Horniness (or lack thereof) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes many shapes and forms. It’s typically up to the viewer’s own interpretation. Finally, with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, we have a leading lady who is sex positive and even says the S-E-X word out loud! Welcome to the fourth-wall-breaking, silly-goofy world of superpowered lawyer Jennifer Walters, played by Tatiana Maslany. The show is not 100 percent a legal procedural, but it is a legal comedy. I would say it falls somewhere on a spectrum (that I’m making up right now) between Ally McBeal and, like, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This first episode in particular is light on the courtroom drama to allow for a good-old-fashioned superhero origin story. If you need a refresher on a decade of MCU history to make sense of the premiere, I’ve got you covered.
The episode opens with Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walters practicing a closing argument for a case against Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway with her paralegal, Nikki, and an annoying rival lawyer named Dennis. Leaving her office, Nikki comments that if all else fails, Jen should just Hulk out. That prompts our hero to perceive us, turning to the camera and explaining that, as of a few months ago, she is a Hulk, NBD. From that point until the end of the episode, we’re in flashback mode.
As fans of the comics already know, Jen is Bruce Banner’s cousin. (She-Hulk is not, and never has been, a Ms. Pac-Man situation.) One day after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Jen and Bruce are riding in a car together. Bruce explains how he’s using technology to temporarily suppress the Hulk. The cousins catch up and gossip about Avengers stuff. Jen, much like Tumblr circa 2011 to 2014, wants to know if Captain America was a 108-year-old virgin, and Bruce, a professional, refuses to indulge her … for now.
Suddenly (!) a spaceship appears, causing the car to crash. In the chaos, some drops of Bruce’s blood mix with Jen’s and she goes green before blacking out. She wakes up at night in the woods and stumbles to a local bar. There, the audience gets a guide to the female experience in two easy steps. First, in the women’s bathroom, she is surrounded by women who offer her help in every form: a jacket, makeup, a phone to call her cousin, and a promise to fight whoever banged her up. Second, in the parking lot, she is followed by men who won’t take a hint to leave her alone. This causes her to Hulk out and black out a second time. She wakes up to discover that Bruce picked her up and took her to Mexico.
Jen learns about her powers in what may be my new favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe location: a cabana with a secret underground laboratory that the late Tony Stark built for his best Science Bro. Bruce tells his cousin that he spent the Blip there, and that’s how he was able to balance his two halves as the Smart Hulk we first met in Endgame.
Bruce also discovered, while Jen was sleeping, that he can use her blood to heal his hand that got injured after he used an Infinity Gauntlet to bring back the half of the population that Thanos snapped away. You may or may not recall that his hand was in a sling at the end of that film and in the still-mysterious post-credits scene at the end of 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Eager to train the new green meanie in the family, Bruce assembles a binder of notes to help teach his cuz the ropes and determine what triggers her transformations.
Only it turns out that Jen’s two halves balance pretty quickly, actually. The third time she transforms, she retains her mind and memory and doesn’t need to be talked to like a wild animal. She blacked out the first two times, but after learning she’s a Hulk, and once Bruce explains the basics of what she needs to do, she’s pretty much good. She is not super-adept at fighting, but there’s not a lot of finesse to smashing anyway. She begrudgingly indulges in Bruce’s scientific tests, but she simply does not need to spend years figuring out how to pilot a mental steering wheel in order to keep her Hulk at bay, unlike Bruce, because that’s what women are socialized to do since toddlerhood.
This makes sense to me, and not in a #girlboss or “girls mature faster” or “backward and in heels” kind of way. It speaks to why I related to Bruce Banner as a character, particularly his (second) introduction in The Avengers as a depressed scientist trying to keep himself small, more than other male Marvel characters. The line “That’s my secret, Cap: I’m always angry” wasn’t a cool zinger or badass moment for me; it was a moment of recognition. I am always a little bit angry, and I am constantly managing that anger and making myself small so that I don’t appear intimidating, nagging, or difficult … pick your microaggression. Jen says as much to Bruce, and I felt that pang of recognition a second time.
Jen and Bruce fight about this, both verbally and physically. Bruce wants his cousin to train more — drop everything and be a superhero. Jen’s not interested. As long as she’s not in danger of accidentally going green, and it appears that she’s not, she’s ready to hit the road. She’s got a law career! She’s got a life! She’s keenly aware of how lonely the Avengers are — didn’t you hear her theory about Steve? It’s classic hero’s-journey stuff. If you remember from English class, this is the refusal of the call. Eventually, Jen does leave Bruce in Mexico, and presumably we won’t see Mark Ruffalo much more going forward in favor of other familiar faces from the MCU.
Back in the present in Los Angeles, Jen is ready to nail her closing argument in the case against GLK&H. All seems well until a superstrong woman named Titania, played by Jameela Jamil, smashes through the courtroom wall. Jen changes into She-Hulk to save the day … and just like that, she has crossed the superhero threshold. There is at least one downside to Jen’s sentient She-Hulk: She can’t blame any destruction on “the other guy.” But that’s next week’s problem.
In the post-credits scene, Jen fakes being drunk so she can get Bruce plastered and finally learn the dirty deets about Captain Rogers — who Bruce confirms hooked up with a girl on the USO tour back in the 1940s. As Steve himself says to Natasha in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he’s 95, not dead. (It has to be Nat who told Bruce this info … right?)
MCU burnouts don’t share this opinion, natch, but I like that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one long story with characters who coexist and can be the protagonist one day and the special guest star the next. That’s exactly what I signed up for! The way that other new characters like Kate Bishop, Kamala Khan, and now Jennifer Walters have been introduced as civilians in the MCU, with varying degrees of knowledge and curiosity about these heroes before they join in the fun, is thrilling to me. Unless you count For Better or for Worse, I didn’t grow up reading comics. I did grow up reading Animorphs and The Baby-Sitters Club and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series — stories that went on for dozens of novels, stories with shifting points of view and spinoffs. Hand to Khonshu, I would go to the library and look for the longest-possible series to start next. That’s how I ended up reading like eight Doctor Dolittle books.
So watching Jen drill Bruce for deets about Steve Rogers’s sex life and listening to him reminisce about Tony coming over to complain about Steve was a JOY! This is fun fan service. Is it a little weird to be discussing the virginity of a celebrity-cousin’s co-worker? Sure, but think very carefully about the freakiest conversation you’ve had about a celebrity within the private confines of your own home or group text before you cast stones, I say.
• Jen’s origin story is a bit different here than it is in the comics. In 1980’s Savage She-Hulk, Bruce gives her a blood transfusion after some thugs shoot her. Maybe I’ve been traumatized by years of pandemic and old diseases rearing their ugly heads, but watching Bruce’s blood drip, drip, drip into Jen’s open wound is one of the most unsettling things I’ve seen onscreen this year. So unsanitary!
• Speaking of the car crash, though, did everyone catch the subtle homage to Moon Knight actor Oscar Isaac? The IRL actor and fictional Jen share a love of eating Cheetos with chopsticks to avoid getting powder on their fingies.
• Jen isn’t just “pulling a Deadpool” when she breaks the fourth wall. Meta humor and self-awareness were a huge part of John Byrne’s acclaimed and beloved Sensational She-Hulk series that ran from 1989 to 1994.
• Fans have already figured out that the ship that causes Bruce and Jen’s car crash is from Sakaar, the planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster and where Hulk was indentured during Thor: Ragnarok.
• “Sometimes Natasha would sing me a lullaby.”
• Casual reminder to scan any QR codes you see onscreen.