was not able to write a legal procedural before she pitched the show as…a legal procedural. On top of that, since Gao should know what she can and cannot do, she should have specifically hired writers who were talented at writing a legal procedural.
However, instead, Gao hired writers who were not adept at writing a legal procedural for a show that Gao created and pitched….as a legal procedural. This is exactly why I have no confidence in the MCU Disney+ shows. It seems that nobody in charge understands what they are doing or is interested in hiring the proper people to get the job done right.
As a result, the biggest important aspect of Jen’s character, her job as a trial attorney, is completely ignored. Remember, this is a show that is officially entitled She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. It is in the name of the show. It is a core aspect of Jen’s established history. What do we get? Writers who ignore that vital aspect of Jen’s character because they cannot write a legal procedural.
So, we get nothing in terms of science fiction or superhero themes. We also get nothing in terms of a legal procedural. The result is that She-Hulk Episode 1 is shallow and generic. There is nothing unique or creative about anything in the story. This is about as dull of a first episode as you are going to get.
The fighting is less than impressive. There is only one scene that sort of resembles a real fight which is the one between Bruce and Jen. Then there is the joke of a fight scene at the end of the episode. Let’s start with the dust-up between Bruce and Jen first. It was incredibly uncomfortable to watch a male cousin get into a physical fight with a female cousin. This is a personal hangup, but I just never like seeing a physical fight between a male family member and a female family member.
First, you should not be physically fighting family members. Period. Second, you had the dynamic of a male family member getting physical with a female family member. Which is all sorts of problematic. The result is that the writers had Bruce avoid actually punching Jen. Instead, Bruce tackles and pushes Jen. Bruce also uses his thunderclap move on Jen.
Of course, the writers are fine with Jen punching Bruce in the face. This is also problematic as there are men who are victims of spousal abuse. And the perpetuation that women can punch men feeds into the societal problem of male victims of spousal abuse being made to feel embarrassed and, therefore, never coming forward to the authorities.
The result is that we could not get an actual real fight between Bruce and Jen. It was more like Bruce using more defensive moves in the fight while Jen used aggressive offensive moves. This also made Jen look unlikable as the viewer was confused why Jen would be attacking with such aggressiveness when Bruce was not responding in kind.
All of these various factors led to the fight being incredibly dull. For a fight to be exciting, both combatants need to be fighting at full capacity and with equal intensity. There needs to be good fight psychology driving the two combatants. There also needs to be some real stakes in the outcome of the fight. None of that existed here. Instead, what we got was more akin to two children fighting in a sandbox. At any rate, this fight did nothing to make Bruce or Jen look better.
Now we arrive at the fight scene at the end of She-Hulk episode one. Wow. This was about as bad of a fight scene as you can get. It also was also the worst possible way to introduce Titania. First, let’s talk about the “fight” itself. The fight lasts maybe one minute. On top of that, it is terribly directed.
We see Titania crash into the courtroom. We see Jen transform into She-Hulk. The camera focuses on Jen and her paralegal blathering while Titania is fighting the deputies. We don’t get to see Titania actually fighting the deputies. We just know it is going on in the background as we can see their feet. The two women face off with each other. We cut to Titania already holding a desk and throwing it at She-Hulk who catches it and throws it back at Titania. Titania then does a flying kick at She-Hulk. She-Hulk then knocks out Titania with just one punch. End of ten-second fight scene.
What was incredible is that this ten-second fight scene required ten camera cuts! Also, the wire work on Titania’s flying kick was cheesy at best. The entire fight looked terrible. I have seen better action scenes from a CW television show.
But, what was even worse was how awful the writers handled the debut of Titania in this massively underwhelming fight scene. Seriously. Titania is a classic She-hulk rival. I would rank Titania as the biggest She-Hulk villain in all of Jen’s history. So, how does the writer group handle the debut of this iconic She-Hulk villainess? Do they give her a big moment and immediately present her as a monster badass who can go toe-to-toe with She-Hulk? Nope. Instead, we get Titania in a ten-second fight scene and being defeated with just one punch. Welp. That was an awesome way to build up Titania’s character and get her over with the audience.
