“What are the responsibilities of those in authority? Do they only have a responsibility to refrain from abusing their power, or do they also have a responsibility to protect those who lack it?”
This is the opening question. She-Hulk: Jennifer Walters, a (seemingly) mild-mannered assistant district attorney, speaks directly to the camera in the role of an attorney. It’s essentially a moral hypothetical version of Spider-famous Man’s mantra, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And is that not similar to a lawyer?
And make no mistake, Jen is a lawyer first and foremost; the fact that she is also the Hulk is purely coincidental, your honor. As portrayed by Emmy-winning actress Tatiana Maslany, who proved her acting prowess by portraying 17(!) different characters on BBC America’s Orphan Black, our protagonist makes her intentions clear from the outset.
She is rehearsing her closing argument for a high-profile case in front of her BFF/paralegal Nikki Ramos (Ginger Gonzaga) and a male coworker, who establishes his misogynist credentials by telling her mid-speech to “smile.” After he leaves, Nikki wishes her friend luck and whispers, “Are you going to Hulk out?”
Oh, that’s right, did she mention that? Jen closes the door to her office and turns to address the viewers at home. “It’s true, I am the Incredible Hulk,” she admits. “And I’m guessing you won’t be able to concentrate on this entertaining lawyer show until you’re fully informed about that.” It’s the first of many winks from our protagonist.
Before you call this a rip-off of Fleabag, you should know that Jen is the original fourth-wall breaker; she’s been doing it since 1989 in the Marvel comics upon which this series is based. The device gives She-Hulk a distinct flavor: one that is intelligent, comedic, and self-aware.
The origin story flashback is about to begin. Jen is traveling with her cousin Bruce Banner, also known as the Hulk. (You were missed, Mark Ruffalo!) You may recall that when we last saw the big green guy in Avengers: Endgame, he had severely injured his arm while using the Infinity Gauntlet, so he’s currently in Banner form until he can heal himself.
As they gossip about everything from Jen’s habit of eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with chopsticks (product placement!) to whether Captain America died a virgin, the rapport between the cousins, as well as that between Maslany and Ruffalo, is immediately apparent.
A sleek purple-and-gold spaceship abruptly interrupts their conversation as it flies directly into their path. Jen swerves to avoid the obstacle, sending the vehicle into a ravine. After emerging relatively unscathed from the wreckage, she rescues Bruce.
You can guess what happens when a drop of his gamma-irradiated blood falls into an open wound on Jen’s arm. In a clever use of perspective by director Kat Coiro, we only see her blurry reflection in the dented car door as she undergoes her first transformation. Bruce begins to transform as Jen 2.0 howls and flees into the forest as a werewolf.
She awakens in human form after dark, barefoot and covered in blood, and stumbles into the bathroom of the bar with the hilarious name Ideal Sports Bar. Four women who are having the best night of their lives immediately offer Jen the kind of support that can only be found in women’s restrooms at noon.
They surround her in a cloud of makeup, hairspray, and goodwill and give her a fuzzy pink jacket and a pair of iridescent sandals, saying, “Whoever did this to you doesn’t care.” I cherish them.
After that, Jen waits outside for Bruce to pick her up, and three shady characters approach. Jen enacts the secret fantasy of every woman who has ever been catcalled (so, all of us) by seeing green and transforming into a terrifying monster who terrifies other monsters. She utters a savage battle cry before charging these scumbags.
Human once again Jennifer awakens in an exquisite beach house. She discovers a lovely bamboo patio adorned with Iron Man’s shattered death helmet because Bruce’s home is a monument to his enduring grief. She discovers her cousin in his cellar laboratory (which every Airbnb should have). Bruce claims that his fans have dubbed him “Smart Hulk” in the sentient Endgame version of the character he calls “Green Hulk.”
This is his Mexican hideout, where, with the aid of his old friend Tony, he devised a way to combine the violent Hulk and the gentle Bruce into one individual. He informs Jen of what occurred to her: When his blood mixed with hers, she received a lethal dose of gamma radiation; however because she shares the same strange DNA as he does, the radiation gave her superpowers rather than killing her. In addition, he was able to use her blood to heal his arm and is now in fighting condition.
