Warning: This article contains spoilers about episode 2 of She-Hulk: Attorney at Lawnow streaming on Disney+.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law finally addressed the Hulk-sized elephant in the room — that Bruce Banner aka the Hulk used to be played by a totally different person in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For years, fans have debated whether the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk belongs in the MCU since it starred Edward Norton as the titular big, green scientist-turned-superhero, or if Mark Ruffalo in 2012’s The Avengers counts as the Hulk’s official debut. William Hurt reprising his role as Thaddeus Ross in multiple MCU movies after The Incredible Hulk was a solid piece of evidence supporting the former argument, and now that Tim Roth is back as Emil Blonsky aka the Abomination, appearing in the second episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Lawthat debate can finally end.
But then the new Disney+ comedy went one step further to cement that movie as MCU canon by directly calling out the fact that another actor portrayed the Hulk all those years ago in a brilliantly 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’ll be a conflict of interest — after all, Blonsky did attempt to kill her cousin Bruce in the past. So she calls up Bruce to get his advice, and he reveals that Blonsky actually sent him a really heartfelt letter (and haiku) a while back, so they’ve both put that whole issue behind them. “That fight was so many years ago, I’m a completely different person now — literally,” Bruce deadpans, as Jen breaks the fourth wall to laugh directly at the camera.
As was the case with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law revealing the story of how Captain America (Chris Evans) lost his virginity, Ruffalo loves that this show is finally acknowledging the Hulk’s complex history in the MCU. “I think it’s really funny. It’s just the reality that we all are often dancing around, but it’s true,” he tells EW. “I actually joked with Ed about this. I was like, ‘It’s like our generation’s Hamlet. Everyone’s going to get a shot at it.’ And there’ll probably be another couple before it’s all over. People will be like, ‘Remember when the Hulk used to look like Mark Ruffalo? Now it looks like Timothée Chalamet.’ “
Video: Tatiana Maslany praised ‘She-Hulk’ for challenging superhero body standards
Ruffalo doesn’t feel territorial at all about his superhero role, because he’d rather watch Bruce/Hulk continue to evolve than just keep it for himself. “The cool thing about this world is that it could just be anything,” he says. “Five years from now it could totally morph into anything, whatever’s pertinent at the time. I almost see him going back to ‘Berserker Hulk’ or ‘World War Hulk’. It could go anywhere. That’s the exciting part — I’ve played five different versions from beginning to now, and that’s kept it interesting for me and I hope interesting for other people.”
When Marvel first approached Ruffalo about reprising his role as Bruce/Hulk for this new series, he didn’t know if he’d be playing the human scientist version or the “Smart Hulk” persona introduced in Avengers: Endgame. But he also truly didn’t care — he was more interested in seeing where the series took the character on a deeper level. “When they decided to do She Hulk — which I thought was really cool and exciting and apt and timely — it was basically like, ‘We would be interested in you passing the baton to her,’ ” Ruffalo says. “They gave me the premise, which I already knew from the comics, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do that.’ And I do feel like I’m actually passing the torch on, in a strange way.”
Working with Maslany to build Bruce and Jen’s dynamic as cousins came easy, as did getting to show off Bruce’s goofier, more relaxed side. “No one’s ever done anything quite like this and there’s a lot of physical comedy,” says Ruffalo. “It’s almost slapstick in some places, and just having Tatiana for a partner, our chemistry together is just something you never know you’re going to have with somebody, but it really is there. It clicks and it’s fun. I adore 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 dynamic on-camera feels like the dynamic off-camera,” she adds. “There’s such a safety in us playing in all of these different goofy spheres that we’re going into, and I never felt like he was going to let me fall on my face. He’s such an amazing scene partner, and even though he’s played this character for 10 years, he really is 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 Hulk and She-Hulk. “We have this new technology now, and it’s just so advanced — I remember when we were doing the first avengershow limiting it was, and I had to do the facial recognition and the body work separately,” Ruffalo says. “You couldn’t get a flow going as much and now I could just play it. I have the tech on and I can explore it in a way that I could never do before.”
He adds that he felt a new kind of freedom in portraying Bruce as 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 have them really feel like real people and things and beings seamlessly with our performance that we just couldn’t do in the past,” he says.
That also allowed the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law 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 human and Smart Hulk selves, but he also used Jen’s DNA to heal his arm from the Snap in end game. “There were definitely conversations about his arm and how that fits into what happened during the blip, and there was always a constant dialogue with Kevin [Feige] who holds the whole MCU in his brain,” says director Kat Coiro. “But the cool thing is it never got to a place where we were shut down. It was an ongoing conversation every week about what direction is this going and how do we execute this, and how do we not just create a show in a vacuum, but create a show that connects to the entire cinematic universe.”
But while Bruce/Smart Hulk has played a big part 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 lets Jen know that he can’t visit with her again for a bit because he’s “got some things I’ve got to take care of” — and the camera pulls back to reveal he’s in a lab on a ship somewhere in outer space. “As far as Bruce leaving, we really were just looking for a convenient way to make sure that everybody knew this is Jen’s show, and it’s not going to be about Bruce,” says head writer Jessica Gao. “And we just wanted to make sure people weren’t expecting to see Bruce every single episode hanging out with her, because frankly, we can’t afford it.”
Regardless of how many episodes Bruce does make an appearance in moving forward, Ruffalo enjoyed every single moment. “Just seeing the Hulk and She-Hulk, in their everyday lives, was really exciting to me because we don’t know much about that character outside of fighting for the universe, really,” he says. “‘How does he live his life when he is not being a superhero?’ It was really fun and funny. We got to do it with Ragnarokbut we really got to dig in on it here.”
Ruffalo thinks there’s still a lot more to discover about the character and his “enigmatic” life throughout the MCU. “I think this is a good entry into that time period, that two years between infinity war and what happened in end game — there’s a gap where we don’t know what happened to him and all of a sudden he’s a professor and he is no longer Banner after he couldn’t turn into the Hulk,” he says. “I love how we start to open up that world, but I think there’s almost a standalone story to be told for just those two years. How did we go from a Banner who couldn’t turn into the Hulk anymore to all of a sudden this fully integrated version? This is a really nice way to introduce that story, but I also feel like it doesn’t satisfy exactly what happened in that time period. I think there’s a lot more to say about it.”
New episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law debut Thursdays on Disney+.
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