She-Hulk: Lawyer received mixed to positive reviews initially despite heavy review bombing. The show got off to a smart and strong start, breathing fresh air into the MCU’s tired Phase 4 by deviating from the franchise’s standard style of action and comedy, with plenty of lovable characters, new and old, to go with Tatiana Maslany’s Jen Walters/She – Sobbing.
But it didn’t last long. Very quickly, almost as soon as episode three, fresh air was blown away. The show tried to focus on women’s empowerment, but didn’t accurately portray the plight of women, give Jen any real antagonists to represent what she was fighting against (apart from an algorithm), or even add anything substantial about misogyny, chauvinism, etc.
Jen never got the chance to really stand up for anything or have any sort of significance to the show. She-Hulk might have succeeded if it decided to follow the standard MCU formula, and would have been just another MCU entry like the rest. But trying to stand out by tackling big issues like misogyny and not actually doing it just made the show a failure with audiences and made the fight for better women’s standards even harder.
She-Hulk relies on tired tropes
The show had some great moments between Jen and her male colleagues at the firm, who engaged in hilarious situations that subtly showed their condescending attitude towards her. Jen just keeps proving that she’s more capable at the job. Yet her colleagues who only have a bad opinion of her are the only ones she has to deal with when it comes to her feminine abilities, and it is never confirmed or implied that their attitude is because she is female. They are probably simply jealous colleagues who can’t get over the fact that someone else has a bigger paycheck and nothing more.
Unfortunately, everything boils down to “Men = Bad” and other rubbish and frivolous things like that. The whole show was never able to address or answer any of Jen’s problems because it didn’t give her any problems to deal with, besides a few internet trolls (who are never worth dealing with).
Jen refuses real help (or to give it)
After becoming a Hulk for the first time, Jens’ cousin Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) takes her to his retreat in Mexico to help her. Having been through the same process, he believed she would need help to get through this sudden and extreme change. It turns out that Jen got the hang of it pretty quickly and didn’t have a different personality, much to Bruce’s confusion. He actually showed signs of being jealous, understandably so, after going through a decade and a half of trauma over the same thing she had mastered in a short amount of time.
But she is not patient about it at all. Jen basically accuses her cousin of “mansplaining” something to her that she just learned and that he dealt with forever. She ironically gets mad at him. In the comics, She-Hulk comforted Bruce and helped support him with all his problems. Jen has a better understanding of her Hulk and refusing to help Bruce with his is a missed opportunity, because it was She-Hulk’s chance to actually show the Hulk how to be a Hulk, demonstrating her abilities, patience and love for her cousin, and how a woman can show a man how he can be better.
She-Hulk never decided what it wanted to focus on
In the very first moments of the first episode, Jen gives a rehearsal speech and asks big questions. What responsibility do those in power have? Must they protect those without power? Or should they be able to use their power for their own purposes, independent of others? For a law show in the biggest superhero franchise of all time, these are good questions that are really worth thinking about. Later in the episode, Bruce tells Jen that since she is one of the few people with the power to protect Earth, she must.
Jen doesn’t want to be a superhero. Understandably, she wants to have a normal life. Even if she doesn’t get the typical career she hoped for, she still didn’t join the Avengers or assert herself as a superhero. The show set itself up for a completely different context than feminism and addressed other issues it didn’t address. The responsibilities of super powered individuals would also be an interesting discussion for a superhero show.
She-Hulk repeats the error of Captain Marvel. As the first female-led entry in the franchise, Marvel said she had nothing to prove to anyone, but the film’s attitude said otherwise. Marvel had to prove that she had nothing to prove, but Marvel still had something to prove. She-Hulk falls into the same trap. Saying she’s as good as her male counterparts, be they Hulk or colleagues, but constantly trying to prove it to them only makes her problem worse.
The MCU has some real opportunities to advance female-led stories. The upcoming Thunderbolts looks to be led by fan-favorite Yelena Belova/White Widow (Florence Pugh), and Shuri (Letitia Wright) taking up the mantle of Black Panther are real steps forward for women in the MCU. Not because they are internet trolls, but because they are women who actually become heroes.