When the first trailer for Marvel Studios’ “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” dropped earlier this year, the footage was immediately met with brazen criticism across social media platforms. Fans were quick to identify the seemingly unfinished CGI in many of the shots, which resulted in She-Hulk appearing flagrantly cartoonish. Only days later, Marvel Studios seemed to respond to this online commentary with a revised trailer uploaded exclusively to Disney+, which showcased improved — albeit very slightly — CGI work on the character. Needless to say, many viewers were skeptical when approaching the show’s debut, though admittedly not all were skeptical for the half-baked CGI alone.
“She-Hulk,” as well as its source material, is boldly feminist; the series tackles issues of workplace harassment, gender inequity and assault, all under the clever guise of a large, green superhero. This gender-forward premise undoubtedly played a part in the review-bombing that the show received on IMDb, where it currently holds five out of 10 stars — a stark contrast to its notable 88% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.
A similar flurry of misogynistic hate comments showered the show’s Instagram account. In a clever move by the show’s creators, some of these comments were used in a digital montage during the third episode, when Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) receives online criticism resembling that of the show’s real world reception. Clever moments like these go on to define the encompassing spirit of “She-Hulk” thus far, developing a tone that is both unique and refreshingly lighthearted. The show’s well-made and thoughtful script offers much to enjoy in the series’ first half, despite it often being bogged down by poor visual presentations.
While Maslany hits every note, lands every punchline and effortlessly carries the monstrous weight of “She-Hulk,” the CGI on her titular character is laughable much too frequently. Though not as poor as the visual effects in the series’ debut trailer, there are a handful of scenes throughout the show’s first half that make one question if this series was produced by the same studio that showcased groundbreaking work on its iconic villain, Thanos. Compared to the CGI treatment that Thanos received in “Avengers: Infinity War,” She-Hulk appears more like a pilot mockup rather than a fully finished product — ultimately serving as a distraction from the surprisingly inventive script and tone the show offers.
Despite her outstanding performance, Maslany simply isn’t enough to overbear the technical awkwardness that plagues “She-Hulk,” though the show is not without its redeeming elements. The series’ keen sense of self-awareness and ability to live seamlessly within the current cultural moment certainly raises the quality of what audiences have viewed so far. Jessica Gao, creator of “She-Hulk,” is able to smartly translate the style of the “She-Hulk” comics to the small screen, expertly integrating fourth-wall breaks à la Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag.”
Many of these fourth-wall breaks involve Maslany’s character amusingly reflecting on the show’s larger existence within the MCU and the state of Marvel Studios’ online presence. As if responding to social media hate before it even happened, the show is able to get ahead of its critics and, most importantly, laugh at itself. This is where “She-Hulk” especially shines, giving audiences a much-needed opportunity to find humor in the seriousness of the MCU — importantly, at a time when some fans aren’t entirely pleased with the direction of Phase Four.
With so much potential in the show’s premise, it’s disappointing that “She-Hulk” is pulled down by subpar visual effects. The rugged, video-game quality character model certainly dulls Manslay’s excellent portrayal of the character — though she does get the opportunity to act without a green overlay, where the show truly finds its rhythm. Unfortunately, clever comedy and an exceptional lead performance aren’t enough to push “She-Hulk” from good to great. Gao, who clearly possesses a vast love and appreciation for “She-Hulk,” nonetheless deserves another shot at the character, who hopefully returns to the MCU with much improved visual wizardry.