TELLY TALK TODAY #02—MY REVIEW OF SHE-HULK: ATTORNEY AT LAW EPISODE 1.
Greetings and bienvenue, all.
In this second installment of my Telly Talk Today series, I’ll be reviewing She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Episode 1, “A Normal Amount of Rage.”
First things first, though.
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With that in mind and without further ado, as follows is my review of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s first episode, “A Normal Amount of Rage.”
*BE WARNED: MILD TO MEDIUM SPOILERS FOLLOW*
• SUMMARY •
Jennifer “Jen” Walters, an attorney, practices a closing argument for her best friend Nikki Ramos. Walters is currently prosecuting a case against Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, & Holliway. As she prepares to head to court, Jen informs the audience that she is a Hulk and should explain her origin story so that the audience can truly enjoy her show.
A few months ago, Jen and her cousin Bruce Banner take a road trip. Bruce discusses a device that he built that keeps him in human form, while Jen tries to elicit from him a straight answer regarding if Captain America died a virgin. A Sakaaran Class-Eight Courier Craft lands abruptly in front of them, causing Walters to swerve off of the road. The vehicle falls down a cliff and is wrecked. When Walters comes to, she helps Bruce, who orders her to get away from him because he’s bleeding. When Jen helps him up anyway, his blood gets into one of her open wounds. She transforms accidentally into an angry She-Hulk and runs away.
Jen regains consciousness hours later and goes to a bar to clean up. Four women find her in the restroom and, on seeing her bloody and soiled appearance, conclude that she’s in a relationship with an abusive partner. They readily help her to clean up, consoling her all the while. Jen later goes outside to attempt finding Bruce, only for a group of men to begin flirting with her. She lashes out at them and transforms into She-Hulk again, just before the Hulk appears and tackles her.
Jen wakes up the next morning in a room on what looks like a private island. Jen heads downstairs to find Smart Hulk in a laboratory. He says that they are in Mexico, that Tony Stark bought this place for him years prior, and that this is where he merged his human and Hulk personas.
Smart Hulk tells Jen that she was exposed to lethal gamma radiation in his blood, which turned her into She-Hulk, but that her blood also allowed him to fully heal the damage to his arm caused by using the Nano-Gauntlet. Jen wants him to build a device for her so that she can suppress her Hulk side like he did, but he says that he cannot and that she can’t go back to being what she was before. Smart Hulk makes Jen pancakes and informs her that she can’t go back to her job and must avoid stressful situations. He later puts Jen in a chamber and sends saws moving towards her to test the emotional triggers that cause her to transform. Surely enough, She-Hulk comes out and stops the machine—before breaking out of the chamber and throwing the door at smart Hulk. Smart Hulk tries talking her down but grows amazed (and slightly jealous) that Jen has no problem retaining self-control as She-Hulk when it took him years to achieve that feat.
She-Hulk asks how she can turn back into Jen. Smart Hulk tells her that for him, the means tended to vary between being knocked out, hearing a lullaby from Black Widow, and other methods. Smart Hulk begins to train Jen in how to stay calm during stressful situations. They try yoga, but Jen doesn’t want to do it.
The next day, Smart Hulk wakes Jen up by air horn and confirms that She-Hulk reverts back to Jen in her sleep. Smart Hulk then leads She-Hulk in balancing exercises and strength testing. All the while, though, She-Hulk stresses that she just wants to go back to being a lawyer. Smart Hulk ultimately decides to show her the upsides of being a Hulk—including the ability to drink all day without getting drunk.
The next day, Smart Hulk leads Jen in more yoga, but Jen is too focused on getting back to her human life, while Smart Hulk reminds her that she can’t risk entering stressful situations before she can completely control her anger. Jen argues that, as a woman, she has to control her anger every day just to survive. She then packs up and gets in a Jeep to leave. Smart Hulk tells her that she has the life of a superhero now, but Jen tells him that that’s not a thing she wants for herself. She cites Bruce’s own life and how being a superhero cost him everything. Their argument and Jen’s insistence on leaving leads to a fight between the two that ends in the destruction of Smart Hulk’s bar. Smart Hulk and She-Hulk later make amends as they work together to fix the damage. Smart Hulk ultimately tells She-Hulk that he respects her decision not to be a superhero like him and to attempt having a normal life. She-Hulk appreciates it but remarks to the audience that Smart Hulk doesn’t really mean what he’s saying—earning a confused look from Smart Hulk. Jen then leaves Mexico to return home.
In the present day, Jen tells the audience that no one besides Nikki and her parents are aware of her She-Hulk identity and that she’s now going to go and win her case at trial.
Later, as Jen prepares to deliver her closing argument in court, a superpowered woman, Titania, charges into the courtroom. Nikki convinces Jen to turn into She-Hulk and confront Titania, which causes Titania to tiredly ask what She-Hulk is doing. She-Hulk announces herself as Jennifer Walters, Attorney at Law. She then easily defeats and knocks out Titania. She-Hulk turns back into Jen, then calmly tells the judge that she’s ready to deliver her closing argument.
