REVIEW: ‘She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’ Episode 1

The Marvel Studios universe has now expanded to a place where stories that seemed far-fetched a few years ago have a comfortable place in the MCU, and She-Hulk is opening the door for all of them.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is about to be one of your new favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe projects. While much of the first episode was dedicated to establishing Jennifer Walters as an All-New, All-Different Hulk, all the elements are in place for a wildly delightful half-hour comedy series. She-Hulk takes the MCU to a place it honestly has not touched before now, which is somehow both smaller in scale yet feels like an A-list production in terms of its enjoyability and presence in the wider universe. The Marvel Studios universe has now expanded to a place where stories that seemed far-fetched a few years ago have a comfortable place in the MCU, and She-Hulk is opening the door for all of them.

As the “origin” episode, the premiere is not particularly representative of the rest of the series in terms of its structure. She-Hulk is, ultimately, an episodic show that focuses on week-by-week or case-by-case stories involving Jen’s legal career. Still, the amount of time spent on her origin and development as a Hulk with Bruce Banner manages to be thorough enough to connect Jen to a specific, growing section of the MCU and explain enough to allow the show to proceed without too many questions about who or what she is as distractions. In fact, the early fourth wall break serves to precisely lay out the intent of the episode yet still center everything within Jen’s non-superhero life.

The cast in the first episode is limited, but there is no question that Tatiana Maslany is an absolute star in the role. Criticism about She-Hulk’s CGI will not go away even with the final product, but any inability to accept it and move on is only to the detriment of the viewer. The visual effects take nothing away from Maslany’s performance, She-Hulk’s general character, or the ability to enjoy She-Hulk. Mark Ruffalo, who practically shares the episode with Maslany, is similarly phenomenal in his role here. In fact, it is arguably Ruffalo’s best portrayal of Bruce Banner in the MCU.

Because of how She-Hulk nestles itself within the MCU in such a specific casual-yet-important way, its uniqueness cannot be overstated. Quite frankly, after this series, the MCU can never go back to the all-encompassing tone it has had in the past. The show is the perfect final series of Phase Four, which generally felt like an experimental phase to diversify the types and styles of MCU projects. She-Hulk captures the self-awareness of the MCU alongside its tone of focusing on the more day-to-day reality of the universe. If any project has ever invoked feeling “comic book-y,” it is hands-down this one. The post-credits scene is perhaps a perfect example of the ground-level, casual-framing nature of this series. Gossip about Captain America’s virginity, or lack thereof, is now canon to the MCU, whereas before it mostly existed on Twitter.

She-Hulk has a comedic tone that isn’t slapstick or cheap. It feels more mature, real, and grounded in both reality and the universe it exists in. Billed as a half-hour comedy, it feels far from simply being a goofy and empty attempt at laughs. But the superhero elements in this episode do tip the scales a bit further away from truly feeling like an episodic comedy. A challenge going forward for the show will be allowing it to have its own comedic personality that rises above what it seeks to accomplish in terms of any larger MCU plot. For example, hints of a building Hulk universe are obvious in this episode. There are no indications yet that it cannot remain relatively self-isolated, and viewers should be prepared for the end of the “superhero origin” part of She-Hulk’s story early in the series, and perhaps this first episode served to cover and complete it. 

It should also be recognized that even with only one episode as a reference, She-Hulk so far seems to be the MCU’s most successful attempt at a woman-led project. Maslany’s performance combined with the script itself is reminiscent of contemporary, quality non-comic book female-driven TV. Jen’s character has so much more texture as it is being written by women seemingly without any hesitation to be unceremoniously honest and genuine as to what Jen’s life (Hulk for or not) would look and feel like. Ms. Marvel also did a phenomenal job with Kamala Khan, but writing and portraying an adult woman with more mature themes feels incredibly fresh in the MCU, even if overdue.

In sum, She-Hulk’s premiere episode has every indication that the series will be a hit. The tone of the show is one that is designed to be simply fun, enjoyable, and even pander to fan service. Not every show or style of humor works for every person, but it is difficult to imagine any major widespread criticism (aside from the CGI) that is not based, in part, on some people’s unfounded discomfort with female superheroes or straight-up misogyny. The toxic “M-She-U” crowd will surely keep yelling into oblivion. But if She-Hulk exemplifies the “M-She-U”, it only proves that that universe is an excellent place to be.

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