“She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” Review: A MCU Comedy That Doesn’t Take Itself Seriously
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a lack of a justice system that fails to deal with the legal repercussions of the ongoing battles between superpowered heroes and villains and those innocent victims caught in the chaos of it all. Of course, it’s funny to think that there is such a world where wizards, Asgardians, and giant abominations would be seeking any legal recourse. Luckily, Marvel Studios saw the untapped potential in telling these stories and now brings it to life in “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. With head writer Jessica Gao taking her love of the title character and adapting the John Byrne run, the MCU has its first full-fledged comedy that’s funny, nuanced, and has a ring of truth that reflects the current times we live in now.
Calling “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” a legal comedy would be an oversimplification of a series with much more to offer. Within the built-in engine of a legal drama parody lies a meta-comedy that also provides a slice-at-life look at some of our favorite characters through the lens of fourth-wall-breaking Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany). Our reluctant title hero has to navigate the waters of legal matters with the unwelcomed responsibilities of being a 6’7″ green Hulk while trying to swipe date. It’s a nice break from the usual high-stakes fate of the world drama that we typically see in the MCU, but it requires at least some prior knowledge of the source materials to know how some of these characters got to that point.
Perhaps it’s because of the MCU’s long-running legacy that Marvel Studios continues to explore the built-in canon by expanding upon some of those stories in new and inventive ways. As such, it can provide a meta-comedy that would otherwise not fit in any other work. So, in the four episodes given for review purposes, we see Jennifer address some of the absurdity that comes with being a superhero, supervillain, shapeshifting Asgardian, and Sorcerer Supreme. The point is that there is a wealth of stories that Marvel can reshape in new ways because we see it from a fresh pair of eyes. And Jen has no problems taking the audience along that journey as she occasionally breaks the fourth wall.
“She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” isn’t the most conventional title, but it’s willing to take risks to be different in tone and storytelling. While the series is playful and has no qualms about poking fun at itself through the trial of the week structure, it’s a show that also takes a look at the lives of some of our favorite heroes doing the most mundane things when they aren’t out saving the day or destroying a city.
It’s the kind of low-stakes story that provides a refreshing take on the MCU that generally sees the world or reality in danger of destruction. But, no, here, we get to see what it’s like for Jen to have a life while being recognized worldwide for being a hulk. It’s certainly not easy, considering that law firms won’t hire Jen because saving a jury from the bad guy of the week could result in a mistrial. It gets even more complicated when others see Jen as She-Hulk and not Jen.
As of now, these Disney+ Marvel shows are a means to give some lower-tier characters the space to grow and develop to become an intricate part of the MCU. And during the show, head writer Jessica Gao gives the John Bryne run a more contemporary adaptation that explores current social trends, family and friend dynamics, and embraces female empowerment.
It’s quite a refreshing turn for the current state of the MCU, which has had its share of ups and downs from fans who aren’t quite sure where Phase 4 is heading. And with the number of episodes and the average sitcom runtime, we can get to know who Jen is, what her struggles are, and relate to her in certain aspects.
Diving into each episode’s exact details would take away from some of the biggest surprises. But the series starts with the usual origins story that somewhat deviates from the comic book origins. Rather than receive a life-saving blood transfusion from Jen’s cousin Bruce (Mark Ruffalo), Jen becomes the She-Hulk after a family road trip takes a turn for the worst, resulting in Bruce’s blood entering Jen’s open wound. As such, she can now become the Hulk. They didn’t know she could turn into a 6’7″ green hulk without the rage. Still, it’s a power she didn’t ask for and something she doesn’t want. Jen has goals and dreams, so having this power is more inconvenient than anything else. Especially since Bruce puts her through a training regimen that she sees as pointless considering that she has a better handle on controlling her powers. But she doesn’t realize that some responsibilities and dangers come with being a public superpowered human being.
