The "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" pilot adds more depth to Ruffalo's Hulk and gets bogged down in its own origin story a bit -- but there are still plenty of bright moments as the MCU goes sitcom.
Every superhero needs an origin story, and the MCU Jennifer Walters got an all-new one that's a simplified variant of her comic book counterpart's story. The bottom line remains the same, though, as she becomes "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law."
Fulfilling the entirety of that show title was apparently the mission statement of this pilot episode, as there was way more origin building and stage setting for the adventures to come. Clearly, the hope was that we'd fall enough in love with Tatiana Maslany's She-Hulk as a character that we'd come back.
Other than the briefest of cameos by Jameela Jamil's Titania, there was absolutely no plotline established that could carry us into the next episode. In that way, Jennifer was right when she broke the fourth wall to insist that her being a Hulk is just a sidebar and this is a "lawyer show."
Like lawyer procedurals, this one appeared to wrap everything up in a neat bow by the end. Well, except that we actually don't even know yet that Jamil's character is named Titania, why she crashed into the courtroom just as Jennifer was set to deliver her closing argument or anything else about her.
What we do know is that she was no match for a single punch from She-Hulk, which comes as no surprise after seeing her go toe-to-toe in Mexico with her cousin, Bruce Banner aka Mark Ruffalo's Hulk.
Even more than giving us some backstory into who Jennifer is and what she wants out of life, which is very career focused at this stage of the game, this pilot was about digging deeper into Ruffalo's Bruce Banner in a way the movies don't have time to explore.
We saw the benefits of this with "WandaVision" and "Captain America and The Winter Soldier." Slowing down and letting these characters breathe and stretch out between saving the world in tentpole blockbuster films affords all new depths of character.
As Bruce attempted to train Jennifer on what it is to be a Hulk, she rightfully called him out for projecting all of his challenges onto her, speculating the same path for her. Bruce has been lonely for so long, and afraid of himself as he wrestled these disparate sides of himself.
Even as it quickly became clear that Jennifer is a very different kind of Hulk, showing no signs of any alternate personalities or monstrous brutes, Bruce still can't see a way for her to just step back into her life as a lawyer -- but that's more about the fact that he lost everything from his pre-Hulk life.
And then there's the way he talks about Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, mourning both of his friends and fellow founding Avengers. For all his sadness and loneliness, the Avengers was where Bruce found a new kind of family, people who accepted all the pieces of him. He's still clearly reeling from those losses.
We can't help but wonder if that's not also a reason he fought so hard to keep Jennifer with him in Mexico for training. Now, she understood him (or so he hoped) in a way that no one else could. She was both family and "family" now ... at least until she rejected the very idea of being a superhero. Bruce can't see any other possible path for her.
It's refreshing to see someone in this superhero universe who gains an incredible superpower and has no real interest in it at all. Jennifer wants to go back to her career as a lawyer. She doesn't want to save the world or wreck it. She just wants to be the same piece of it she was before the accident.
We can appreciate that this iteration of She-Hulk streamlined and simplified how Jennifer Walters wound up becoming a Hulk as the blood transfusion plot creates a layer of responsibility and culpability on Bruce that would complicate their relationship.
In this version of events, they were in a car accident and some of Bruce's blood simply dripped into Jennifer's open wound, mixing with hers. From there, it was about their similar DNA setting them up to handle Gamma radiation in a Hulk-ish way rather than a dying way.
While they strayed from the source material in her origin, in a way that made perfect sense, they did remember one of the more playful aspects of She-Hulk in the comics, particularly in her "Sensational" series that launched in 1989.
LIke Deadpool and a few other Marvel and DC characters, Jennifer Walters would occasionally break the fourth wall, showing an awareness that she was in a comic book. Here, that trope carried over with her addressing the audience toward the top of the show to kick off the background story of how she became a Hulk.
After that story, which dominated too much of this premiere, she told us that was all just background and that this was a "lawyer show." Again, the emphasis is on Jennifer doing what she wants to do, regardless of this bonus ability she now possesses. In fact, the moment she had to Hulk out for the first time after Titania crashed into the courtroom, she was reluctant to do it.
She also broke the fourth wall at one point while in Mexico with Bruce, looking directly into the camera with a snarky comment. Bruce caught her doing it, though, which added a new layer of playfulness to it as it suggested she was actually talking to no one in particular, rather than the viewing audience.
With a playfulness in the plot and in Jennifer's personality, it's clear that this is the MCU firmly exploring the sitcom in a more sincere way than "WandaVision's" deconstruction of the format. Thus far, we'd say they've earned mixed results, but that's totally common for any sitcom pilot.
