Plot summary: Jennifer Walters accidentally absorbs some of her cousin, Bruce Banner’s blood, transforming her into a very different kind of Hulk…
Episode Title: ‘A Normal Amount of Rage’
Air Date: August 18th, 2022
Directed: Kat Coiro (1)
Written: Jessica Gao (1)
Jennifer’s comic-origins involve a less clumsy blood transfusion from Bruce.
The spaceship that causes the cousins to crash is from Sakaar, the planet Hulk was stranded on in Thor: Ragnarok. This may be hinting at them revisiting elements of the Planet Hulk/World War Hulk storylines or even Hulk’s son, Skaar.
The law firm Jen is facing are Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway, who will play a major role in the series. The first three names are in honour of Martin Goodman (the first publisher of Marvel comics) and the real names of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Attorney Jennifer Walters prepares for a court case before breaking the fourth wall to confirm she is a Hulk and will tell us about it…
Months earlier, she and her cousin Bruce (temporarily human again thanks to a prototype inhibitor) are in a car accident and some of his blood ends up in her open wound.
Transforming into a Hulk, Jen rampages a little, blacking out between episodes before waking up in a facility Tony Stark built for Bruce in Mexico.
Bruce gives her the lowdown on her condition and starts her on a multi-year training program despite her protests.
Due to her maintaining full control of her personality when she transforms, she speeds through all of his exercises and insists on returning to her life, refusing to become a superhero.
Returning to the present, Jennifer’s trial is interrupted by the villain Titania. Jen reluctantly transforms in front of the court and easily defeats her.
Let’s just nip this in the bud. It seems like we have another ‘what is grief…?’ moment on our hands and it came much earlier than expected in the form of Jen’s furious diatribe about how she is already adept at controlling her anger because she has to do it every single day. Inept men lecturing her about her profession. The fear of being labelled emotional. The threat of being murdered. All of that. Somebody critiqued Marvel for writing their dialogue with the deliberate intent to go viral on Twitter, and I can’t disagree it’s a little heavy-handed, undercut by Hulk making some pretty dumb ‘I never considered that’ faces. It’s definitely lacking the level of nuance that a Big Serious Grown Up Film For Grown Ups could deliver, but would we prefer the largest piece of mass media in the world never even tried to engage with these kinds of things? For some people the answer may very well be yes, but personally I would rather they tried to Trojan Horse some truth into these big dumb superhero properties even if it only gets through to a handful of people. You can nitpick the details of her words (legit saw a Well Actually about how affluent white women are statistically less likely to be murdered than any other social group), but what we’re not going to do is erase the lived experience of millions of women or start some sort of trauma contest with the comic book version of Bruce who suffered paternal abuse etc.
Show-creator Jessica Gao has confirmed Fleabag was a major influence, which is fairly obvious straight away given the breaking the fourth wall gimmick. In my opinion it needs to be deployed more regularly, because it’s a little jarring to go 20 minutes between instances. That’s likely just because of the unique nature of this first episode though.
On that front, I’m glad they condensed her origin story to a single episode rather than making it last a full season. I would like to see us trending towards getting to the meat of a character much faster in both movies and shows. Give me the bullet points and let’s go. While Jennifer will undoubtedly spend the season coming to terms with the superhero life (and perhaps a secondary personality in her subconscious after all), she has her powers within 10 minutes, and she gets full exposition and training with Bruce so we can get all of that out of the way. In fact she makes a deliberate point to say the superhero backstory is tedious and we just need to get through it so we can do the “Lawyer Show!” I’m hoping said Lawyer Show will be fun, because there are some things to be a little nervous about based on this first outing that I hope are just because it’s so different to the rest.
It should be noted that while Marvel have always inserted jokes into their projects and maintained an overall light tone, this is arguably their first out and out comedy. Mileage varies on how good the aforementioned jokes actually are, so that sentence may make some folks nervous. They did get a few chuckles out of me, but I wouldn’t call it a laugh riot. Again, episode 1 is more about the generic superhero fare, so maybe it will get funnier as it goes. There is some charged language that will definitely infuriate the incels that hate Carol Danvers, which I think is ultimately a good thing. It’s also a little bit… choppy? There are a few scenes that seem like they were hastily edited and they didn’t have time to make it smooth. Particularly the Titania ‘fight scene’, which is one of the worst you’ll ever see.
What ISN’T as much of a concern for me now the series has arrived, is the CGI. The trailer footage was alarming enough for some people to call the show dead on arrival, but I was pleasantly surprised that for most of the episode She-Hulk just looks like a big painted lady. Should they arguably paint Tatiana Maslany green, put a wig on her, and use forced perspective to make her look 6 foot 7? Maybe? But Hulk has generally always looked good despite their iffier CGI in other places, so I think it makes sense to push for visual consistency. I actually think she looks better than he does for most of this episode.
I don’t want to cannibalise content for the acting section below, but given this is largely a two-hander, it has to be said that Ruffalo is arguably not delivering on his side of the bargain and I’m glad that he’s credited as a Special Guest and hope he isn’t in too many more episodes. Bruce’s jokes were all really cringe, and I just feel like this character has run its course and they’re out of stories. That might go hand-in-hand with Ruffalo gradually checking out after starting out with a stellar turn in The Avengers.
Most Marvellous Player
Given only two actors have more than 60 seconds of screen time and one of them has arguably been putting in gradually worse performances in each of his MCU appearances… it has to be Tatiana Maslany.
But this isn’t an award given out of obligation, as she is genuinely excellent and regardless of the overall direction of Phase 4 of the MCU, I’m happy with the talent roster they’re building. It should come as no surprise given her work on Orphan Black, but she deftly brings both the acting chops and charisma required to play a leading woman. The above mentioned monologue has been mercilessly picked over for the last week, but it IS well-acted. I also LOVED her doing the giant jump and pose and then mockingly grunting “Men! Men!”
She also manages to remain charming through all of the instances of cockily declaring herself better than Bruce. Again, the crowd that HATE Captain Marvel will complain about this stuff to death on Twitter while ignoring how they eat up things like Tony Stark saying “I’m the best” with a spoon. I found the recurring ‘Is Steve a virgin?’ joke corny as heck… until the post-credits scene and Maslany’s exuberant delivery of the payoff, which brought me back on board.
Maslany brings a vibrant, charming, witty and thoughtful Jennifer Walters to life with relative ease, and even if the to-camera moments aren’t deployed often enough to be effective, I think she was good at them. I’m intrigued how she’ll do with She-Hulk’s… amorous adventures, and when things inevitably devolve into generic superhero territory, but for now, so far, so good.
This debut outing for Titania could not have gone worse. She arrives out of nowhere, asks who Jen is, does an atrocious looking wire-work flying kick and gets beaten up. They’re going for an in-media-res, ‘what’s going on now?’ wacky vibe, but instead it was incredibly jarring and has given Jameela Jamil an incredibly difficult hole to try and dig her way out of. I’ve read some relatively promising things about their vision for the character, so hopefully she can turn it around, but not ideal!
Bruce casually brushing off the Sakaaran spaceship that caused them to crash as just another day in the life of Hulk was a little weird. On the one hand, sure, weird stuff happens to him all the time… but you’d think there’d be some kind of ‘yeah I should look into that’ follow-up.
My MCU podcast, Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey has already finished for another year, taking a look back at Marvel’s 2021 projects alongside Ben Phillips. We’ll cover this show and the rest of the 2022 fare early next year.
Instead you can check out my other podcast with Ben, There Will Be Movies, which looks at 25 of our favourite movies from each decade. Our fourth and final (for now) volume is the 1980s, continuing this week with The King of Comedy.