Warning: This article contains spoilers for episode 2 She-Hulk: Lawyernow streaming on Disney+.
She-Hulk: Lawyer finally addressed the Hulk-sized elephant in the room – that Bruce Banner aka the Hulk was playing a completely different person in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For years, fans have debated whether the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk belongs to the MCU since it starred Edward Norton as the big, green scientist-turned-superhero or Mark Ruffalo in 2012 The Avengers counts as the Hulk’s official debut. William Hurt reprises his role as Thaddeus Ross in several MCU films thereafter The Incredible Hulk was solid evidence supporting the previous argument, and now that Tim Roth is back as Emil Blonsky aka the Abomination, appearing in the second episode of She-Hulk: Lawyerthis debate may finally be over.
But then the new Disney+ comedy went one step further to cement that film as MCU canon by directly bringing up the fact that another actor portrayed the Hulk all those years ago in a great meta moment. When Jen (Tatiana Maslany) is asked to step in as Blonsky’s lawyer for his parole hearing, she initially says no because she thinks it’s a conflict of interest—after all, Blonsky tried to kill her cousin Bruce in the past. So he calls Bruce for his advice, and he reveals that Blonsky actually sent him a heartfelt letter (and haiku) a while back, so they’ve both put this whole thing behind them. “That match was so many years ago, I’m a completely different person now — literally,” Bruce says, as Jen breaks the fourth wall to laugh directly into the camera.
As happened with She-Hulk: Lawyer revealing the story of how Captain America (Chris Evans) lost his virginity, Ruffalo loves that this show is finally acknowledging the Hulk’s complicated history in the MCU. “I think it’s really funny. It’s just the reality that we all dance a lot, but it’s true,” she tells EW. “I actually joked with Ed about it. I was like, ‘He’s like our generation’s Hamlet. Everyone’s going to figure it out.” And there’s probably going to be another couple before it’s all over. People are going to be like, “Remember when the Hulk looked like Mark Ruffalo? Now he looks like Timothée Chalamet.” “
Video: Tatiana Maslany Praises ‘She-Hulk’ For Challenging Superhero Body Standards
Ruffalo doesn’t feel at all territorial about the superhero role, preferring to watch Bruce/Hulk continue to evolve rather than keep him to himself. “The nice thing about this world is that it could be anything,” he says. “Five years from now he could transform into anything, whatever was going on at the time. I can almost see him going back to ‘Berserker Hulk’ or ‘World War Hulk.’ He could go anywhere. That’s the exciting part – I’ve played five different versions from the beginning until now, and that’s kept it interesting for me and hopefully interesting for other people.”
When Marvel first approached Ruffalo about reprising his role as Bruce/Hulk for this new series, he didn’t know whether he would be playing the human scientist version or the “Smart Hulk” persona introduced in Avengers: Endgame. But he also really didn’t care – he was more interested in seeing where the series took the character on a deeper level. “When they decided to She-Hulk — which I thought was really cool and exciting and apt and timely — was basically like, ‘We’d be interested in you giving her the baton,'” says Ruffalo. “They gave me the premise, which I already knew from the comic, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to do that.’ And I feel like I’m actually passing the torch, in a weird way.”
Working with Maslany to build Bruce and Jen’s dynamic as cousins was easy, as was showing Bruce’s goofier, looser side. “Nobody’s ever done anything like this, and there’s a lot of physical comedy,” says Ruffalo. “It’s almost impossible in some places, and just having Tatiana as a partner, our chemistry together is something you never know you’re going to have with someone, but it’s really there. It clicks and it’s fun. I love her and she’s fantastic.” .
Maslany tells EW that finding that magical chemistry with Ruffalo was just “innate” and immediate. “It’s such a joy to work with an actor where the on-camera dynamic is similar to the off-camera dynamic,” he adds. “There’s such a safety in playing in all these different silly spheres that we get into and I never felt like he was going to let me fall flat on my face. He’s an amazing stage partner and even though he’s played this character for 10 years, he really he’s learning things about the character all the time and stretching him and changing him and letting him grow.”
A big factor that allowed Ruffalo to expand the character in new ways was simply the modern technology used to transform him and Maslany into the Hulk and She-Hulk. “We have this new technology now and it’s so advanced — I remember when we did the first one Avengershow limiting it was and I had to make the face recognition and the body work separately,” says Ruffalo. Play it. I have technology enabled and I can explore it in a way I never could before.”
He adds that he felt a new kind of freedom in portraying Bruce as the Smart Hulk for this series because he didn’t feel held back in any way by the technology. “Now we can really bring these characters to life and make them feel like real people, things and beings with our acting that we just couldn’t do before,” he says.
This also allowed the She-Hulk: Lawyer creative team to take Bruce’s story in a new direction — not only was he able to figure out how to go back and forth between his people and the Smart Hulk, but he also used Jen’s DNA to heal his arm from Snap to Game over. “There were definitely discussions about his hand and how it fit into what happened during the Blip, and there was always an ongoing dialogue with Kevin [Feige] that holds the entire MCU in his brain,” says director Kat Coiro. “But the cool thing is, it never got to a place where they shut us down. It’s been a constant conversation every week about where this is going and how we execute it, and how we’re not just creating a show in a vacuum, but we’re creating a show that connects to the entire cinematic universe.”
But while Bruce/Smart Hulk played a big role in the first two episodes, don’t expect to see him in every episode moving forward. By the end of this week’s episode, he informs Jen that he can’t visit her again for a while because he “has some things I need to take care of” — and the camera pulls back to reveal that he’s in a lab on a ship somewhere in space . “In terms of Bruce leaving, we were really looking for a convenient way to make sure that everyone knew that this is Jen’s show and that it’s not going to be about Bruce,” says head writer Jessica Gao. “And we just wanted to make sure that people weren’t expecting to see Bruce every episode hanging out with her, because frankly, we can’t afford that.”
No matter how many episodes Bruce appeared in going forward, Ruffalo enjoyed every moment. “Seeing just Hulk and She-Hulk, in their day-to-day lives, was really exciting for me because we don’t know much about this character other than the battle for the universe, really,” he says. “How does he live his life when he’s not a superhero? It was really fun and funny. We have to do it together Ragnarokbut we must really look for it here.’
Ruffalo believes there’s still a lot to discover about the character and his “enigmatic” life throughout the MCU. “I think this is a good entry into that time period, the two years in between Infinity War and what happened inside Game over — there’s a gap where we don’t know what happened to him and all of a sudden he’s a professor and he’s not Banner anymore since he couldn’t transform into the Hulk,” he says. “I like how we’re starting to open up to that world, but I think there’s almost a standalone story that needs to be told for those two years. How did we go from a Banner who could no longer transform into the Hulk to this fully fleshed out version? This is a really cool way to introduce this story, but I also feel like it doesn’t quite do justice to what happened in that time period. I think there’s a lot more to say about that.”
New episodes of She-Hulk: Lawyer debuts Thursdays on Disney+.
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