Abstractly, whether or not “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” is any good will come down to writing and acting far more than its visual effects — and at least we know for sure that the acting is going to be good. It does after all star Tatiana Maslany.
But the question of visual effects on this visual effects-heavy show is not abstract, because the thing we’re talking about — the main character’s actual face — is the thing we’re going to spend the bulk of our time staring at. It’s the one thing that absolutely has to be, at minimum, easy to take for granted for the show to work.
And well whoops, if you’ve seen the (otherwise excellent) trailer yesterday, you know that unfortunately, the exact opposite has occurred. The effects are hilarious. And we’re forced to ask: That can’t possibly be it, can it?
For point of reference, here is the always great Maslany as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk in her fully human form:
And here she is in fully she-hulked-out form:
Regular Human Jennifer:
You will never convince me that the woman played by Tatiana Maslany and the green superhero she turns into are the same character. Hell, the green superhero is definitely at least 2 different characters by herself. Unless, canonically, the hulking-out process is revealed to turn Jennifer into, uh, a combination of Mandy Moore and Olivia Wilde.
Here, just to ram the point home, is what Jennifer Walters looks like as she begins to transform:
To recap: Jennifer in normal form: Tatiana Maslany. Jennifer as she begins to transform: Still very much Tatiana Maslany. She-Hulk: Someone(s?) who absolutely wouldn’t be able to open Tatiana Maslany’s phone using Apple Face ID.
I’ve been thinking about this discomforting mess for more than a day now, and still can’t make sense of it. There’s the dead-eyed, 2009-video-games uncanny valley of it. The far too smooth facial features of the sort you normally only see on people with 30-year Vegas residencies. There’s the… unsettling lack of real expressiveness so extreme it’s as if the source of her powers was a stress-induced stroke. And once again, She-Hulk looks almost nothing at all like Jennifer in a weird, distracting way.
It wouldn’t be that bad if we didn’t have an example in the same footage of her cousin, Bruce Banner, who apparently mostly appears in his Professor Hulk form. He sure looks a hell of a lot more like Mark Ruffalo than She-Hulk looks like Maslany:
I’m not here to crap on the teams that rendered these effects, honest. There’s a lot of moving parts to this show — Marvel is a huge operation, not even directors are truly in charge of their projects, and executives, particularly one executive named Kevin Feige, make the big decisions. VFX work is not only hard, VFX workers are some of the most put-upon and exploited people in the industry and in the end they’re doing what they were asked to do with the budget they were given.
*Turns to address Marvel directly* Which once again makes us ask, surely, surely these aren’t the finished effects, right?
I’m reminded (hi Tim!) of a story involving rock legends Van Halen. In the 1980s at the height of their fame, the band became weirdly notorious for an item on their concert rider: They demanded that several bowls of M&Ms be provided backstage, but with absolutely no brown M&Ms, period. If a single brown M&M was found, the concert promoter would forfeit their pay.
People saw this as an example of rock star excess, but it was actually a very canny effort at quality control. As former lead singer David Lee Roth later explained, Van Halen’s 1980s tours were huge productions with giant stage sets that had to be assembled for every show, then disassembled, packed up and moved safely to the next town, where it would all happen again. And it had to work without a single hitch or injury every time.
The band didn’t have the time to double check the assembly, but they did have time to check and see if their very specific M&Ms request had been honored: If it wasn’t, they knew they were dealing with sloppy promoters.
Anyway, if a studio working with as much money as Marvel considers these obviously uh, incomplete-looking effects good enough for the show’s final release, we have to wonder what other corners have been cut in the making of “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law”?
Which is why, come on, this can’t possibly be the finished product, can it?
“She-Hulk” is already supposed to be a comedy — we need a trailer making that aspect much clearer and, while we’re at it, please confirm 4th wall breaking thanks appreciate it — but the thing provoking the most immediate laughs is the ghastly, inhuman expression on She-Hulk’s face again and again. Can’t enjoy the truly charming jokes this show feels full of, or Jameela Jamil adorably busting through a court room wall, when you’re too busy being distracted by, you know, that. Probably something Marvel ought to make sure gets polished up before the show’s premiere on Aug. 17.
Granted, perhaps that’s not possible. The first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie was delayed by 4 months after the first look at Sonic was met with universal mockery. Guessing Marvel isn’t about to put “She-Hulk” off until 2023.
So if it turns out this is as good as it gets? Well, I’ll let Jennifer Walters speak for me:
But surely, sure this isn’t it, right?