SHE-HULK Reframed Abomination’s Story for the Better

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brought back one of the MCU’s oldest villains, Abomination. But She-Hulk: Attorney at Law‘s second episode did something far more meaningful with the character. The Disney+ series brought back Tim Roth’s Emil Blonksy, the special-ops commander behind that rage monster. His role on the show was anything but an Easter egg or fun cameo, though. A brief, emotional moment between him and Jen Walters completely reframed Abominations’s own sad history. And in doing so it not only highlighted She-Hulk‘s ability to deftly deconstruct the superhero franchise with both humor and sincerity, it made The Incredible Hulk a more interesting movie.

Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky sits in his jail cell on She-Hulk
Marvel Studios

Through two episodes She-Hulk has employed vastly different methods to provide smart meta commentary on the MCU itself. Jen’s personal reflections and discussions with others have provided earnest and thoughtful examinations on superheroes and the world they exist in. The show has also used humor to highlight the absurd elements and questions the universe inherently creates.

But no scene from She-Hulk—a show that frequently breaks the fourth wall to great comedic effect—has better exemplified the series’ ability to have fun at the franchise’s expense while also taking the MCU and itself seriously more than her first meeting with Emil Blonksy. The hard-nosed soldier and rage monster’s unexpected spiritual transformation provided plenty of laughs. But their interaction also delivered one of the MCU’s best, most introspective moments about the shortcomings of this world.

Initially Attorney Walters didn’t want to defend Blonsky at his parole hearing. Abomination once tried to kill her cousin Bruce. But because Jen Walters is both a good person and a good lawyer, she took the case after hearing Blonsky’s side. It’s a side no one—not her, the MCU, or most fans—have ever considered.

The Incredible Hulk is Bruce Banner’s story. It presents him, without ambiguity, as an honorable man who suffered a horrible accident. As such, the film is a story about a hero we should root for chased by enemies whom we shouldn’t. But the movie’s opening montage and subsequent action show how dangerous the giant green rage monster really was back then. Bruce nearly killed everyone in the laboratory where he first transformed, including the woman he loved, Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross. Her father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross, the man who oversaw the project that inadvertently created Hulk, had nefarious reasons for wanting Bruce captured. But that didn’t make stopping an out-of-control beast any less defensible. That mission certainly had merit for highly-decorated veteran Emil Blonsky when the US government called on him to help.

Neither The Incredible Hulk nor the MCU ever grappled with that fact, though. Not until She-Hulk let Blonsky call out the hypocrisy of his fate.

Tim Roth's Emil Blonsky gets two needles of super soldier serum in his neck in The Incredible Hulk
Universal Pictures/Marvel Studios

“I was under direct orders from your government,” Blonsky told Jen about why he pursued her cousin. But when the military couldn’t stop Hulk, Blonsky agreed to let Ross inject him with an experimental facsimile of Dr. Erskine’s super soldier serum. It was a reckless decision from Ross even beyond the risks of using an untested concoction. The General didn’t take the time to understand the danger of giving the serum to the wrong person as Erskine once had. A trained killer, even a respected, noble soldier, is the last person you should turn super. John Walker showed why when the government made the same mistake years later.

Ross exploited a dedicated man’s desire to protect others. “I was sent on a mission to take out a threat,” Blonksy said. But She-Hulk also revealed his willingness was more personal than that. It wasn’t just about being a better soldier. He had a more human and relatable reason to take the serum—he wanted to fulfill a dream millions of kids have. “I thought I was the good guy,” he said. “I thought I was gonna be, you know, Captain bloody America or something.”

Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky shirtless and looking unwell in the mirror in The Incredible Hulk
Universal Pictures/Marvel Studios

Instead, as he said in The Incredible Hulk, the super soldier serum made him feel like a monster. It ravaged his body and his mind. It pushed him beyond reason and his own limits. It’s why he sought out Bruce’s blood which led him to become Abomination. Ross took a calm, disciplined soldier who rightfully believed a monster posed an enormous danger (and Hulk still posed a danger, even as an Avenger) and he destroyed Blonsky’s life and reputation. And the reward for that sacrifice? “That very threat, your cousin is held up as some kind of hero,” he told his lawyer. “And I’m locked up in here. Where’s the justice in that, Jen?”

Would that scene have packed such an emotional punch if not for Tim Roth’s incredible performance? Definitely not. He put on a masterclass, as the formerly tough-as-nails Blonsky barely held it together while delivering his heartfelt defense with tears in his eyes. But no performance would have landed if his argument didn’t ring true. He’s right! About everything! There was no justice in jailing him while Bruce became one of Earth’s most-celebrated heroes. Blonsky was a victim, too.

Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky gets emotional in jail on She-Hulk
Marvel Studios

The Incredible Hulk has never earned the esteem of most MCU. Nor has Abomination. ( We rank him in the bottom third of franchise villains.) But thanks to its honest and considered analysis of the world it inhabits, with a single, short, powerful scene She-Hulk has forever reframed both that film’s conflict and Emil Blonsky for the better. By forcing us to reexamine the story through his eyes, the series has made him a more complex, sympathetic villain. That gives the MCU’s second movie greater depth and emotional resonance than it has ever had.

So while Jen Walters is a great lawyer, we really have to applaud Emil Blonsky. Few have ever made such a convincing case for a verdict we thought had been settled long ago.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at  @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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