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A Short, Sweet Origin Story

This late in the game, it’s easy to feel like Marvel has their origin stories down to a science, with familiar beats welcoming a new hero into the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. But with Jessica Gao‘s brand-new, upbeat “fun lawyer show” She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, the origin story gets a refreshing, fast-paced upgrade.

Starring Tatiana Maslany as the titular She-Hulk, aka Jennifer Walters, attorney and cousin to Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), the series opens with Walters preparing her closing statements for an important case with the help of her paralegal friend Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) and fellow lawyer Dennis (Drew Matthews). Dennis is a little less than helpful, claiming he should be the one to make the closing argument, while Nikki is far more encouraging.


As the three prepare to head to court, Jen hangs back for a moment and turns to address the audience directly and explain why exactly it is that Nikki made reference to Jen “hulking out” in court. While the moment is a little “record scratch, freeze-frame” in how quickly it happens, it serves to set the meta comedic tone of the series right away. Before we can dive into what Jen promises is the real story — namely, the fun lawyer show — we need to know how we got here.

RELATED: ‘She-Hulk’: Tatiana Maslany Shows Off Series’ Meta-Humor in New Clip

The episode then cuts to a few months earlier, showing Jen and a very human-looking Bruce on a road trip, where he shows her the device he has fashioned for himself to stop him from changing while his arm heals from an injury. Jen gets distracted from her conspiracy theory surrounding Captain America’s (Chris Evans) sex life when a ship from Sakaar descends in front of her car, sending them rolling into a very steep ditch. What the ship came to say remains a mystery, because within moments, Jen pulls a bleeding Bruce from the car, only for their blood to mix in one of her open wounds. Before you can say “Hulk smash,” Jen is tall, green, transformed, and tearing off through the trees.

For a superhero to receive their powers barely five minutes into their origin story is not something we usually see from Marvel. Their last Disney+ series, Ms. Marvel, took until the end of the first episode for Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) to even use her powers — but Jen’s training sequence hits the beginning, middle and end all within the first 35-minute episode, because ultimately her struggle is not learning to harness her anger. While she’s secluded on an island in Mexico with Bruce, who has reassumed his Smart Hulk form, she points out that mastery of her emotions — anger in particular — is something that comes far more naturally to her than it does to him. Bruce might have an entire syllabus that requires years to complete, but Jen is a woman who lives out in the world. As she rightfully points out, as a woman her every waking public moment is a matter of emotional regulation and risk mitigation. If she doesn’t control her anger, lashing out could at best get her fired from her job, and at worst get her killed.

For all that she maintains she has to keep these things under control, though, there is something cathartic in seeing her “hulk out” at moments I think many of us wish we could. She swallows her anger when Dennis tells her to smile more during her closing argument before suggesting he simply deliver the remarks himself, because she’s trying to keep her powers a secret. But when she first gets them, she loses control on a group of men who follow her out of a bar and force their presence on her in the kind of terrifying moment too many of us are familiar with. Though I’m sure plenty are gearing up for a bad faith critique on how Jen managed in days to master skills it took Bruce years to handle, Gao’s script deftly handles matters by making it clear that Jen has spent years learning not to hulk out. Training montages are no match for lived experience. Sorry, Bruce.

The episode ends in explosive fashion, with Titania (Jameela Jamil) bursting through the walls of the courtroom just as Jen is starting to deliver her closing remarks, having decided to return to her life and rejecting the mantle of superhero. Realizing that she won’t be able to live a totally Hulk-free existence after all, she transforms and stops her before trying to return to business as usual. How well that goes, we can only imagine.

If Ms. Marvel was the teen-focused, coming-of-age story, then She-Hulk is the show with 90s procedural/sitcom vibes. It is infused with poignant moments, like Jen pointing out that the grand superhero lifestyle the MCU has shown us for the last 10 years really isn’t all that glamorous to people who just want to live their lives without giving up their agency to shadowy government bodies. Jen wants nothing to do with being a hero, or with the responsibilities it apparently entails, and if Bruce can’t make her a device to stop her from changing, then she’ll simply manage it on her own.

But at the same time, the show lets itself have some fun with the more grounded moments, like Jen wandering into a nightclub bathroom after waking up disoriented from hulking out. There, she is accosted by four drunk women who immediately make sure she is okay, get her properly dressed and cleaned up, apply some makeup for her, and make sure she has ride home. Because even in the world of Marvel, there is no camaraderie quite like drunk women in the nightclub bathroom.

If the show has a weak spot, it is definitely the VFX. Much has been made in recent weeks of the conditions under which the VFX artists work, prompting Maslany, Gao and director Kat Coiro to speak out in defense of them. Given more time, yes, perhaps the visuals could have been smoother and in fairness, after a while your eye does get used to it. They are also far from the worst VFX I’ve seen, and I find the blowback a little extreme. It just becomes frustrating when entire scenes are so reliant on computer-generated faces struggling to emote, rather than just computer-generated effects. Maslany and Ruffalo are talented performers, and their banter and humor still comes through in the voice work. Hopefully, this gets smoothed out as the show continues, especially if Jen is going to spend more and more time hulking out.

Between Maslany, Gao and Coiro, the first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law lives up to the promise of the trailer, and brings a much-needed dose of levity to the Marvel TV landscape. With more familiar faces from the MCU set to arrive in the coming weeks, including Wong (Benedict Wong), Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) and of course Daredevil (Matt Murdock), it’s just a matter of time before the lawyer show becomes the superhero show. With a lead as charming as Maslany, that is absolutely fine with me, provided it never loses the fun.

Rating: A-

The first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is streaming now on Disney+.

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