Even though it’s obviously nice when it happens, I’ve never been one of those MCU fans who voraciously demands that every dangling plot thread gets obsessively tied up – however, one itch that I’ve desperately wanted scratched for the last 14 years is for 2008’s Incredible Hulk to be fully be acknowledged by the franchise at large. Oh sure, the late, great William Hurt returned as General Ross and What If… tackled that university brawl head on, but after that magnificent tease in the middle of Shang Chi, we’re finally getting the callbacks I already wanted. Oh, what’s that? Tim Roth’s return as Abomination, you say? No, the reference I was referring to was the fourth-wall breaking acknowledgment that Bruce Banner was once played by an entirely different actor and with that cheeky little aside, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law settles into its groove nicely.
After the previous episode clued us in to how hard working lawyer Jennifer Walters managed to become a Hulk after an accident saw her sharing blood with her cousin Bruce, the newly dubbed “She-Hulk” had to out her green self in public when she was ambushed in court by super powered influencer Titania. The repercussions of this heroic act prove to be poison to Jen’s career as a lawyer who can publicly form shift into a 6 foot 8, green Amazon means her very appearance could shift a jury’s decision and so she is promptly fired and no other firm will touch her. No other firm that is, apart from GLK & H, who headhunt Walters on two conditions: she head up their new Superhuman Law Division and that she remain in Hulk form while she is working. Jennifer is initially put out by this revelation, but after being convinced by her paralegal best friend Nikki Ramos that it’s worth it for the swanky new office and stocked mini-fridge, Walters gets yet more unsettling news: her first case is to represent Emil Blonsky, aka. the mountainous Abomination who went on a rampage in Harlem years earlier, for his upcoming parole. This initially proves to be something of a conflict of interest as Blonsky attempted on a few occasions to kill her cousin, Bruce Banner, but upon meeting Emil in his human form, he seems to be genuinely remorseful for his actions and has even written heartfelt haikus to his victims over the years (yes, he even sent one to Banner).
Moved by his plight – his condition was partially caused by bring pumped full of iffy super soldier serum by the government, after all – Walters confidently Rings her new boss to tell him that sees in. However, a stunningly timed news report nails Jen with some details we already knew thanks to the Shang-Chi movie: Blonsky has been illegally leaving his cell to participate in an underground fighting ring.
Now we’ve gotten the genuinely fun, but slightly uneven origin episode out of the way, Jennifer Walters is finally free to fly out on her own without having to share the spotlight with her big green cuz, Bruce; and while he does show up on the other end of a phone line for that cracker of a casting reference (“I was a completely different person, literally.”) and a knockout tease, this is fully Tatiana Maslany’s show. Finally giving us a female superhero in the MCU that isn’t sternly all-business (all the guys are complete, emotional messes, why can’t we have more relatable, down to earth female goofs too?), Maslany steers her character through the all too familiar issues of searching for a job, fitting in with her new employment and the horrors of negotiating a family dinner with a comedic touch that the cinematic universe has been missing. It’s apparent that with the Hulky whys and wherefores out of the way, this is what the show is supposed to be about, an episodic comedy that has our long suffering heroine bump into superpowered guest stars every week while she struggles to accept and then take advantage of her new social and physical status of a being who can single arm dead lift a car and, if I’m being honest, it’s exactly what I was hoping the show would be the moment I first heard about it. Sure, nothing much really superhero-y actually occurs in this episode as it nimbly rebuilds Shulkie’s new status quo around her but the interview with Blonsky (good to have you back, Tim Roth) and her genuinely sweet chat with her dad proves that our heroine doesn’t need to punch someone through a wall every week to hold our attention.
However, possibly the best thing about Episode 2 is that when it isn’t shoving Jen through life experiences we all recognize in some form or another, its hitting us with a near constant stream of in-jokes, MCU call backs and tantalising teases that require a multiple watch to nab them all. From the obvious (Hulk is on the Sakaarian ship with a possible, long awaited, rendezvous with a World War Hulk movie) to the minuscule (both the dead Celestial at the end of Eternals and a certain metal clawed brawler are spotted in written news reports), it’s been a hot minute since the MCU has been this invested in teasing whole storylines instead of simply having a brand new character just walk on. It should go a long way to appease those dissenters who are complaining that Phase 4 has had a noticable lack of direction and thankfully such plot machinations don’t interfere with She-Hulk’s tighter run time – in fact, if anything, it actually enhances it, giving the show a madcap, anything can happen feeling that fully plays into it’s more episodic formula.
Still, we still have Daredevil, Wong and the return of Titania to look forward to at the very least and the prospect of Jennifer of grappling with these guest stars – as well as dating, workplace politics and whatever the hell is up with Pug and his best places to poop map.
A few niggles raise their heads here and there; the much debated CGI looked far better during the last episode and She-Hulk sometimes looks noticably “cartoony” under certain light while some will no doubt be pissed that the MCU has “nerfed” yet another monstrous juggernaut in the shape of a supposedly reformed Blonsky, but this is only episode 2 for heaven’s sake and we’ve only just begun to pierce the world of Jennifer Walters, where making sure you’re wearing the correct sized clothes for the day ahead is just as an essential task as walloping a bad guy into unconsciousness.
She-Hulk’s hit her stride – and it’s a long one.