In a post-credits scene back at Smart Hulk’s bar, a drunk Jen cries about how it’s a shame that Steve Rogers never got to lose his virginity before he died. Smart Hulk, annoyed by Jen’s rambling, finally admits that Steve did lose his virginity to a girl in 1943, during the USO Tour. Jen, revealing then that she actually wasn’t drunk, cheers with victory over finally having a definitive answer regarding whether Captain America died a virgin.
• MY REVIEW •
First, the good:
1. Mark Ruffalo and Tatiana Maslany hit the chemistry ball out of the park with their effortless and exceptional banter. Really, their dynamic comes off more like a comedic but deep brother-sister bond. Meanwhile, Kat Coiro and Jessica Gao (the director and head writer respectively) manage to balance depicting Bruce as the sagely and (usually) unflappable mentor with leaving no doubt that Jen is this story’s protagonist.
2. Tatiana Maslany does a sterling job of playing She-Hulk and Jen as subtly distinct parts of one whole character. Given Maslany’s Emmy-snatching turn on Orphan Black, where she played a metric ton of different characters with the same body, that’s really no surprise. We are told that, unlike Bruce, Jen does not have a totally different personality when she transforms. But still, Maslany slays at selling Jen’s boosted confidence and stymied trepidation in the She-Hulk form.
3. I understand that there was some fan backlash regarding special effects and CGI when the first She-Hulk trailer dropped. (And in an earlier interview with the press, Gao complained that the criticism of She-Hulk’s looks is the result of “our culture’s belief in the ownership of women’s bodies.”) However, all told, the effects in this episode weren’t bad at all. They all seemed pretty good to my viewing. Not the absolute best but most definitely not the worst either.
4. Jen Walters’s origin story is handled in such a fresh and funny way that the beats don’t feel at all trite or reductive. Given how many times the MCU has done origin tales for heroes who’ve been introduced over the past fourteen or so years, that is most definitely a triumph.
5. Most of She-Hulk’s humorous bits land well. One of the MCU’s biggest problems of late has been the incessant need to turn almost every project into a shallow comedy in which even the gravest moments and characters are a practical sideshow. But that more lighthearted approach works here. Unlike, say, Thor: Love and Thunder, She-Hulk mainly conquers as a superhero sitcom.
Now, the bad:
1. This episode exists almost entirely as a past-set backstory dump with a few present-set scenes tacked on before and after. That format made it a bit hard for me to recall at the episode’s end the plot established by the present-set scenes at the episode’s beginning.
2. I was VERY turned off by this episode’s unimaginative, stereotypical, and eye-rollingly woke approach to the gender divide—although I can’t say that I was surprised. She-Hulk is, after all, a Disney Plus original release. Which means that a few constants must hold.
Most or all men, of course, must be portrayed as ignorant and elitist garbage whose only hobbies include mansplaining, catcalling, disrespecting women’s boundaries, and growing jealous whenever women outperform them. All women, of course, must be portrayed as inherently supportive and infallible works of perfection who are noticeably better and whose only life issues stem from the men who conspire tirelessly to keep them down.
Jen’s comic-book origin involves her being saved from death by a blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce. However, since this is Disney Plus and men must never be shown to save or protect women in any meaningful way, Jen accidentally gets Bruce’s blood into her system while she’s trying to save him. Jen naturally synthesizes gamma radiation better than Bruce ever did, casually masters being a Hulk so fast that it puts Bruce’s journey for self-control to embarrassing shame, makes continuously casual jokes about how she is better than her cousin, and later preaches to both Bruce and the audience about just how hard it is for her to not blow up with anger every day because of the inherently garbage men who infest her corner of the world like roaches.
And the nitpicky:
1. I haven’t been a big fan of the habitual and silly way that many of these post-Endgame projects have treated the legacies of most of the OG Avengers—or the way in which the same projects have retconned or dismissed major and grave consequences that came as a result of that film. Bruce’s destroyed arm, for instance, is magically healed with a few short scenes and some pseudo-science technobabble about how Jen’s blood was just the fix that he never knew he needed. Captain America was referenced just to enable one episode-long joke about whether he ever lost his virginity. Tony Stark was referenced so that he could be portrayed as a mopey dork who spent the five blank years during Endgame crying into his beer about Captain America’s various betrayals.
2. Most of this episode’s dialogue worked, but some of the writing was just downright cringe-inducing. One particular bit comes to mind:
Bruce: “You think you can just say a bunch of mean things like that and then take off?”
• BRASS TACKS •
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s first episode does a good job of establishing the show as a superhero sitcom, presenting a reasonably compelling origin story for Jennifer Walters, and delivering pretty strong special effects along the way. It does get bogged down considerably, though, by its preachy femininity. And the insertion of the massive backstory dump in between the beginning and end have a rather negative effect on the overall pacing.
• MY RATING •
I give She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s Episode 1, “A Normal Amount of Rage,” two and a half cronuts out of five.