For my money, all of the MCU Disney+ series have had a nasty habit of starting off well and teetering off by the end. She-Hulk continues the trend of starting something new and exciting for the MCU, even if the stakes are pint-sized compared to the Hulk’s biceps (granted, what isn’t?). And while I have learned to remain cautiously optimistic, the first four episodes of She-Hulk are relatively solid and just plain fun. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it thus far, but five episodes remaining leave a lot of room for growth on top of a decent start.
Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) is an attorney whose life is turned upside down when she becomes She-Hulk. On a road trip with her cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), his blood ends up in her system (not in a “Sweet Home Alabama” way) and Jennifer gains the ability to turn into a Hulk of her own. Like the titular character in Emily the Criminal, Jennifer is having a hard time finding a job after her first Hulk outbreak (no dummy shopping here). During her adjustment back to the real world, Jennifer is recruited to become an attorney for other superhumans.
With over 30 projects to date (and counting), the MCU has become a tangled web of sorts with what seems like a dozen projects a year to keep up with. One of the strengths of She-Hulk is that it discusses the aftermath and deals with the repercussions of Avengers: Endgame and other events within the world of the MCU. It does help that Bruce Banner is one of the main characters here, but his struggle with the deaths of his close friends lingers in the background of the series. Even Bruce’s past actions play a part in one of the cases that Jennifer takes on. This aspect of the MCU spiderwebbing itself into a corner is one of the few occurrences where it works because it weaves itself into the plot without feeling too contrived.
A few weeks back, one of my pals was saying how he feared She-Hulk would be “boring” because of the courtroom scenes in the trailer. This must be a shared concern amongst MCU fans as Jennifer’s very first breaking of the fourth wall monologue consists of her saying: “I’m guessing you won’t be able to focus on this fun lawyer show until you know all about that [her Hulk origin].” I get it, these moments can humanize the character, but a raunchy and crude character like Deadpool gets more mileage from this trope.
And that’s all these moments really feel like: an effort to bring MCU fans who haven’t seen the Deadpool films up to speed with one of his defining tropes. Jennifer provides a lot of fourth-wall-breaking moments that come with a wink that feels like Marvel patting themselves on the back. It has come to my attention that the character of She-Hulk was doing this before Deadpool in the comics, but if you’re like me and you’re watching these projects oblivious to any comic book lore, this fact won’t matter because you’ve already seen Ryan Reynolds do it in two films and the fact of the matter is: She-Hulk doesn’t do it nearly as well.
Now I will say, the one comment about the history between Banner and Blonsky (Tim Roth) is pretty funny, but most of these fourth-wall-breaking moments are only funny if you can handle this much self-indulgence. It’s all contingent on your level of tolerance for self-referential humor that will make you think harder about David Ehrlich’s quote about the MCU being a “content snake eating its own tail.” I mean, there’s one scene where Jennifer talks to the viewer about cameos, expectations and why the viewer is (presumably) happy with the aforementioned cameo. Perhaps these moments are also a swing at internet culture, but at this rate, you might as well have Rian Johnson pop up in the next Star Wars film and wink at the camera while talking about toxic fandom or fans wishing to reshoot an entire $300 million movie.
Plus, Tatiana Maslany humanizes the character of Jennifer on her own — no cheesy voiceover needed. While some may find her smug, Jennifer has this relatable millennial energy that carries over from her in scenes where she’s being an attorney to scenes of her (awful) first dates. Where Ms. Marvel captured Gen Z, She-Hulk effectively tackles millennials, something the MCU has been afraid to do in the past. Maybe the director of the premiere episode (and five others), Kat Coiro, was inspired by her experience directing the rom-com Marry Me — after all, both deal with a celebrity dating an average joe — but for one reason or another, She-Hulk is the furthest the MCU has dipped their toe into that genre with talk about Steve Rodgers’ sexual history and the closest thing to a sex scene the MCU has had (yes, I have seen Eternals).
Perhaps I’m the only one in the Blonsky/Abomination fan club, but at long last, Tim Roth is in the MCU reprising his role from The Incredible Hulk. While his character has an important role in the first four episodes, Roth is not in these episodes a ton. Maybe that’s a bit of a letdown if you’re like me, but even a little Roth goes a long way in making this series watchable. I haven’t rewatched The Incredible Hulk in several years — nor do I plan on it — but I do remember Roth’s performance being delightfully hammy (as he is known to do). I can’t quite tell if this performance in She-Hulk is dialed up even higher (he is wearing Crocs here, after all) or if my memory is just poor. Granted, the MCU’s style of “humor” has since evolved into a lifeless copy-and-paste formula of sarcastic quips of low-hanging fruit. Even still, something about Roth in this era of the MCU is strange. Don’t get me wrong, Roth is the sole reason I wanted to check She-Hulk out, but his presence and attempt to play his character with this type of levity is like a band playing their hit from the seventies: his pitch is fine, but the crowds have changed. This can be remedied if Blonsky ends up having a larger role in the last five episodes. However, this is completely contingent on that occuring, and if this is the extent of Roth’s role in the series, it will be a major letdown.
On the subject of side characters, this may be an unpopular opinion, but Jennifer’s BFF Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga), falls closer to the Darcy Lewis (who received a hoot and holler at my Love and Thunder screening) end of the spectrum than the likes of Korg. Her presence and role serve the same purpose as Ned in the MCU Spider-Man series, but her character doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression, to put it lightly.
Now is not the time to pick on VFX work in these Marvel projects, that much is clear, but I will say that Banner’s Hulk looks better than what I remember him looking like in Endgame whenever he’s just talking. The way that Banner and the Hulk’s faces are merged together is truly impressive (see the still above), though after seeing an older image from Thor: Ragnarok, I miss that Hulk design. Plus, remember when the character felt like a beast? “Smart Hulk,” as they call him, is just a bit that, unlike the “Bro Thor” bit, can’t be undone quite as fast (but here’s hoping). But again, the CGI is pretty good in She-Hulk, far better than Twitter critics would want to believe, as long as the green characters are not moving.
She-Hulk does what the MCU Disney+ series have all done successfully: Hook you in. But I beg of you, Marvel, don’t break my heart, you’ve done this one too many times with these series. While I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic about the series — let’s see if this is the one that (aside from WandaVision) I finally finish — I dug the first four episodes of the show. All of the episodes so far are a healthy 35 minutes or so, spacing out the story into the TV equivalent of James Patterson chapters. I remember WandaVision having more than six episodes, and perhaps that’s why all but the finale worked. Why most of the MCU series have been about six episodes is far beyond me; it’s like the MCU was at that pizzeria where you get a dirty look for taking more than two napkins. Taking those extra napkins in WandaVision allowed the series to breathe and tell a full story without rushing. With five episodes to go, there’s a lot of room to grow and hopefully even more of certain characters in the first four episodes. I’m not saying this is Marvel finally breaking new ground by any means, but it’s enough fun to not warrant a recommendation. Take that from someone who has not enjoyed, or remembered, much of Phase Four of the MCU outside of No Way Home and Love and Thunder.
The first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law will premiere on Disney+ on August 18.