Aside from some slight alterations to the comic book origins, the judicial processes of the “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” brings a refreshing and welcomed comedic twist to the MCU. Gao takes joy in adapting Byrne’s run, a low-stakes and lighthearted take on all things Marvel. But, again, having that tone gives the kind of room the show needs to be playful and meta. And with the trial of the week structure, we see how the judicial system functions in the MCU and how some of the characters, no matter how powerful, are still bound to the book of American law. So the series takes much of what we are already familiar with regarding legal procedural shows and the MCU canon. But it then tweaks them in a way that expands on those stories we already know and shows how funny those stories can be when adding comedic twists.
And to call “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” a legal comedy would be an oversimplification of the series. Though the trials and legal proceedings are a lot of the driving forces behind it, Gao lets us see a slice of life for many of the characters that appear. Without getting into spoilers, much of that comes through Jen, who is simply trying to live her life as a female lawyer working in a male-dominated field. It’s not like that story hasn’t been done before, especially since the MCU is already a male-dominated universe.
And “WandaVision” already explored the domesticated themes of “woman trying to exist and make a name for herself in a male-dominated universe.” At the same time, “Ms. Marvel” took that on with cultural specificities. But “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” takes those themes and gives it more of a workplace spin. At times it works. Seeing how a new character interacts with others who have already embedded themselves in the MCU is fun. But other times, it doesn’t fit as seamlessly as intended.
But Maslany is a revelation for the MCU, one that sees her do a complete 180 from the usual heavy dramas that she’s known for to become a comedy actor who can flex her superhero muscles in a cinematic universe that is as expansive as the MCU. The way she carries off the fourth-wall breaking helps us feel like we are a part of her journey into understanding how the MCU works and how the law applies to it. And she does it with the right amount of attitude and a stride that shows us who is in control. And watching her provide the meta-comedic commentary helps bring some hilarious levity to the MCU.
Not only that, but we also get to see the friendships, family dynamics, and sisterhood flourish in the episodes. Going into the precise details would only spoil it, but Gao conveys those themes in comedic and honest ways. While we’ve seen women depicted as one-dimensional and catty, Gao gives them the kind of space to subvert those tropes that shows they are a strong support system, especially when Jen enters the safety of a woman’s restroom.
And supporting characters like Ginger Gonzaga’s Nikki get to the heart of the strength of female friendships. Nikki plays the energetic, encouraging gal-pal who sees that there’s more to Jen than the Hulk. But there really isn’t much more to it than that. Still, Gonzaga makes the most of what she’s given.
Not that they have already been revealed through TV spots and trailers, but many cameos also steal the show. We already know that Abomination (Tim Roth) and Wong (Benedict Wong) will be making cameo appearances as clients of Jennifer. It doesn’t necessarily outshine the lead star. After all, they only appear on a trial of the week basis. But introducing these characters like that gives way to play around with the comedy in the MCU in different ways. One trial isn’t like the other, so its fun to see how Jen try to strategize each case while also realizing how crazy they are.
If anything, “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” tries to juggle too much. While Gao prioritizes comedy above all else while recognizing that it is a part of a larger MCU story, it spreads itself far too thin by also being a slice-of-life comedy. Sure, it’s great to see those family dynamics as Jen’s mother, and father praises their daughter for being a successful lawyer and Hulk. At the same time, Jen’s aunt and uncle believe their oafish powerless son is just as successful. But it does feel a little bit out of place and more like two comedic elements competing against each other for our attention.
Overall, “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” is a legal, workplace, and family comedy that has a lightly shaky start but quickly finds its footing. Part of the fun is that we are visiting an MCU that is rarely explored. And because there are already so many stories, those characters involved now have an opportunity to reappear and be tried in a court of law. Taking a comedic approach allows us to see how Marvel is aware of some of the hilarious absurdity that exists in the MCU and shows that they don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s refreshing to know that they know that they aren’t perfect and are willing to poke fun at themselves. But the biggest surprise that’s in store for all of us is not so much who will make a cameo appearance, because we can always expect someone to appear no matter how long or recent it has been. It’s how Jen’s story will fit into the MCU. It will be interesting to see how that all plays out and how many other stories we will revisit as a trial case.