She-Hulk episode 1 review: A charming, but unbalanced opening

**Warning: This review contains spoilers from She-Hulk episode 1**

Marvel has certainly landed more hits than misses with its foray into the small screen on Disney Plus. From the genre-bending WandaVision to the gritty psychological thriller Moon Knight, these shows have changed viewer expectations of what the MCU can be. Now, as Phase 4 comes to an end with its last episodic series, She-Hulk is planning to push the superhero genre even further as their first all-out comedy – all in the guise of a half-hour legal drama. 

Head writer Jennifer Gao explained her plan (opens in new tab) with the show was to lean into the conflict of a superpowered individual coming to terms with how their powers clash with their normal lives. Think less Thanos, and more about the perils of dating on Tinder when you’re six-foot-seven and green. The result is Jennifer Walters’ story of a hard-working lawyer, who just so happens to Hulk-out from time to time.

We first meet her mid-monologue on the responsibility of power (not quite quoting Spider-Man, but not far off) as she prepares to take to the floor for her latest case. However, it’s not long before we learn she’s not just a normal lawyer, as her colleague – and best pal – Nikki advises her to “Hulk out” if things don’t turn out as planned. In the first fourth-wall break of the MCU, Jennifer turns to the audience to explain just how she landed her powers.

We quickly learn that she ended up with her green visage thanks to an ill-fated road trip with her cousin, Bruce Banner (played by Mark Ruffalo). A rogue spaceship pulling out in front of their car caused the pair to roll and crash their vehicle. Both survive, but Bruce gets some of his blood on Jennifer’s open wound, turning her into the She-Hulk. 

To teach her how to handle her newfound Hulk status, Bruce whisks Jennifer away to his Mexican hideout. He’s got a binder – and 13 years of trauma – to help him out. But, Jennifer isn’t like the Hulk. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have much of an issue at all with her new powers, much to Bruce’s amazement. The thing is, she explains, she’s already always angry as a woman thanks to the patriarchy (yes, She-Hulk isn’t the most subtle of shows – although you do appreciate what they’re trying to do).

The dynamic between Bruce and Jennifer in these scenes is really charming. Tatiana Maslany and Mark Ruffalo bounce off each other well. In particular, Orphan Black star Maslany puts in a stellar performance: you can’t help but automatically root for her. She’s so likable as soon as she’s on screen, while also effortlessly nailing the comedy, including some particularly great moments where she grapples with the foot-and-a-half difference between her Hulk height and her Jennifer height.

The only real issue in their interactions is the focus it puts on the visual effects. The much-criticized CGI has probably been the biggest talking point ahead of the show’s release after the first trailers drew concern over the She-Hulk look. Of course, you can’t judge something until it’s in its final form on the screen, and it’s definitely better in the finished episode. But there remains something unnatural about the She-Hulk design: maybe it’s that her skin seems too smoothed-out and perfect compared to Smart Hulk’s rugged look, or it might be the choice to change Jennifer’s hair into a stylized (and at times unmoving) 80s bouffant. The frustrating result of it is that it distracts from the subtleties of Tatiana Maslany’s performance – and I couldn’t help but long for her to return to Jennifer form. 


(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Aside from the quibbles with the visual effects, She-Hulk does well to feel automatically established within the MCU. It’s a show all about rewarding fans of the world. Even if it’s not in the way you’re expecting given Jennifer is discussing Steve Roger’s virginity within the first five minutes (make sure you watch until the end of the credits for a great pay-off to this storyline). There are also some more classic MCU references to enjoy: Bruce and Jennifer’s hideout was built by Tony Stark, the spaceship that sent them off course was Sakaaran, and they solve the issue of Bruce’s injured arm after the Avengers: Endgame battle against Thanos. 

Although, this reliance on outside references means that the series can’t quite become its own thing just yet. It certainly feels a strong tonal whiplash when we’re back in the courtroom for the episode’s conclusion. We only get a very brief glimpse at this side of Jennifer’s other life, including a truly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it introduction to villain Titania, played by Jameela Jamil. 

The tonal shifts and huge amount of information crammed into these first 30 minutes means it’s hard to know yet what to expect with the rest of She-Hulk, especially as it’s been billed as primarily a courtroom drama, and we’ve only spent a few minutes in one so far. But with eight more episodes on their way, we’ll have plenty of time to get to know Jennifer – and her alter-ego – better. I, for one, can’t wait to spend more time with her.

She-Hulk airs on Disney Plus on Thursdays. Check out our guide to how to watch the new show, as well as all of the other upcoming Marvel shows and movies on their way.

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