AAre you ready to have fun? I ask, because it’s been a while and maybe we all need to relax first. But once you’re properly prepped, you can now turn on Marvel’s latest TV offering, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (Disney+) and have fun in exactly the way, I guess, the title She-Hulk: Attorney at Law suggests.
It doesn’t have the emotional depth, subtlety, or technical sophistication of WandaVision. It doesn’t have the youthful bounce or as refreshing a spin as Ms. Marvel’s Islamic slant. But, oh, you’ll have fun for at least 28 minutes straight. And, honestly, who dares to ask for more than that right now?
Jennifer Walters (a cast-perfect Tatiana Maslany) is a busy, ambitious woman, happy in her job and eager to progress. When we first meet her, she is about to go to court. His assistant, Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga in what would be a scene-stealing performance if Maslany weren’t so insanely good), recommends that he “step aside” if the going gets tough.
In the first of many fourth-wall-breaking moments (following the tradition of the comic book series she hails from), Walters turns to the camera and acknowledges that Nikki’s suggestion is going to have to be explained. In flashback, we learn his origin story, brief and effective. She and her cousin Bruce Banner (aka Hulk, aka Mark Ruffalo) are involved in a car accident, and she inadvertently receives a blood donation from the Hulk. He immediately takes his new 6-foot-7 form to his Stark-funded lab to help him begin the arduous journey of learning what it’s like to be one of the shades of avocado; how to control his anger, his fear and his transformations and how to integrate the two personalities that now inhabit him.
Except that Jennifer is already ahead of the game. “Anger and fear – these are just the basic emotions for any woman out there,” she notes before pointing out that she has spent her entire life suppressing her emotions and making herself acceptable to those who surround it. Unlike Banner, she doesn’t have a second personality to take on. So creator Jessica Gao (part of an all-female team of directors, producers, and writers) gives us a cheery workout montage, throwing rocks and sonic claps as Jennifer tests her new powers. When she feels she has mastered them, she goes home to resume her work. As she says in the second episode – “I’m not going to be a vigilante. This is for billionaires and narcissists. And adult orphans, for whatever reason.
After she does indeed “clear herself” – in order to protect the jury from superpowered influencer Titania (Jameela Jamil) who walks through the wall as she flees court traffic – her company decides she’s a liability and license her. She is then taken over by the firm that opposed her in court, who set up a superhuman legal division and want her to run it.
Only after she accepts the position do they specify that she will have to appear as She-Hulk (a derivative name that she opposes, but the public and the media are fond of) at all times on the desktop and in search. It’s a neat commentary on the aesthetic hoops women have to jump through on the job, and her colleagues’ suspicions that she’s underqualified and only got the job because of her other attributes fits the world well. real, too.
It’s not an extremely subtle sight (although the “anger and fear” line is the highlight of the rudeness). He doesn’t try to be, he doesn’t want to be. There are plenty of stock market numbers, including the mother more concerned about her daughter’s waistline and single status than her superpowers, a fellow ratfink at work who everyone may love to hate, but they’re all doing their work with spirit and charm. And it features plenty of cameos from beloved MCU characters, including Dr. Strange’s wizard Wong (Benedict Wong). Directly on camera again, Jennifer notes that each of her appearances “is like giving the show Twitter armor for a week.”
The whole thing is hugely funny and has such confidence, style and brilliance that it’s impossible not to love it. It’s superbly paced and has a satisfying case-of-the-week history every time. The overall plot of the series in which Jennifer has to represent Abomination (aka Emil Blonsky, aka Tim Roth, having almost as much fun as us) as he seeks parole after – among other things – trying to kill his cousin Bruce never stops, except in the first four episodes which were available for review.
Watching it is like going on vacation for half an hour. I’m sure there are people who will take issue with various deviations from the comics, or wish he did something deeper with the differences a female hulk would discover while navigating the world. For the latter I can only say – most superheroes have more than one incarnation and hopefully this is the first take of many. In the meantime, I will manage with delight.