I’m still watching She-Hulk and no one can convince me Marvel still gives a shit.
She-Hulk has not—Tatiana Maslany twerking with real Megan Thee Stallion, and I can only feel ashamed and partially responsible for the hellscape we’ve found ourselves in where one of the biggest studios in the world sees this and goes “no notes.” LGBTQ+ superheroes still aren’t a thing in the MCU (and don’t yell at me about side characters, The Eternals, or blink and miss it moments of pandering) but we’re just allowing a character that’s only a slightly better-animated SIM walking around on a weekly television show?
And I’m part of the problem. I know this, I do. For all that I whine and moan about the state of Marvel today I still, for whatever reason, am giving a lot of their shows and films the time of day, and believe me, I’m judging myself for it. It’s because I too have been manipulated into believing that since they’re finally diversifying their stories we’re somehow guilted into watching, otherwise we’re not supportive of diverse storytelling. I think the larger issue is that Marvel waited over a decade to finally deliver those stories, waiting until audiences had begun to burn out along with the writers, creators, and VFX artists run ragged by the frankly ridiculous release schedule the studio has.
Was this the master plan all along? Do they have so much expendable money that it was a part of their phase 27 to finally introduce diverse storytelling as the audience’s interest waned so that they could show the numbers and convince the studio and us that see—people don’t like these stories after all?
Currently, there’s a lot of fans of these stories, be it She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, or Moon Knight who are having to accept less in the means of having more representation. Sure, the effects aren’t great and whenever Jennifer is sitting down behind her desk we seem to have entered an desktop game from the early 2000s, but we’re finally seeing the character brought to life and that’s enough, right?
I’ve long accepted that 2022 is the year I go full curmudgeon, shaking-a-fist-at-the-sky type of critic when it comes to things people love (things I used to enjoy too.) I don’t know what switch flipped, but my tolerance for mediocrity (Marvel films), especially when it’s being turned out at an alarming rate from one of the biggest money-makers in the world (Disney), has tanked. I don’t want it, I’ll never have it again, you can’t make me.
When I finally saw Top Gun: Maverick in theaters I thought it was pro-militaristic propaganda, sure, but it was well shot, and there was an assuredness to the direction, a blend of practical and VFX effects that took our breath away (a joke!) as we were suspended in air, surrounded by the claustrophobic carriers the characters were shoved into.
The trailer for The Fablemans, the upcoming release from Steven Spielberg, gave me full-body chills when I watched it for the first time and then again when I watched it an hour later with my husband. It looks cinematic and crisp, shot with an eye that understands space and texture while adding layers to a frame through staging, styling, and lack of negative space.
Even Andor, out this week, impressed me with visual flourishes and a taste for grandiosity, and I’ve had zero interest in any previous Star Wars series in the past with their overall flat aesthetic. My god it’s nice to see a big-budget TV series or tentpole blockbuster look like a piece of filmmaking.
The costuming in The Woman King? To see vibrancy like that shattered my brain momentarily.
It’s so difficult to take She-Hulk seriously. It’s a shame because there’s a handful of really decent ideas, a charming central performance from Tatiana Maslany when she’s in human form, and the promise of the return of Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, a character I’m excited to see away from the restrictions of his Netflix series.
There is pointed silliness in how the writers are approaching scenes and storylines that, in other shows, would’ve been dripping with gregarious self-serious mundanity. The self-awareness and the fun it’s having at certain “fans” expense is, often, scathing and sharp but buried in both poorly rendered effects and the inherent need for any Marvel property to be tied to the larger MCU.
There’s a desire to see what this show might’ve looked like without the actual Hulk plot line. It goes against the ethos of the character, but would a simple procedural about what it’s like to be a working person in a world filled with superheroes and otherworldly legends and monsters be just as ripe for humor?
At this rate, the little pieces of the plot with Wong (Benedict Wong) and his wayward adventures with drunken socialites are more interesting not just because the actor is incredibly charismatic; they work because we’re not having to stomach some shoddily done CGI.
There’s welcome silliness to the show but while there are beats where they make sure to understand that the joke isn’t at the expense of the characters but the audience’s expectations, there are plenty more times through design and VFX rendering where we can’t help but laugh at Jennifer/She-Hulk and not because of any well-timed quip.
The reports of VFX artists being grossly overworked are out there so there’s no need to throw some poor artist under the bus for how uncanny valley the She-Hulk design is and how tepid the execution remains. She continually looks like a tennis ball painted green being bounded around the set as some poor editors try and make sure Maslany’s eye-line is matching her would-be scene partner—that’s on the direction. The CNET article shared some of the behind-the-scenes issues:
“One effects artists boils Marvel’s problems down to three major issues: a demand to see near-complete work much earlier in the process compared to other clients; high-pressure environments leading to burnout and low morale; and lower budgets squeezing out more experienced, more expensive workers from future Marvel projects.”
This is, as it so often is these days, a Marvel problem, for many reasons. The show—all of their shows if they’re committed to churning them out—deserve a quality amount of time to skewer imperfections. Due to the nature of the machine, we’re not always expecting Marvel to have the best scripts, directors, or, hell, even actors, but with their budget and outreach under their belt, their series and films should at least look good. Instead, it seems like a parody, and fans of both the MCU and the She-Hulk character deserve better.
The finale of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law airs on October 13. Watch the trailer below.