Goaded by those who should know better, I’ve taken a look at the first episode of the new Marvel series on Disney+, rejoicing in the title She Hulk: Attorney at Law. Yup, it’s another female version of a character who has previously been exclusively male on screen since he first appeared in comics back in 1962. Tatiana Maslany plays Jessica Walters, a lawyer who gains the Hulk’s powers and….well, that’s about it for the first episode, which is almost entirely backstory and world-building in the modern manner, but has pretty much zero story; it’s all just introduction and there’s no jam in the sandwich so far.
Walters is introduced in that ancient gag, where a character appears to be making a big speech but it turns out to be just a rehearsal. Walters is preparing for a case, but takes time off to break the fourth wall and chat to us directly, suggesting that we’ll have no patience for hearing about her legal career when all we want to know about is her super-powers. Actually, some audiences might feel it’s more like the other way round; Walters’ job doesn’t really have any weight in this opener, which is largely about Walters’ relationship with her cousin Bruce Banner, as played by Mark Ruffalo.
Walters and Banner get into a car crash and her blood is cross-contaminated with his; Banner whips her off to some Hawaiian bunker where he’s been searching for a way to control his condition, and offers to help her with hers. ‘I know more about controlling my anger because I do it infinitely more than you,’ says Walters, ‘Anger and fear….these are the baselines of any woman’s existence’ While all Banner can do is give her practical fashion advice ‘Spandex is your best friend’, Walters seems to take to the adjustment without too much bother, making one wonder what the dramatic meat of the series will be.
Created and written by Jessica Gao and directed by Kat Coiro, She Hulk seems to be playing for laughs rather than any kind of drama, and scores some points by having women assert themselves over men, or at least sassy Jessica Walters asserting herself over a mansplaining, or should that be Hulksplaining, Bruce Banner. There’s nine episodes of this to come, and with little more to entice us other than cameos from Tim Roth, Benedict Wong and Charlie Cox, it’s an easy one to pass on. She Hulk doesn’t carry much more weight than an SNL sketch; we don’t need female variations on male characters as much as we just need female characters, and recent entry Prey seemed to indicate that female empowerment doesn’t always have to be framed within the terms of a joke.