Marvel Studios sure can pick 'em. While the storytelling within its cinematic universe is accused by some of being formulaic (a criticism not without merit), it's the characters that keep people coming back – and She-Hulk is an absolute doozy. Like Ms Marvel's Iman Vellani and Moon Knight's Oscar Isaac before her (this year alone, jeez), Tatiana Maslany has stepped into a role never-before-seen in live-action and instantly made it her own, setting up an exciting new hero fans will want to follow for years to come.
Jennifer Walters (Maslany) is a successful lawyer living in Los Angeles, California. She's also the cousin of a troubled scientist named Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), best known for turning into an enormous green rage monster – an incredible ability only recently brought under control. When the two attempt to catch up on a scenic drive, a galactic interruption sends them hurtling off the side of the road, contaminating Jen with a dash of Bruce's radioactive blood. That's all it takes to create another Hulk, although this one is considerably more composed from day one.
Staying faithful to the comic books, She-Hulk gains control over her powers almost immediately and heads back to work at her law firm, which is a relief because origin stories are generally quite boring. At this point, we've seen too many superhero movies where an individual spends two hours getting to grips with their powers or deciding whether they should even use them – all the best stuff usually comes after. Mercifully, showrunner Jessica Gao gets She-Hulk on her feet in less than 30 minutes, allowing most of this show to focus on having fun with its wacky premise. And boy, does it succeed.
As previously described by producer Kevin Feige, this is a legal sitcom before anything else. That might be disappointing to those who like their action explosive and their stakes sky high, but keep an open mind because Gao finds really inventive ways to incorporate the wider MCU into her narrative. Yes, that does include guest appearances from the likes of Wong (Benedict Wong), Abomination (Tim Roth) and Daredevil (Charlie Cox), but it's my sincere hope that cameos don't come to dominate discussion of this show in the same way they did WandaVision, No Way Home and Multiverse of Madness.
It's always nice to see a well-liked character make a surprise appearance, but we're becoming too fixated on this as of late to the extent that one debunked rumour can be enough to tank an entire project. That's a harmful place to be for a fandom as it hinders the creativity of writers working on MCU content. Skewed expectations are often a factor in these cases so let me issue a PSA here – She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is, quite rightly, a story about Jennifer Walters (and it's hard to imagine why anyone would want otherwise with such an electric talent in the role).
Anyone familiar with Maslany's earlier performances in Orphan Black and Perry Mason will be aware of her dramatic ability, but it's a real delight to see her flex a different muscle with such an overtly comedic role. She-Hulk is a cheeky, witty and scene-stealing persona that she slips into with ease, bringing an endearing charm to both her human form and motion capture alter-ego. The latter will be of particular relief to fans as many feared that the character would be poorly realised with some wonky CGI – as it stands, the visual effects are of a very solid (if not spectacular) standard.
Maslany also masters the delicate art of breaking the fourth wall, a practice commonly associated with Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool and Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag, although fans will be quick to point out that She-Hulk beat them both to it in the comics. Importantly, this show's attempt feels distinct and totally fitting for the character, used primarily for meta humour about the MCU and addressing head-on the minefield that is fan culture. The device is used throughout the show, but sparingly enough not to wear out its welcome; another pitfall deftly avoided.
In addition to the aforementioned guest stars, Maslany has a strong screen partner in series regular Ginger Gonzaga. Her character, paralegal Nikki Ramos, was served a raw deal in early footage from the show, which was compared unfavourably to a memorable SNL sketch about what a terrible Black Widow film might look like. Far from just yelling for shots at the local bar, Nikki is a really likeable friend and colleague to Jen, who is given some great lines of her own in the episodes screened to critics. Comparatively, Josh Segarra doesn't make much of an impression as fellow lawyer Augustus 'Pug' Pugliese.
Likewise, despite her prominence in the ad campaign, Jameela Jamil's Titania has a very minor presence in the first four episodes of She-Hulk, so it's too soon to make any definitive judgement on the character or performance. However, the show does set her up to be a playful parody of influencer culture, which I'm inclined to believe will bring laughs given Gao's strong hit rate thus far. I have less confidence in whether this show will introduce a single villain of any lasting consequence, but She-Hulk's sitcom-style presentation makes this a smaller problem than it has been in earlier MCU entries.
Undoubtedly, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is very different to any of Marvel's other Disney Plus forays, so it could take time for some viewers to acclimatise to the format. However, the show's magnetic lead performance and rapid fire gags make it a joyful experience to get swept up in, with the minimal stakes being a refreshing change of pace from the apocalyptic scenarios of the big-screen outings (and indeed, our day-to-day lives). She-Hulk is just pure fun – and we could all use a bit more of that right now.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is available to stream on Disney Plus from Thursday 18th August 2022. Sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year. Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.
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