She-Hulk: Attorney at Law — premiering August 18 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — is more a modern comedy about the struggles of self-acceptance than a standard superhero flick. While most characters adore the idea of harbouring powers, legal attorney Jennifer Walters is quite the opposite. Put yourself in her situation: You get into a car crash and wake up turned into a tall, muscly, green-tinted monster. Sounds cool at first, but imagine being like that all the time. Maintaining public appearances and sporting a fake grin are hallmark traits of an average celebrity, or in this case, a superhero — instances of which we were treated to in Amazon’s The Boys and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen.
Each of the nine episodes in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is poised to have a distinct flavour, that isn’t restricted to a specific genre. “The easy answer is that it’s a half-hour legal comedy. But it also has huge cinematic scope and elements of drama, action, suspense,” co-director Kat Coiro said Friday, over a Zoom global press conference call. “It really is a little bit of a peek behind the curtain at the everyday — sometimes even mundane — life of a superhero, which we do get to experience in this long-form series.”
Walters, played by Emmy-winning actress Tatiana Maslany, never volunteered to be a superhero. It was all part of a big accident, causing her cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to transfuse his gamma-irradiated blood into her. But unlike the Hulk — who is unaware of his actions in the monster form — She-Hulk is fully conscious and retains all of Walters’ personality, adding to the inner conflict and spicing up the self-aware, drama aspect to be expected from the show.
“The beauty of television is — unlike movies — we actually have time and space to really sit with the character and learn more about them, and really get to know them as a fully fleshed out person,” head writer Jessica Gao said. “–she [Maslany] was immediately able to make this feel like a real human being. You feel like she’s [She-Hulk] lived a life, she has life experiences, she has relationships, she has family and friends. Also, she changes. Like, she might feel different in the morning than she does in the evening.”
Breaking the fourth wall
Gao, who shares writing credits with HBO’s Silicon Valley and Rick and Morty’s iconic ‘Pickle Rick’ episode, was rejected by Marvel Studios thrice before landing a She-Hulk pitch. Drawing inspiration from comic book artist-writer John Byrne’s ‘Sensational She-Hulk’ run, fans will be quick to notice the fourth-wall-breaking sense of humour in the upcoming Disney+ series. The meta-writing went through several evolutionary steps, including a version where boxy speech bubbles would pop up on-screen. Similar in fashion to the 2013 Deadpool video game and the Ryan Reynolds-led movies, but aimed more at the editors of the show.
“At one point, there was an iteration in the scripts where instead of really talking directly to the camera, there were, kind of, text boxes that were editor’s notes. Like the editor’s notes in comics. And she [She-Hulk] was actually interacting with the editor’s notes that would be on-screen,” said Gao, stating that the idea was eventually scrapped. “How much does she talk to the camera? Is she talking directly to the audience? Is there another meta element? Is she talking to somebody else, like, that’s more behind the scenes?” These are the questions that were raised in the writers’ room at Marvel..
“Ultimately, it was about finding the balance, you know, to where breaking the fourth wall does connect to the audience and draws us in, but not so much so that we’re not connecting to her story and the world that we’ve built,” Coiro added. According to Maslany, She-Hulk has a level of hyper-awareness, where she is able to seamlessly transition between Jenn and monster form whilst fully conscious. The fourth wall-breaking is not limited to her hulk form but is rather, put to display on both ends. “It’s like an extension of her superpower,” she said.
Family dynamics and relationships
The first trailer for She-Hulk touched upon some of the perks and shortcomings of becoming a hulk. Ruffalo (Zodiac), reprising his role as Professor Banner — albeit for brief moments — gathers years’ worth of intel to pass on to his cousin. But having witnessed how becoming a superhero ruined his personal life and prospects, Walters is reluctant to the idea of becoming one herself. “What’s so great about the show is that it has all those huge Marvel elements to it, like big set pieces. However, we also deal with She-Hulk swipe dating and helping her dad carry stuff into the garage,” said Maslany.
