This review contains She-Hulk spoilers
Our She-Hulk: Attorney at Law reviews will be adopting a different format than the one we use for MCU shows with longer episodes; more of a breakdown that we hope will still satisfy regular readers but also help those less familiar with the MCU keep up.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at episode one, “A Normal Amount of Rage”.
The Case: What Happened?
We first meet gamma radiation-imbued lawyer Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) as she is practicing a terrific closing argument for an upcoming case. Friend and paralegal Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) is in cheerleader mode, supporting Jen before they take to the court, while fellow lawyer Dennis is telling her it would be better if he, a man, took over. Men, eh? Tch!
Full disclosure: I’ve seen the first four episodes of this series and there are more heavy-handed “Men, eh? Tch!” situations coming up. Some of the messaging in this show is as subtle as a boulder being thrown your way. She-Hulk’s men are often thinly drawn and repugnant. Its women are mostly smart, strong, and girlbossing it! Which is of course something I support, but it does feel like a rather rote narrative when trying to introduce a badass character who identifies as a woman in the year of our lord 2022. It’s not just that this vibe feels dated as all hell, it also speaks to how far behind the MCU is with female superhero representation that it feels the need to catch up in such a lazy and clichéd way.
Anyway, Nikki tells Jen that, no matter what, she always has hulking out in her back pocket, and Jen breaks the fourth wall to take us back to the day she got a Hulk infusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). The bulk of the premiere then focuses on Jen first learning to cope with her powers, and Bruce testing her limits.
We see the two catching up several months earlier. Jen and Bruce are pretty close, with more of a brother-sister relationship that makes for some fun banter between them. Their car veers off the road after a Sakaaran Class-A Courier Craft tries to intercept them, and Bruce’s blood ends up dripping into Jen’s arm wound. Bada-bing, bada-boom, we’ve got ourselves a She-Hulk! Jen is not like Bruce, however. She is able to control her Hulk situation a lot more easily, she is still basically herself when in Hulk form, and she has no intention of being a superhero.
Ultimately, Jen is determined to go back to her life and career as a lawyer, but it’s not long before she’s hulking out in court against a rampaging Titania (Jameela Jamil).
The Evidence: MCU Easter Eggs
There are plenty of MCU connections in the first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and most of them are weaved in via Bruce filling in some Phase 3 gaps for us. We find out that the Stark-built hideout in Mexico was where he worked on integrating Hulk and Banner to create Smart Hulk during the Blip, and he and Tony used to sit around there drinking while Tony complained about Steve Rogers.
Bruce references his origin story as Edward Norton and several moments in The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron while discussing how he was historically able to transition from Banner to the Hulk and back again. He also mentions his fully hulked-out two year stretch on Sakaar, though we get no closer to finding out what the denizens of The Grandmaster’s stomping ground want from him this time. Ah, and we find out that Steve Rogers did not “die” a virgin. Hard to know what to say about that one, so in the words of bro and bot king Zack Snyder let’s just go with “canon.”
I noticed that Moon Knight is no longer in the Marvel Studios ident, but Jen does have a “See You Later, Litigator” mug sat on the shelf in her office, which of course reminds me of bleedin’ Steven Grant and his chirpy “laters gators”. Not for nothing, that famous image of Oscar Isaac eating Cheetos with chopsticks also sprung to mind when Jen was praising the virtues of the technique with Bruce. Feel free to Google “Oscar Isaac Cheetos” if you have no idea what I’m talking about!
The Verdict: Any Good?
“A Normal Amount of Rage” is a competent introduction to the character of Jennifer Walters and Maslany is, as always, effortlessly good at bringing the person she inhabits to life. Orphan Black fans will be happy to see the actress in another challenging leading role (I’m Orphan Black fans) and so far the supporting cast seem great, especially Gonzaga as Nikki.
It’s interesting to see Marvel Studios take a different approach to all their MCU Disney+ shows, and with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law they seem to have tried their hand at producing an amiable and inoffensive sitcom. Episode one is different to the rest, and sticks to Jen’s origin story before the series becomes its true procedural self.
The issue for me is that the next three episodes are just too fluffy, too hackneyed, too light on anything vital to really sink my teeth into. They are at their best underwhelming, and at their worst utterly cringe. This series is aiming for funny, but I haven’t laughed at any of the jokes, so I can’t personally say it succeeds at being a comedy. The later procedural stuff is also kinda interminable, with a succession of expected MCU cameos and very slight new characters heavily distracting from and undermining Jen’s story. Then there’s the fourth wall-breaking, which happens so infrequently that it comes off as jarring instead of endearing. But hey, perhaps viewers who love network-style sitcoms and procedural shows will get more of a kick out of the whole thing, and perhaps She-Hulk: Attorney at Law will markedly improve after episode four. Here’s hoping!
As is becoming a tradition with these Marvel MCU shows, the end credits shine brightly yet again, with the art giving us some good-humored context for Jen’s new life as She-Hulk. They end everything on an upbeat note, but the well-documented chatter about the show’s CGI quality won’t be fully put to rest after this first episode. It’s mostly fine, I would say, but there are a couple of moments where it does look a bit dodgy. The overworked VFX artists on She-Hulk: Attorney at Law likely did their best, and She-Hulk’s CGI rarely strays into Polar Express territory, though I regret to inform you that in some of the later episodes I watched it was definitely leaning more that way.
What I do find annoying is how detailed the CGI on Smart Hulk looks in comparison. There are probably legitimate reasons for this being the case (the VFX team may have already had access to some established layers from Avengers: Endgame, who knows?) but it kinda smacks of “well, Hulk’s more important” and, going back to my earlier gripe with some of the heavy-handedness in the writing here, I think giving the VFX creators the time they needed to fully realize She-Hulk visually opposite Hulk would have been a pretty powerful statement on its own.
Captain America fucks.