She-Hulk Shook Up the Marvel Cinematic Universe By Being the Most MCU Thing Ever

SPOILER WARNING: This story discusses major plot elements of the Season 1 finale of “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” currently streaming on Disney+.

“This is a mess!” Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) complains directly to the camera in the season finale of “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” after several dangling plot strands from the season — the anti She-Hulk site Intelligencia run by toxic bro Todd Phelps (Jon Bass), the zen superhero retreat run by the Abomination (Tim Roth), the superhero influencer Titania (Jameela Jamil), the return of Jennifer’s cousin Bruce Banner as the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) — suddenly collided in the same showdown action sequence.  

“None of these storylines make any sense!” Jennifer says to the viewing audience. “Is this working for you?”

Suddenly, the screen cuts from her face to the Marvel Studios landing page on Disney+, and Jennifer (now transformed into She-Hulk) bursts out of the “She-Hulk” thumbnail and into one for a “Marvel Assembled” making-of doc. From there, she walks through the actual Disney lot in Burbank to the “She-Hulk” writers’ room, and demands to understand why the finale of her show is so bad.

“There are certain things that are supposed to happen in a superhero story,” says one exasperated writer. 

She-Hulk slams her hands down on the table, startling the writers: “Why don’t we just do things our own way?”

That has been “She-Hulk’s” style from the start. Marvel Studios’ first outright comedy for Disney+ has gleefully refused to adopt the accepted rhythms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: There’s been no central Big Bad, no overarching narrative incrementally advancing with each episode, and no stakes larger than the fate of Jennifer’s unsatisfying professional and romantic life. Instead, “She-Hulk” has been a throwback to the broadcast networks’ late ’90s relationship comedies, with each episode unfolding at its own particular pace as Jennifer navigates whatever situation has cropped up that week. Yes, Todd, the Abomination and Titania have all popped up more than once, but in a loosey-goosey way, each of them satirical versions of earlier, more severe MCU antagonists — in the case of the Abomination, literally himself.

For some, this shaggy approach has been a welcome respite from the MCU’s usual fare; for others, it’s a discordant misfire. In the season finale, “She-Hulk” makes clear it’s all been part of a larger satire of the MCU itself, as Jennifer fights her way from the “She-Hulk” writers’ room to talk to the man in charge, Kevin.

Instead of Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige, though, it’s an A.I. robot called K.E.V.I.N. (or Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus) that possesses “the most advanced entertainment algorithm in the world” that “produces near-perfect products.”

That’s about as stinging a rebuke of the MCU as a soulless factory for superhero content as any levied at the company by its critics. And then Jennifer drives it even further by poking holes in the standard MCU finale that K.E.V.I.N. — who happens to sport a baseball cap brim like the ones Feige always wears — had cooked up for “She-Hulk.” 

“It’s often said that Marvel movies all end the same way,” Jennifer says, prompting K.E.V.I.N. to reply nervously, “Wait, who’s saying that?” 

Jennifer pushes on, noting the “unwritten rule that you have to throw a bunch of plot and flash” into the climax, which she says is just a distraction from her core emotional story of learning to be OK with her She-Hulk and human versions of herself — again, a common complaint about the MCU.

In fact, this episode evokes a specific “She-Hulk” issue from the Marvel Comics from 1993, in which She-Hulk storms the offices of Marvel Comics to demand better writers after she’s told her regular one, John Byrne, “tripped over a dangling sub-plot and broke his neck.” (There’s even a QR code linking to that issue embedded in the episode, part of an initiative started earlier this year with “Moon Knight.”)

What makes all of this so delicious is that part of the MCU’s gargantuanly successful appeal is that it’s never been a self-serious endeavor. At its best, Marvel movies and shows can slyly wink at their own grandiosity without undercutting our emotional connection to their characters. “She-Hulk” has taken that knowingness and Hulkified it, smashing through the fourth wall and into the Marvel Studios offices. In doing so, the show has only intensified what makes She-Hulk, and the MCU, work so well: By taking control of her own story, Jennifer can be her own superhero.

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