Marvel movies are so predictable. Heroes face off against villains, inflicting billions of dollars of property damage, but besting the forces of evil in the end.
So goes the finale of “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” in which all the show’s villains and heroes appear together in an implausible face-off, prompting She-Hulk herself to return to the Disney+ homepage, crawl out of her own show, and enter the writers’ room, where she demands a better ending.
She is directed to K.E.V.I.N., an AI supercomputer designed to create popular stories (and a meta nod to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige). After making her case for a less predictable finale, she tells the audience, “I smash fourth walls and bad endings.”
Honestly, a Michael Bay-style smash-’em-up, knock-down drag-out fight would have been much less grating.
“She-Hulk,” which began streaming on Disney+ in August and just released its final episode this week, is too self-aware for its own good. It seemingly knows it’s not a good show, but instead of, I don’t know, making the plot more interesting, “She-Hulk” constantly points out how silly it is.
“I just wanna make sure that you don’t think this is one of those cameo-every-week type of shows,” She-Hulk tells the audience after one too many Marvel fan favorites has appeared on screen.
Unfortunately, self-awareness is no substitute for wit.
“She-Hulk” serves two purposes, and neither one of them have anything to do with being entertaining. The first is to stretch even more cash out of the bloated Marvel brand. And the second is to promote Disney’s shallow brand of corporate feminism.
Stan Lee actually created She-Hulk in 1979 so he could make money. Worried that Universal might create its own female Hulk that would expand the franchise by directing money into its own purse, Lee concocted She-Hulk before anyone other than Marvel could own the rights to the character.
She-Hulk has always been self-aware of her purpose: On the cover of a 1992 comic book, She-Hulk wears a skimpy bustier and tells the reader, “Okay, I’ll admit this cover has nothing to do with the story this month … but I’ve got to do something to sell this book!”
The next month, a chagrined She-Hulk hides beneath a winter coat, saying, “Sorry, guys. The powers that be say I’ve been pushing it on my past few covers … so this is all you get this month!”
When it came time for She-Hulk’s own show, showrunner Jessica Gao said it was important that She-Hulk carry on her comic book predecessor’s tradition of breaking the fourth wall.
“Is next episode the finale?” She-Hulk says to the viewers in the second-to-last episode. “Oh, just like a tacked-on set piece near the end of the season? This is the big twist isn’t it?”
“She-Hulk” is totally preoccupied with being meta, constantly trying to anticipate and respond to its own critics. After She-Hulk becomes famous, the show presents comments from men on the internet saying, “So we have a #MeToo movement and now all the male heroes are gone?” and “I have no problem with female heroes. I’m just saying, make your own.”
But a meta device that may have been clever 40 years ago is completely insufferable now. She-Hulk is so obsessed with its own image — and with fighting against imaginary sexist men — that it fails to create a compelling plot.
After Jen Walters becomes a Hulk, thanks to cousin Bruce Banner’s blood spilling on her in a car accident, she learns to control her new power much more quickly than Banner ever did. She returns to her life as a lawyer, where she is hired by a firm to represent others with superpowers, and navigates modern dating and the scariest Marvel villain to date: sexism.
Disney feminism, the kind of feminism that has been workshopped and focus-grouped to include just enough girl power to seem progressive, but not so much that it starts alienating people, is the driving force behind “She-Hulk.” In Disney feminism, villains are people who say things like “Superpowers should go to the best person suited for the job,” and “No one’s allowed to make jokes anymore.”
The film’s conflict comes from a group of disgruntled men who come together to antagonize She-Hulk via a Reddit-like site called Intelligencia. The not-so-shocking twist in the show’s finale is that a sexist jerk with whom Jen went on one date is also the sexist jerk behind Intelligencia, which has brought a community of men together over their dislike for She-Hulk.
If you’re only exposure to gender relations came from Hollywood, you’d think that the greatest threat facing women today is angry men on the internet. This is the premise of Olivia Wilde’s disappointing thriller Don’t Worry Darling. And it’s the moral of She-Hulk.
Maybe this particular collection of villains wouldn’t feel so on the nose if it weren’t for the way the gender wars were hyped up throughout the show. In the first episode, Jen tells Bruce that she’s good at controlling her anger because, well, men suck. She’s used to being catcalled and having “incompetent men” explain her “own area of expertise” to her.
She’s good at controlling her anger, she tells Bruce, because “I do it infinitely more than you.”
There is some truth to this in that, scientifically, women get just as angry as men, but tend to show it less. This could be a moment to reflect on the virtue of patience, but of course, Disney turned it into a front in the gender wars.
The show also creates ridiculous caricatures of sexist men, with one douchey guy saying, “There’s a hot chick over there. I’m going to go talk to it.” We get it, men are trash.
The show so desperately wants She-Hulk to smash the patriarchy that its villains aren’t even plausible. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the casual sexism that women sometimes face or showing the way She-Hulk might face a different reception than the Hulk himself, but instead of letting those gender differences inform the show, “She-Hulk” lets them drive it, giving the show an excuse to let plot and any sense of nuance fall by the wayside.
Real evil is difficult to fight. But taking down a caricature? That’s easy.
Madeline Fry Schultz (@madelineefry) is the assistant contributors editor at the Washington Examiner.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.