As the relentless release schedule of the MCU rumbles on, its now the turn of She-Hulk to flex her muscles and take her bow to further add to the diversity of Marvel’s ever growing cinematic stable, but coming on the Conversed heels of the unbearably sweet Ms. Marvel, there’s a feeling that the Disney+ arm of the Marvel Universe might need to change up its game. After all, the majority of the live action offerings have endeavored to play like longer versions of the movies which, while giving us some memorable new characters, have sometimes felt a little uneven.
Enter showrunner Jessica Gao (she wrote the PickleRick episode of Rick & Morty so bow down), who has seen the potential of a TV show about an abnormally coloured, superpowered, female lawyer (Ally McTeal, anyone?), but after the usual complaints about CGI and almost ritualistic review bombing comic book movies have to endure on seemingly a daily basic, does Jennifer Walters manage to smash the glass ceiling?
Introduced as she’s being lectured by a male colleague about a job she already knows how to do, single female lawyer Jennifer Walters is preparing for a trail before she turns to the camera and directly addresses us, the audience, about her strange condition of being a Hulk and then guides us through an extended flashback of the events that lead her to this emerald-hued condition.
You see, Bruce Banner is her cousin and after spending some family time together after the events of the blip, their car is thoughtlessly run off the road by a Sakaarian spaceship hovering in the middle of the road. As Bruce is in his human form due to an inhibitor that keeps him small, pink and vunerable while his Infinity Stone frazzled arm heals, his blood from the crash gets into a wound on Jessica’s arm causing her to take on the same, green-tinted rage issues as her cousin. Spirited away to Bruce’s Mexican hideaway/lab, Jennifer now has to undergo rigorous Hulk-training if she is to exist with gamma infected blood coursing through her veins, but to Bruce’s – now in the fully healed form of “Smart Hulk” – surprise, it seems that his cousin’s experiences of day to day life as a woman means she’s actually far better equipped to deal with Hulkdom than Bruce had thought possible.
Getting a handle on her abilities in record time and finding that she has the ability to change back and forth at will, Jennifer is eager to dump all this superhero crap her cousin is spouting and they and get back to her old life of being a lawyer – but that’s the thing about Hulks; there’s always a bright jade bullseye on their back for any enhanced bruiser who wants to punch a wall in and start some shit.
So, for a show that’s taken a few lumps before a single episode even aired, let’s get a few things straight right off the bat, while She-Hulk’s maiden episode is not without its stumbles, its attempting to do something that no other live action, Marvel, Disney+ show has tried to do since WandaVision and that’s actually try to embrace the very nature of an episodic tv show. With a shorter length (about 30 minutes without credits) but more episodes (matches WandaVision’s count of 9), She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is nimbler and lighter of foot than some of the other shows, but you feel that it hasn’t truly found its voice yet, especially compared to Ms. Marvel’s opening episode which was virtually perfect.
What it does well is simple: examine how weird life gets when you’re a street level hero trying to balance a high pressure job with the ability to hurl a boulder into orbit and the first episode is crammed with endless quirks (eating Cheetos with chopsticks), brazen MCU references (Jennifer constantly enquiring whether Steve Rogers ever got his end away) and relatable pop culture references (both are traumatised by Bing Bong’s fate from Inside Out), which go to make a very odd concept endearing. Seeing Mark Ruffalo back in full Smart Hulk mode is great and while this is probably all we’re going to get of him during this series, the episode does a good job of quickly moving him on from Avengers: Endgame in case that long mooted World War Hulk movie gets off the ground. However, this is Jennifer Walters’ time to shine and Tatiana Maslany, so magnificent in Orphan Black, absolutely crushes it with he razor sharp comic timing and incredibly likeable presence which fits perfectly into the fourth wall breaking, Chris Claremont era of the comics the show is trying to emulate.
Essentially one long Rocky montage of Jennifer finding her green feet, it’s an entire origin story covered in perky double time and while the hulky two-hander leads to some great moments (Hulks process alcohol faster much to Jennifer’s delight), this episode feels more like a prologue than more of the actual show.
However, the message of what it’s like being a woman (even a statuesque, green one) in a man’s world is resolutely covered in enjoyably inventive ways. The fact that Jennifer can adapt to Hulking quicker than her cousin simply because experiencing fear and anger is the baseline of any woman existing on a day to day basis sadly rings true and Bruce’s subsequent lessons – not to mention his frustration with her natural hulking abilities – leads to moments that verge on mansplaining, or… Hulksplaining?
Issues? Some, but all are but mere teething troubles that will probably be ironed out as the weeks progress. Due to the flashback nature of the episode and Banner’s co-starring role, we don’t really get a feel as to how this show is actually going play when we actually get to our heroine’s day to day life of a lawyer with the ability to bench press a truck. Also, the much published issue of some iffy CGI hasn’t entirely been rectified, but on the other hand, how many other TV shows can you name that has both their main characters almost completely rendered in extensive and expensive mo-cap? Give the show (and those overworked CG artists) a break, as long as Maslany’s performance and comic timing shine through (and they do) then a couple of dodgy shots aren’t the end of the world.
While She-Hulk: Attorney At Law still needs to find its balance (the fourth wall breaks don’t feel natural quite yet), it’s yet another introduction to a delightfully realised character you can’t wait to be unleashed into the MCU at large. However, judging by the numerous guest spots (Abomination, Wong, Daredevil), it seems the MCU will be coming to her instead and sooner rather than later too.
With an impish sense of surrealism masking some on-target jabs at toxic masculinity, the show seems like it will balance on the right side of goofy as opposed to violently hurling itself off it like Thor: Love And Thunder did and if it can find its groove, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law will be a superhero law show I’ll have no objection to in the slightest.