She-Hulk: Attorney at Law review – female empowerment has never been so much fun
Show caption It’s not easy being green … Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Photograph: Marvel Studios TV review She-Hulk: Attorney at Law review – female empowerment has never been so much fun This entertaining Marvel joyride about a heroine who ‘hulks out’ in-between being a high-powered lawyer is not subtle. But you’ll enjoy every minute of this hugely funny, superbly paced show Lucy Mangan @LucyMangan Thu 18 Aug 2022 06.00 BST Share on Facebook
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Are you ready for some fun? I ask, because it’s been a while and we all may need to limber up first. But once you are properly prepared, you can now switch on Marvel’s latest television offering She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (Disney+) and enjoy yourself in exactly the way, I would suspect, that the title She-Hulk: Attorney at Law suggests.
It doesn’t have the emotional depth, the subtlety or the technical sophistication of WandaVision. It doesn’t have the youthful bounce or a spin as refreshing as the Islamic slant of Ms Marvel. But, oh, you will enjoy yourself thoroughly, for at least 28 minutes straight. And, honestly, who at the moment dare ask for more than that?
Thirtysomething deputy district attorney Jennifer Walters (a perfectly cast 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 into court. Her assistant, Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga in what would be a scene-stealing performance if Maslany wasn’t so incredibly good), recommends that she “hulk out” if things get tricky.
In the first of many fourth-wall breaking moments (following the tradition of the comic book series in which she originated), Walters turns to the camera and acknowledges that Nikki’s suggestion is going to need explaining. In flashback, we learn her origin story, which is brief and effective. She and her cousin Bruce Banner (AKA Hulk, AKA Mark Ruffalo) are involved in a car accident and she receives an inadvertent Hulk-blood donation. He immediately spirits her new 6ft 7in form away to his Stark-funded lab to help her begin the laborious journey of learning what it is to be one of the avocado-hued; how to control her anger, fear and her transformations and how to integrate the two personalities that now live inside her.
Except Jennifer is already ahead of the game. “Anger and fear – those are just the baseline emotions for any woman just existing,” she notes before going on to point out that she has had a lifetime of suppressing her emotions and making herself palatable to those around her. Unlike Banner, she has no second personality to integrate. So, creator Jessica Gao (one of a female-heavy team of directors, producers and writers) gives us a jolly, boulder-tossing, sonic-boom-clapping training montage as Jennifer tests out her new powers. When she feels she has got a handle on them, she heads back home to take up her job again. As she puts it in the second episode – “I’m not going to be a vigilante. That’s for billionaires and narcissists. And adult orphans, for some reason.”
After she does indeed “hulk out” – in order to protect the jury from superpowered influencer Titania (Jameela Jamil) who busts through the wall as she flees court traffic – her firm decides she is a liability and fires her. She is later taken up by the firm who was opposing her in court, who are setting up a superhuman law division and want her to lead it.
Only after she has accepted the job do they make it clear that she will need to appear as She-Hulk (a derivative name that she objects to, but which the public and the media are set on) at all times in the office and in court. It is a neat commentary on the aesthetic hoops women have to jump through at work, and the suspicions of her co-workers that she is under-qualified and only got the job because of her other attributes map nicely on to the real world, too.
It is not a hugely subtle show (though the “anger and fear” line is the high-water mark for crassness). It isn’t trying to be, it doesn’t want to be. There are stock figures aplenty, including the mother more concerned with her daughter’s waistline and single status than her superpowers, a ratfink colleague at work everyone can love to hate, but they all get their job done with wit and charm. And it has plenty of cameos from beloved MCU characters – foremost among them Dr Strange’s sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong). Direct-to-camera again, Jennifer notes that his every appearance “is like giving the show Twitter-armour for a week”.
The whole thing is enormously funny and has such confidence, style and brio that it is impossible not to love it. It is superbly paced and has a satisfying case-of-the-week story every time. The overarching series plot in which Jennifer must represent Abomination (AKA Emil Blonsky, AKA Tim Roth, having almost as good a time as we are) as he applies for parole after – among other things – trying to kill her cousin Bruce never flags, at least in the first four episodes that were available for review.
Watching it is like going on holiday for half an hour. I’m sure there are people who will take issue with various deviations from the comic books, or wish that it was doing something more profound with the differences a female hulk would discover in navigating the world. To the latter, I can only say – most superheroes get more than one incarnation and let’s hope this is the first take of many. In the meantime, I’m going to hulk out with delight.