There's a lot of exposition and groundwork that has to be laid so we understand what's going on. In this episode, we got to meet Jennifer Walters, understand the frustrations she deals with in her day-to-day life, learn how she Hulks out a bit differently than her cousin, understand that dynamic, as well as her relationship with her friend and colleague Nikki, and then get the ball rolling for its weird hybrid of legal drama and superhero hijinx.
And the bulk of this episode was focused on the She-Hulk origin story. In fact, too much of it was spent there. Jennifer quickly learned that she was different from Bruce in that she maintained almost total control of herself when she went green. It was Bruce that was holding her back, for reasons having more to do with his psychological and emotional issues.
That it escalated into a destructive Hulk fight was perhaps inevitable, but also a bit ridiculous. The whole sequence felt like it was moving way too fast at one point, with Jennifer just quickly accepting this major change in herself, and dragging on way too long, with too many training moments that served no real purpose.
Don't get us wrong, we enjoyed the cousin rivalry between Bruce and Jennifer and definitely got a kick out of them trying to one-up one another, and their familial banter (and the drinking scene was magical -- stick around post-credits for a bonus moment there!). But by the time we got to them literally throwing one another around, the whole fight sequence didn't feel entirely earned.
Also a bit heavy-handed was Jennifer's explanation of why she didn't have the rage control issues that Bruce did. Granted this is just a theory, but they even started music in the soundtrack to emphasize her speech about the anger women feel every day when getting catcalled, or mansplained to or made to feel lesser than for having an emotion.
The reality is that simply by meeting her male lawyer colleague at work, and seeing her deal with the bikers hitting on her at the bar after she first Hulked out and got lost in the woods, we already got these facets of her daily life. There is truth to the adage that sometimes it's better to show rather than tell. This episode decided to do both, and it felt a little preachy and lazy.
Also a bit heavy-handed was the women in the biker bar bathroom essentially assaulting her with kindness and support after seeing her disheveled appearance. It's again not altogether untrue that women do rally behind one another (even a perfect strange) in moments like this, but it was a little aggressively pro-women/anti-men in that entire sequence.
Thankfully, Bruce wasn't a misogynist stereotype because so far, he's the only male character who isn't. Well, maybe the opposing counsel in the courtroom scene isn't, either, but it's too soon to tell. With as complex and nuanced as Jennifer's character is, we're really hoping the rest of the supporting characters aren't two-dimensional.
We saw it in the trailers and it did not get much better by airtime. Despite being a part of the MCU and supposedly having bigger budgets than most TV fare, the CGI rendering of both Hulks left a lot to be desired.
This looked like a TV budget, demanding more of a suspension of disbelief than most Marvel projects. If it was so expensive to render this much CGI that they couldn't get it up to typical MCU standards, then why did they have Ruffalo "Smart Hulk" through most of the episode?
In the first scene, he had an inhibitor on that allowed him to be just Mark Ruffalo. Were they not able to get him beyond that scene save for voiceover work, necessitating him basically being an animated character for the rest of the episode?
When the Hulks were interacting together in Mexico, this did look like a very well-produced CGI-animated series. That's not necessarily a good thing for future installments, as animated Jennifer (and maybe Bruce) are going to be interacting more with real actors.
Luckily, we quickly got over the disconcerting animated CGI because we were absolutely enamored with the delightful charm of Maslany as Jennifer Walters. We already knew she was a tour de force as a performer thanks to "Orphan Black," but she handled the many demands here beautifully.
Even the breaking of the fourth wall was done with a conspiratorial charm that made us think she really was inviting us into her world. Already, her take on Jennifer Walters is such a complex personality, complete with notable insecurities and strengths all at the same time.
She's clearly frustrated at trying to navigate a profession dominated by male egos that are not subtle, as well as a world where the fact that she's a petite and beautiful woman means she has to deal with another kind of unwanted male attention. This is the anger she suppresses, as she explained to Bruce.
But she's also a very driven woman, determined to do her part to make the world a better place in the courtroom as a Deputy District Attorney, taking down the bad guys who aren't in brightly-colored spandex duking it out with good guys in brightly-colored spandex. At least, that was the dream.
We've not seen a whole lot outside of Maslany and Ruffalo thus far, and we're not sure how much Ruffalo will factor into future episodes. We do enjoy the ebullient support of Ginger Gonzaga's Nikki as every superhero needs someone in their corner cheering them on and lifting them up.
Jamil's Titania had maybe one or two lines before she wound up unconscious, so as we noted before, this was very much an episode asking us to fall in love with Maslany enough to come back for whatever the show has in store for her -- because we didn't get much more than that. Luckily, she did win us over, so we're down to see how she juggles her "lawyer show" in a superhero universe.
New episodes of "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" drop every Thursday on Disney+.