This She-Hulk review contains spoilers.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Episode 4
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always adopted a, let’s say, irreverent tone. The precedent was established early on in 2008’s Iron Man. Using the film’s screenplay as more of a suggestion than a bible, Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges helped imbue the franchise with a wise-cracking, improvisational spirit that would carry on to just about every other film.
Still, even though most Marvel properties don’t let too many beats pass between jokes, none of them have ever fully bent towards outright cartoonish farce. That is, not until now with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
Through four episodes, She-Hulk is truly like nothing else Marvel has ever produced, and perhaps that’s why it’s proven to be so divisive. Episode 1 established its heroine’s fourth wall-breaking abilities and since then the show has allowed itself to become goofier week after week, as if it’s slowly wading into deeper goof waters, teasing to see what it can get away with. That journey culminates (for now, at least) in this week’s “Is This Not Real Magic?,” in which She-Hulk finally achieves the serene self-actualization of Maximum Goof.
“Is This Not Real Magic?” is essentially a live-action cartoon, from the wonderfully funny cold open that sees another legal douche-of-the-week butt up against the mystical forces of the MCU to the post-credit sequence that checks back in with “Wongers” and his new best friend with a questionably-spelled first name.
What’s in-between those grand comedic setpieces? More broad humor! It’s hard to tell whether She-Hulk is actually getting funnier or is merely upping its jokes-per-minute quotient. Either way, “Is This Not Real Magic?” is both the show’s funniest half hour yet and the most complete example that it knows what it wants to be.
The episode opens, as all episodes should, with Wong watching television. After a “real” magic show gone wrong, hack magician Donny Blaze (played by episode director Kat Coiro’s husband Rhys Coiro) uses his illicit Kamar-Taj sling ring to teleport an annoying audience member to Wong’s living room, where she promptly spoils the episode of The Sopranos he’s about to watch.
“Donny Blaze is going to pay for this,” Wong growls with all the gravity as though Thanos just cut Stephen Strange in half.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that for Marvel’s television offerings: the lower the stakes are, the more fun the audience will have. And that dynamic bears itself out once again here. Wong (who Jen rightfully tags as a fan favorite in her monologue this week) is well within his rights to destroy the man who spoiled The Sopranos for him – a fate worse than The Snap itself. That it all neatly ties into She-Hulk’s A-Story this week is just icing on the cake.
Once again, the majority of the action takes place in the courtroom where Jen has to argue that a dimestore illusionist shouldn’t have access to universe-endangering technology. Like Emil Blonsky Abomination-ing out last week, Donny Blaze’s situation does lead to some reasonably satisfying logistical and moral questions. Why should the law respect one individual’s access to a magical artifact over another? What’s the difference between Wong and any other guy on the street? It’s not like Wong has registered his sling ring with the feds.
As an increasingly established pop culture force, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now reserves the right to interrogate its own canon for humorous effect and in She-Hulk it’s having quite a bit of fun doing so. None of it would work, however, if the show treated the question with any kind of real reverence. The legal questions are interesting but not that interesting. So wisely, in the place of real in-depth analysis, She-Hulk opts for cartoonish spectacle once again. This is where its swelling cast of suitably cartoonish supporting characters come into play.
All of the non-superpowered “regular” characters in the background of She-Hulk have sneakily been the show’s greatest asset thus far. Whether it’s a local news man on the street interview gone wrong or a Tik Tokker assessing She-Hulk’s bangability, everyone in this universe seems like they just stepped out of a contentious Pawnee City Council meeting in the best way. This week introduces perhaps the greatest of them all: Madisynn (Patty Guggenheim).
The perpetually white-girl wasted young lady introducing herself as “Madisynn with two ’ns’ and one ‘y’ but it’s not where you thinkkkkkk” twice presents two of the episode’s biggest laughs for me. When she pops back up in the post-credit to watch This Is Us with Wong and compare drink recipes, it’s another unexpected delight. Sometimes, the MCU attempts to introduce “normal” Janes and Joes like Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington) in Eternals or the unnamed waitress in The Avengers to remind our heroes of what they’re fighting for. But none of these characters have endeared me to the Avengers’ world-saving necessities than Madisynn. Fight harder, Wong! We’ve got to get this loveable trainwreck to brunch!
“Is This Not Real Magic?” is a really enjoyable half-hour of television. The only areas in which it struggles are when it tries to inject some perfunctory superhero action or gravitas into the proceedings. Donny Blaze’s storyline did indeed need to end with him screwing everything up and unleashing goo demons all over our realm, but the execution of She-Hulk and Wong taking care of it has all the visual flair and import of a custodian taking out the trash. Generally speaking, She-Hulk works better in the courtroom than on the battlefield.
Regrettably, She-Hulk doesn’t work out that well in the bedroom either. Far be it from me to deny the internet the sublime Freudian joys of a giant green mommy carrying her date around like a baby, but Jen’s dating woes represent the least sturdy portions of “Is This Not Real Magic?.” Our hero grappling with the reality that some men are interested in only her alter ego is an interesting concept to play with, but the show doesn’t really have the capacity to really deal with it just yet. The complications surrounding superheroic sexual rejection don’t play quite as well when presented alongside Madisynn and Wonger’s Wild Adventure.
For the most part, however, She-Hulk now seems to keenly understand its weaknesses and strengths as it approaches the halfway point. The final scene (pre-Wong stinger) sets up what promises to be the show’s arc for the rest of the season. And thankfully it looks like the action is heading back to the courtroom where Jen, She-Hulk, and the show itself belong.