Seriously, the writer group clearly has no idea how you build up a rival at all. Maybe the writer group needs to watch some old pro wrestling video from the 1990s to see how you build up a character when you first introduce them. Titania is a cool badass villain. She should have been presented as a big deal rather than a complete joke. This immediately robbed She-Hulk of one of her greatest supporting characters. This ending could have been an effective manner to get over a badass Titania as a legit threat to She-Hulk and get the viewer excited to see the clash of these two Amazons in the next episode.
Lastly, let’s talk about the CGI and special effects. This was a huge debate once the first She-Hulk teaser trailers dropped. The CGI looked awful. She-Hulk looked more like Fiona from Shrek. This has been an ongoing problem as Disney has been working their special effects groups like mules by overwhelming them with too many projects and unreasonably short timelines. The result is that the special effects for the MCU TV shows and movies have been getting worse and worse.
The special effects in She-Hulk Episode 1 were hit or miss. It looked like Disney had their special effects teams go back over She-Hulk’s CGI in the dialogue-heavy scenes. Jen looks much better in those scenes than she did in the trailers. I actually did not have any real problem with how She-Hulk looked in the dialogue-heavy scenes where she is just standing or sitting.
However, the CGI in the training scenes was awful. She-Hulk looked noticeably different in the scenes where Bruce is training her on how to use her powers. She-Hulk looked terrible in those training scenes. The CGI looked cheap and fake and She-Hulk not only looked bad, but her movements looked terrible, too. The GGI also looked unimpressive in the Bruce/Jen fight. It certainly appeared that Disney did not have the time and budget for the special effects group to go back and rework these scenes like they did the CGI in the dialogue-heavy scenes.
The fight scene between Titania and She-Hulk looked cheap and awful. Seriously, this looked beyond low budget. Disney should be embarrassed by this scene. There was nothing about this fight scene that inspired the viewers’ confidence in the special effects for this show going forward.
It is interesting that Disney has not come out and touted the streaming numbers for She-Hulk Episode 1. This is normally something that Disney loves to do after the debut of any new Star Wars or MCU TV show. As I said at the beginning of this article, I have not been impressed by any of the Disney+ MCU shows. I have found all of them to be resolutely average. She-Hulk did not buck that trend. In fact, She-Hulk might actually be the worst MCU show to this point based just on this first episode.
I am both fascinated and mystified by who Disney is targeting with She-Hulk. It is clear that Kevin Feige has had the objective of changing the target demographic for Marvel. Traditionally, Marvel Comics always had a primary target audience of boys between 6-18. Marvel Comics then had a secondary target audience of males between 19-50.
When Feige kicked off the MCU, the movies were still skewed toward the traditional Marvel Comics primary and secondary target audiences. However, as Phase 2 came to a close, Feige began trying to expand the target audience for the MCU.
Shifting the scope of the target audience for a product is tricky. Trying to bring in a new audience has to be done in a manner that does not cause the loss of the traditional target audience. This is something that has plagued both Marvel Comics and DC Comics over the years.
All of this leads me back to the question of who is the target audience for She-Hulk. It certainly appears to me that the target audience is middle-aged wine moms who watched Ally McBeal (1997-2002) and Sex in the City (1998-2004) when they were young. I have to wonder if there was there a demand from this target audience for an MCU streaming show that is a pale version of the two shows they loved back in the day.
Honestly, I am not sure I would even recommend She-Hulk to that aforementioned target audience because the writing in She-Hulk is far inferior to what you will get in watching rewatching Ally McBeal or Sex in the City.
I cannot see any other target audience enjoying She-Hulk. I have no idea why any male viewers under the age of 18 would like this show. And I do not think many male viewers over the age of 18 would like this show, either. I am also unsure if female viewers under the age of 21 would connect with the middle-aged single woman cynicism that the writers inject into She-Hulk.
She-Hulk Episode 1 is a good example of the maxim that there are no bad characters, just bad writers. She-Hulk is a wonderful character who has been saddled with some awful writing. It is unfortunate that Feige allowed She-Hulk to be written and delivered in such a niche fashion. She-Hulk is an awesome character who deserved to be presented in the same fashion that Marvel would present a character like Hulk, Thor, or Spider-Man.