Mark Ruffalo recently told Metro that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s strength is how it allows “a director or an actor [to] sort of recreate each piece to their own style, their likeness.” While I disagree with the shade he threw at Star Wars in the process, I totally concur—one of the things I love about the MCU is the different tones or genres in each piece of the larger tapestry. You get political thrillers in Captain America movies, or heists in Ant-Man, and even coming-of-age comedies in Spider-Man, while they all still feel united.
That being said, I didn’t necessarily expect the MCU to veer into law comedies, but that’s exactly what She-Hulk does, and to great effect. However, the first episode mostly avoids the courtroom, opting to get through the vast majority of the superhero origin housekeeping.
The third Marvel show on Disney+ this year, She-Hulk continues a Phase Four trend of handing new heroes the reins of familiar power sets and legacies. This time it’s Jennifer Walters, lawyer in the DA’s office and cousin of Bruce Banner. When a car accident exposes her to Bruce’s irradiated blood, she too unlocks the power of transforming into a green titan when enraged.
This first of nine episodes is focused almost entirely upon Jen’s new power. Courtroom shenanigans are the bread holding together this “superhero training montage” sandwich, which doesn’t really do the character or the series justice—if ever a series could have benefitted from Disney+’s frequent strategy of launching a new series with two episode before going weekly, it’s She-Hulk.
In fact, you may have already seen half of this episode. A lot of the great moments in She-Hulk’s pilot episode are in the trailers. There’s a lot of delightful interactions between the two Hulks as Jen acclimatizes to her new power, but the majority of it was used in the marketing.
However, while a lot of these beats aren’t entirely “new,” seeing the complete product was still a refreshing experience because of the chemistry between Canada’s own Tatiana Maslany as Jen and Ruffalo as Bruce/”Smart Hulk.” They have an immediate bond on-screen, even as they interact in various states of greenness. Between the gags previewed in the trailer, they move seamlessly from familial rivalry to philosophical debates about work-life-superpower balance.
“Knowing where it goes from here, I’m smitten with She-Hulk”
She-Hulk is the first MCU property to focus directly on a Hulk since Edward Norton portrayed the character in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and the show is seemingly self-aware of that, too. Some loose plot threads both from that solo film and Avengers: Endgame are succinctly wrapped up without detracting too much from Jen. Like the Hulk himself, the pilot episode leans on them to secure the show’s footing, but only for a moment.
When the pilot stands on its own two feet, it delves into some interesting thematic territory. Those philosophical debates touch upon the nature of what it means to be a superpowered figure in the public eye, one’s concept of the self, and the modern female experience. Jen’s response when Bruce tries to lecture about anger and her new place in the world is fantastic, and the following episodes don’t hold any punches in this department.
An episode focused on introducing She-Hulk as a human and a superhero, and contrasting her powers to the Hulk we know, falters a little in the final moments as it remembers it’s the pilot of a legal comedy. The subsequent reveal of both Jen’s secret and Jameela Jamil as antagonist Titania doesn’t land as well as the rest of the episode; we’re given absolutely nothing on Titania (until the start of the second episode), and the whole conclusion has “we can’t extend the runtime at all” energy.
Again, this series should’ve premiered with two episodes. With the superhero origins out of the way, She-Hulk hits its stride quickly by the end of the first hour. I won’t be surprised if the last minute leaves a sour taste in some people’s mouths, but trust me, it’s all up from there. (Ironically, Bruce lectures Jen about denying half of her self, as the series itself ignores half of its premise for this episode.)
Through the pilot, the show teases a recurring device and a hallmark of the character: breaking the fourth wall. Meta humour is part of the character’s comic DNA (and has been since before Rob Liefeld drew Deadpool’s first ammo pouch), and the creative team has weaved it into the series naturally. Like every other moment, Maslany plays it perfectly.
In fact, having previewed the first four episodes of the series, Maslany is the absolute highlight for me. Connective fibre to the rest of the MCU is nice, and a new genre to play with is fun, but her portrayal of Jen/She-Hulk is perfect. She dances between comedy, action, and character beats flawlessly, rivalling or surpassing the energy of the MCU’s most charismatic veterans. Like Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Moon Knight and his various alter egos, she brings the whole show to life.
(This was solidified for me by the credits tag scene of the first episode, in a quick callback scene that will surely become a running joke with MCU diehards.)
Knowing where it goes from here, I’m smitten with She-Hulk, and I think most MCU fans will be too—when they get the rest of the full picture next week. I don’t think a Marvel property has had me laughing this often since Deadpool first premiered in theatres, and She-Hulk does it without that sort of edgy humour. By mixing parody with the legal and thematic elements, there’s a lot of interesting territory to explore for the MCU and for the superhero “genre” altogether.
It does two things the MCU sorely needs: it offers something fun and lighthearted where the fate of the world isn’t necessarily hanging in the balance every week, and it takes the piss out of itself without stooping too low or becoming a total farce.