WARNING: The following contains mild spoilers for Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Episode 1, now streaming on Disney+.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is setting itself up to be one of the freshest Marvel Cinematic Universe series to date. Its premiere episode, “A Normal Amount of Rage,” introduces Bruce Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), depicts her transformation into a Hulk, and hooks viewers into her story — which she insists is about being a lawyer more than anything else.
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Along the way, we learn more about how Bruce Banner and Tony Stark spent their time during the MCU’s “Snap,” the Hulk lullaby from Avengers: Age of Ultron, and whether Captain America actually died a virgin.
Jennifer is a smart, funny protagonist who breaks the fourth wall in a way we’ve previously only seen from Deadpool. So why, then, does She-Hulk have such abysmal fan reviews — many even before the first episode arrived on Thursday?
She-Hulk Receives Lowest Fan Ratings Since Ms. Marvel
She-Hulk is only the latest Marvel project to be the target of review-bombing, with a disproportionate number of fans leaving 1-star reviews for the show.
Of course, some of the criticisms are valid. For example, while greatly improved from the She-Hulk trailers, the show’s CGI isn’t perfect. And while the series is designed to be a comedy, the tonal shift from the action-packed movies is understandably an adjustment for some viewers.
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However, many fan reviews criticize She-Hulk as being “too feminist,” going so far as to call the Disney+ series “political.” Some reviewers are unhappy that Jennifer Walters’ Hulk is just as strong as Bruce Banner’s (and perhaps even stronger).
Jennifer’s personality is also a point of contention. She’s simultaneously criticized as being too smug and arrogant to be likeable, but not serious enough to be a lawyer.
This isn’t the first MCU project to be targeted by unfairly low reviews. Ms. Marvel, centered around Pakistanti-American Muslim hero Kamala Khan, has the next-highest proportion of 1-star reviews.
The 2019 film Captain Marvel was also flooded with negative reviews after star Brie Larson commented that critics on her promotional tour were “overwhelmingly white and male,” and pushed for diversity on her press days.
Even Eternals faced heavy backlash after revealing that Phastos has a husband, whom he not only kisses on-screen but shares a son with. (Of course, the most shocking part of that storyline may be that a child in the MCU has not only one but two living and loving parents.)
So why are some fans so quick to criticize these projects, while others seem to coast by, despite their flaws?
Who Gets to Be a Superhero?
We’re used to watching the “conventional” superhero formula play out on screen: An attractive white man faces some sort of life-altering event, gains incredible superpowers, saves the world, and gets the girl. And, hey, the formula works. That’s why we have so many of these movies, and why we love them so much.
But when that formula is challenged, the new characters are inevitably held to higher standards. They don’t just have to convince audiences that they’re a great hero, they have to prove their story is worth telling.
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Characters who are women, LGBTQ+ or people of color are held to a much higher standard. They often aren’t permitted to have personality traits that are seen as too strong or too noticeable, or else they risk attracting heavy criticism.
The same confident sarcasm that makes Tony Stark a witty genius makes Carol Danvers unlikable and unrelatable. The same passion and excitement that makes Peter Parker so endearing renders Kamala Khan childish.
While nobody is denying the importance of our classic heroes (there would literally be no MCU without Iron Man), this new wave of heroes is bringing a tonal shift in the MCU. Instead of only seeing stories rooted in male fantasies, we’re seeing stories grounded in women’s realities.
Is Marvel’s She-Hulk Too ‘Feminist’?
In She-Hulk‘s first episode, Bruce tells Jennifer that she needs to learn to control her anger. But while Bruce could express his anger freely before becoming the Hulk, Jennifer counters that she’s never been allowed to do that. If she doesn’t control her anger, she will “get called emotional, or difficult, or might just literally get murdered.”
This double standard is as true off-screen as it is on-screen.
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Later, we watch a disoriented Jennifer stumble into a bar after “hulking out” for the first time. As she cleans herself up in the bathroom, she’s surrounded by a supportive group of women who offer her shoes and a jacket.
This is contrasted as soon as Jennifer steps out of the bar. She’s immediately harassed by a group of men who refuse to leave her alone. And while Jennifer has the satisfying experience of scaring these men away as She-Hulk, the rest of her night is intensely relatable to female viewers.
These plot points aren’t part of a political statement about men. They’re simply reflecting a reality many women face every day.
What Can She-Hulk Show Us About the MCU’s Future?
As Marvel continues to create projects with heroes that reflect the diversity of its audience, it will surely face backlash from viewers who aren’t ready for that change. But that doesn’t mean the studio should stop making them.
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As more people see themselves represented on screen, the audience for Marvel movies will only grow. As the MCU diversifies, the opportunities expand for richer world-building, more compelling characters, and relatable storylines. Indeed, the upcoming phases of the MCU might be its most exciting yet.
It’s clear we’ll never be able to change everyone’s mind. There will always be review-bombers who are quick to judge any project that deviates from the classic hero’s journey.
But, hopefully, some of them will begin to embrace that it’s time for a new wave of heroes. It’s certainly possible to relate to and love characters who have different experiences than your own. The rest of us have been doing it for years.
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