Not bad, right? Jen does not agree. She yells, “I don’t want to become the Hulk!” “Thank God, I now have my own office!” Bruce reveals that he has no idea how to change her back. Over pancakes, he lays out a massive binder that would make Leslie Knope envious; its contents detail Bruce’s 15-year journey to taming his wild side, which he says he will use to assist his cousin in overcoming hers. She dislikes it.
He encases Jen in an emotional glass case, which he will use to experiment with her anger and fear triggers. (“Those are the bare minimum for any woman to exist,” she deadpans.) He attacks aggressively with a wall of buzzing sawblades, but Jen transforms, effortlessly stopping the saws and ripping off the door.
Bruce prepares for a rampage that never materializes. It turns out that she breezed through Hulk 101; whether she’s Jen or She-Hulk, she’s still in complete control of the vehicle.
This makes perfect sense to her. In this economy, she simply does not have the time to embark on a multiyear journey of solitude and self-discovery, as she is both impatient and a high achiever, two traits necessary for a rising lawyer. However, Bruce insists that she must still learn to control her transformations and master her abilities.
He begins with dialectical behavior therapy and meditation, both of which bore Jen instantly. Consequently, the time has come for a training montage. Bruce teaches her boulder-throwing, wardrobe tips (“spandex is your best friend”), and Hulk yoga to the tune of “Fast (Motion)” by Saweetie.
It culminates in a drinking competition at the outdoor bar Bruce and Tony built. (When his enormous fingers brush against “B.B. + T.S.” carved into the wood, it is a heartbreaking reminder of the price of superheroing. This individual lost the majority of his closest friends in an intergalactic war!)
Regarding superheroing, Jen is uninterested, which her cousin finds incomprehensible. “Who will defend the world if not people like us?” he asks. She would rather use her law degree to save the world, but Bruce won’t let her go until she learns to control her anger.
Jen then delivers a speech that serves as the She-raised Hulk’s d’être: “I am excellent at managing my anger. I do it frequently. I do it nearly every day because, if I don’t, I will be labeled as emotional or difficult, or I may be murdered.”
It took Bruce years to learn to control his rage because, in a male-dominated society, he was never required to do so before acquiring his powers.
Men are permitted and even encouraged to lose their temper, whereas women are taught from a young age to control their anger. To emphasize her point, Jen transforms from human to Hulk and back with the ease of a woman unhooking her bra after a long day of work.
Jen attempts to flee in Bruce’s Jeep, but he refuses. She calls him out on his nonsense and accuses him of wanting her to live the same solitary, avoidant lifestyle that he does. It is harsh, but she is correct. Jen may exaggerate her abilities, but she is powerful enough to destroy buildings if she’s not careful.
Then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for arrives HULK versus HULK! They destroy the jungle by employing coconuts, surfboards, and sonic claps as weapons.
Inadvertently destroying Bruce’s beloved bar, however, the party is cut short. They rebuild it, as well as their relationship before Jen returns to Los Angeles. Bruce blesses her and gives her the adorable moniker “Fuzzball” (which Ruffalo ad-libbed, according to Maslany).
We then return to present-day Jen, who informs us that she has been able to conceal her abilities since, only revealing herself as the Hulk to Nikki and her family. She whispers “Lawyer show!” before entering the courtroom. (Even though Jen has been written a bit thinly thus far, Maslany’s charm makes us instantly fall in love with her.)
While the defense presents its closing argument, Jen prepares for her moment in the spotlight. The show then reminds her that she is in the MCU and not on The Good Wife. In what can only be described as high-femme disco attire, Jameela Jamil bursts through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man. (This is Titania, one of She-classic Hulk’s adversaries from the comics, but her name has not yet been revealed.)
As she destroys the building, Nikki crawls over to Jen and informs her that she must transform into the Hulk to save the nearby civilians. She reluctantly agrees and transforms, to everyone’s surprise. When Titania inquires about her identity, our heroine replies, “Jennifer Walters, attorney.” Exactly right. Jen transforms back into a human, turns to the judge, and announces, “I am now prepared to present my closing argument.” We’re certain that will go well!
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