She-Hulk Episode 1 review: A charming cast with a poorer plot

Lucy-Jo Finnighan
Bruce and Jenn in She-Hulk

She-Hulk has a charming cast with talented actors, which helps combat the somewhat slow start to the show plot-wise in Episode 1.

The first episode of Marvel‘s newest Disney+ series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, has finally premiered. The show follows Jenn Walters (Tatiana Maslany), a lawyer who also happens to be a Hulk, as she attempts to survive the courtroom, her dating life, and those who keep trying to attack her.

The show is clearly going for a more light-hearted affair than other MCU properties, similarly to the critically acclaimed series Ms. Marvel. So, in the first episode, does She-Hulk keep up in terms of quality?

Now, be warned, there are spoilers for She-Hulk Episode 1. If you’re wanting a spoiler free review of Episodes 1-4, we have it all ready here. But if you don’t mind the spoilers, then keep reading…

Episode 1 is not an incredible (Hulk) start to the series

Now, while this is only a review of She-Hulk Episode 1, we can say that the first episode is probably the worst of the ones we’ve seen so far. Not that it’s bad – there are a number of good things within the episode, but its plot and tone differ from the workplace comedy genre that the show is based around, and that’s where it’s the strongest. But let’s take it from the beginning…

The show starts with some exposition from Jenn/She-Hulk, which she states directly to the camera. Now, while She-Hulk’s fourth-wall breaking works in the comics, it just doesn’t seem to fit here. Usually Jenn is just relaying information that we already know, like how she starts the episode by basically saying: “You wanna know how I got into this wacky situation? Well, it all started in the summer of…”

The first episode is essentially a flashback, detailing how she got her powers and training from her cousin Bruce Banner, AKA the Hulk. While it’s a useful way of getting her backstory out quickly, so that we can get to the good episodes, it might have been better to start the show en media res and stagger these training flashbacks throughout. It would make Jenn’s growth in power feel more like a journey, and the tone would be more consistent throughout the show. But alas, that’s not what we got.

She-Hulk Episode 1 has CG-highs and lows

What we did get was a great main character, however. Tatiana Maslany shines as She-Hulk, portraying charm and personality, which is very much needed given she’s surrounded by poor CGI most of the time.

The VFX looks better than it did in the trailers – which makes us worry about the continued working conditions the effects team had to go through – but it still looks video game-esque, and Maslany’s performance is definitely great in spite of it.

The effects aren’t much better for the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); when Jenn goes to hug him it looks like she’s hugging air. But Ruffalo is still great as ever in the role. The pair’s brother-sister dynamic is incredibly enjoyable and funny to watch, even if the CGI prevents the fight they have from feeling real, with the Hulk-smashes holding no weight.

For She-Hulk, womanhood can be just as dangerous as superhero-hood

Jenn feels like a refreshing MCU character as she doesn’t want to be a superhero, and she stands by that, leaving her training with Bruce to go and continue her work as a lawyer. While Bruce asks her not to go, saying that she’s not ready, she pretty much proves him wrong, appearing in court at the end of the episode with no raging Hulk-powers bursting out involuntarily.

However, this change of pace arguably takes away what made the Hulk so compelling. There’s no tension, no fear of the self, no angst. The years of torment that Bruce went through are whisked away for Jenn with some pancakes, a training montage, and some quips, which feels detrimental to the potential character arc that we could see Jenn have.

Bruce makes compelling statements about being a Hulk, saying: “Don’t you know the damage you can cause? When people start seeing you as a monster that never goes away.” But Jenn makes a joke, and any potential pathos is gone.

To be fair, Episode 1 does explore how women have to control their emotions more so than men. While Bruce is telling her that she can’t be emotional – and partaking in a meditation scene that seems to mock the very concept of it – Jenn has a rare outburst about how she has to keep her feelings down for fear of being belittled or murdered, exclaiming: “I’m an expert at controlling my anger because I do it infinitely more than you!”

The only times she really struggles to maintain her powers is when she is under threat from sexist violence, including a scene where she stumbles into some bar’s toilets – having just become the She-Hulk – and a group of drunk women immediately try to help her out, while a group of drunk men immediately try to harass her.

While the show is mostly light-hearted, it has poignant things to say about the gendered nature of danger, fear, and anger, because as She-Hulk states: “Those are the baseline of any woman existing.”

She-Hulk dives right into the MCU

If you’re a fan of MCU call-backs, Episode 1 is a gold mine. Bruce talks at length about Tony Stark, his time in the Blip, his relationship with Black Widow, and how he didn’t come up with the name “Smart Hulk.”

There’s also an incredible post-credits reveal about Captain America that we won’t spoil here.

While many of these Easter eggs are just for fun, there are enough to build intrigue about how the show will fit into the MCU overall. For example, does Jenn’s blood being able to synthesize gamma radiation make her similar to Ms. Marvel? What does that suddenly appearing spacecraft have to do with the Hulk?

Jameela Jamil in She-Hulk
Titania sets the show in the right direction.

The ending of the episode itself is intriguing, as well as hilarious. Jenn finally makes it back to the present day in court, only for it to be interrupted by a super-powered social media influencer named Titania (Jameela Jamil). Their fight is edited somewhat oddly but the energy is fun, and it leaves the episode on a high note.

It’s enough to make you want to keep watching, despite the series’ unfortunately slow start.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Episode 2 will premiere on Disney+ on August 25.

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