“She-Hulk: Attorney at Law”’s path to our screens has certainly not been without a few bumps. From uproar among Marvel fans over questionable FX and CGI to a disgraceful wave of one-star reviews on IMDb, the quality and potential of “She-Hulk” has certainly been contested. However, with an arrival to Disney+ that brought viewership numbers to rival recent Marvel hit “Ms. Marvel,” it seems as though the show has overcome its obstacles — just as Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”) overcomes even the most unexpected bumps in her legal career in the premiere episode.
Marvel’s new, highly anticipated Disney+ show follows Walters, a witty and driven attorney at law hoping to climb the ladder and advance her legal career. Those plans fly out the window thanks to a radioactive incident between Walters and her cousin, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, “13 Going on 30”), perhaps only slightly better known as The Hulk. Following a car accident on a family road trip in which she’s exposed to gamma radiation via a transfusion of her cousin’s blood, Walters finds herself with the same abilities as The Hulk — but not without a few quirks. In order to help his cousin navigate her new green form and superhuman strength, Banner brings Walters to his tropically located secret superhero lab — a Marvel movie staple — hoping to begin what would have been a multi-year spiritual and physical journey to conquer her anger and take control of her transformation. However, Walters proves that Banner isn’t the only genius in the family when she reveals that she, unlike Banner, has complete control over her own body and mind in her Hulk form. After a few classic training montages, some meditation and a little friendly family bickering, Walters decides she’s ready to return to her life as a lawyer, swooping into the courtroom to save the day not with her newfound superpowers but with a killer closing argument. The first episode of “She-Hulk” lays out the facts and backstory to Walter’s big green secret and resolves them in quick succession, making room for further character development within the plot of a fresh legal comedy.
With the journey to mastering one’s superhuman abilities so often taking center stage in superhero films and shows, the quick and easy way that Walters breezes through episode one of “She-Hulk” is a break from the norm. Walters’ arc specifically contrasts the characterization of her cousin who has a painstakingly documented on-screen struggle with his own green alter-ego, from the first “Avengers” movie, in 2012, to “Thor: Ragnarok,” in 2017. Banner recounts events from the latter to his cousin as an anecdote, in which he was stuck in his raging form as The Hulk for over two years. Juxtaposed with her cousin’s long and strenuous journey, Walter’s proficiency in conquering her alternate form may seem unrealistic or even verge on boring. However, with a legacy of superhero stories that spans over decades, Marvel has seemingly covered the story of every kind of caped crusader, universe protector and champion of humanity. In order to keep up that unparalleled success, it is important to change things from time to time. While different from the story arcs viewers may be used to, Walter’s story lays the groundwork for further exploration of her character, such as her initial distaste for taking up the mantle of any kind of hero or Avenger and her struggles as a woman in the legal field — after all, as Walters says in her brief fourth-wall-breaking monologue at the beginning of the episode, “She-Hulk” is, first and foremost, a “lawyer show.”
“She-Hulk” is certainly more lighthearted and comedy-based than other Marvel works, especially those in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, such as the Disney+ TV show “Moon Knight” and the most recent film release, “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.” Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios since 2007, characterized “She-Hulk” as a “half-hour legal comedy.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t explore topical subject matters in a relevant and comical way. The first episode, for example, discusses misogyny and women’s experiences in a patriarchal society. When working to control her anger and fear to better control her unpredictable Hulk transformations, Walters tells Banner that, because of the struggles she faces as a woman both in society and in a male-dominated profession, she is infinitely more skilled at controlling her anger and fear than he is. From catcalling to mansplaining, Walters cites enraging and sometimes terrifying experiences that many women can relate to, setting up a potential recurring theme that may tie into Walters’s uncanny control over her newfound powers. The remarkable difference between Walters’s immediate mastery of her abilities and Banner’s extreme struggles highlights Walters’s statement about a woman’s ability to control her anger and subsequently brings to light the truth in her words, fueling the empowering feminist message behind the show.
On-screen representation of minorities will always be important, as is the portrayal of real-life struggles they face — even if the portrayal of said struggles is only a secondary storyline to a lawyer-to-superhero story arc. It is equally important that these commonplace experiences, such as misogyny, are depicted in a realistic and serious way, despite the show’s premise as a comedy primarily. Although Walters’s monologue about women and their anger is powerful, the rawness of that moment and its message were overshadowed by moments of corniness throughout the episode. From a well-meaning but exaggerated depiction of women hyping each other up in public restrooms to the show’s own title (which reduces Walters’s superhero persona to a mere “feminine” version of the original Hulk), Marvel has a long way to go in producing a truly feminist TV show. Hopefully, Marvel will take this task seriously as this season of “She-Hulk” continues.
The first episode of “She-Hulk” may be different from what we as Marvel viewers consider to be par for the superhero course, but it is just that — a premiere episode, setting up a story and introducing endearing characters that still have plenty of room to grow. The jury may still be out on how “She-Hulk” will shape up, but with Tatiana Maslany’s wit and charm as Jen Walters and some much-improved CGI, “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” has the potential to put all the one-star reviews to rest.
Daily Arts Writer Annabel Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.