In the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, Banner has relocated to a remote part of Mexico, having created the peaceful, Zenlike lifestyle he has always desired. He soon becomes an unwanted mentor/ life coach to Walters, so she doesn’t struggle with her newfound powers — teaching her ways to control and how to best use them in a given situation. But they realise that Walters’ She-Hulk is different from his, remaining fully conscious and retaining all of her personality traits — something he can’t comprehend. “They have a great rapport and Bruce is just excited to have a person who can relate to him on a Hulk level,” said Ruffalo in a prepared press statement.
“Mark and I really found that dynamic between Hulk and She-Hulk and Jen and Bruce. The scripts lean into this lovingly antagonistic sort of sibling relationship — they obviously grew up very close. She’s always taking him down a notch; he’s always taking her down a notch,” added Maslany.
It wasn’t just the off-screen chemistry, but the fact that both stars were fitted into mocap onesies with dots all over their faces, that created a special moment for Ruffalo — who has been doing it alone for the entirety of MCU. “Other actors usually want to run away from me in those scenes: I’m on a box, covered in dots with a head cam right in the centre of my face,” he notes in the statement. “It’s not a natural experience for them. For the first time, I actually did scenes with another actor who’s in the same position. We see that Bruce/Hulk is grief-stricken and lonely, but free in a way he’s never been before. It’s been exciting.”
Another key figure in Walters’ life is her best friend and fellow attorney Nikki Ramos, providing constant support and advice in both personal and professional matters. Ginger Gonzaga embodies the character to try and remind Walters of a life outside her job and to embrace her new She-Hulk powers. “Shamefully, I do feel like I’m kind of cheating on this show. I feel like Nikki is pretty similar to me,” said Gonzaga. “She is very free. She’s that person you want — that who can get away with anything, you know, and encourage you to do whatever.
“I love first of all that they’re female friends who actually care about each other and love each other and have, you know, some sense of emotional maturity to their life. But also, it’s a really good balance, because Jenn is kind of ‘by the books.’ She’s safe, she knows what she’s doing with her life, and she has all these goals. Nikki is just very reckless and free but in a fun way. I can kind of light fires and encourage Jenn to become She-Hulk.”
Above all else, what intrigued Coiro to direct She-Hulk was her own, personal history surrounding the character. “I remember very vividly, being a little girl and seeing the cover of a She-Hulk comic amidst this sea of male comics. And just not knowing who she was or what this was, but knowing that I was moved by it — the idea of being large and in charge and, you know, taking control, taking up space was something that really resonated with me. And I remember buying that comic book. So, when this show came along, it was really the culmination of a real dream.”
Out of the nine episodes in She-Hulk, Coiro has directed episodes 1–4 and 8–9. The remaining 5, 6, and 7 episodes are helmed by Anu Valia, best known for writing and directing the 2017 Sundance Film Festival award-winning short ‘Lucia, Before and After.’
Gao added: “I love that she’s [She-Hulk] funny. I love that she breaks the fourth wall. I love that she’s super confident with a great attitude and, in later runs, has a realistic relationship to the idea of being a superhero. She has a sense of humour about her powers and has come to really appreciate the advantages. There’s an aspect of it that is very aspirational.”
Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law brings a lot more to the table, with compelling characters such as Titania, played by Jameela Jamil — a superpowered social media influencer obsessed with Walters. Then there are some reunions, starting with Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky aka Abomination, where he reprises his role from the 2008 Edward Norton-led The Incredible Hulk. Benedict Wong as The Sorcerer Supreme also makes an appearance, as a follow-up to the caged ring fight in Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.
The Disney+ Hotstar original show also stars Josh Segarra, Jon Bass, and Renée Elise Goldsberry. Charlie Cox is also expected to guest star as Matt Murdock aka Daredevil. Following the Netflix cancellation, a new show has been greenlit at Disney, titled Daredevil: Born Again, slated for an early 2024 release.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premieres August 18 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar. New episodes air every Thursday until October 13. In India, She-Hulk will be available to stream in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, and Malayalam.