Enter “She-Hulk,” the latest let-down in Marvel Studios’ series of one-off shows.
The show centers on attorney Jennifer Walters, who gains the Hulk powers of her superpowered cousin, Bruce Banner, the Hulk, during a freak car accident.
After the opening incident, Walters stays with Banner to adjust to her newfound powers. Instead of being a humbling and adverse experience for Walters, the scene presents her as arrogant and whiny.
Although her character is marred by sub-par CGI, Walters seems to grasp her powers extremely quickly — almost too quickly. Somehow, she’s better than the original Hulk within days.
Banner’s Hulk transformation gives way to a feral alter ego with an eye for destruction, whereas Walters merely becomes larger, supermodel-esque and retains full control of her faculties.
What ever happened to character development?
By presenting Walters, who begins to go by She-Hulk, as infallible, the audience is unable to empathize with her supposed struggles.
This especially comes into play when Walters squabbles with Banner over training, claiming she is “infinitely better” at managing anger compared to Banner. Keep in mind that Banner is someone who has lost loved ones and put his life on the line for the fate of the world. Walter’s counterpoint? Work troubles. This scenario of telling rather than showing repeats itself ad nauseam throughout the six episodes published thus far.
Later on in the show, Walters resumes lawyering in the courtroom while dealing with her newfound, Hulk-sized spotlight.
This spotlight, however, is free of any true challenge. Most dilemmas, such as finding a good date or winning a court case, are solved in an episode or less.
Throughout all the cringeworthy, tropey humor and painfully shallow writing remains the ever-present theme of female empowerment. Walters is a “#girlboss” who is strong enough to tackle all her challenges unfazed.
However, that’s the only way Walters is ever presented. The writers refuse to give her any meaningful development or character beyond this one trait.
To be clear, representations of strong female characters are important. However, they require the characters in question to be real people. She-Hulk had potential; she could have been a woman triumphing against meaningful challenges, with both external and internal strength.
Instead, Walters is a cardboard cutout of the stereotypes of a strong female character. The writers took no time to examine what a woman would really experience as She-Hulk, or what her perception of the world would look like.
These flaws, buried at the heart of the narrative, are irredeemable.
Rather than telling a powerful story about Hulking through the glass ceiling and the earth-shattering reality of being a superhero, “She-Hulk” prioritizes weak, easy payoffs at the expense of what really counts.
— By Saheb Gulati
Originally published in the Sept. 28 edition of The Octagon