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She-Hulk: The MCU’s Necessary Low-Stakes Interlude

In case you didn’t notice, there was more than one popular television show with a Green Wedding last week. At the wedding in the sixth episode of Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (“Just Jen”) we saw a lot less homicidal rage and a lot more villains slipping on ice and class-action divorce settlement hijinks. Instead of wedding guests who want to deviously take control of the realm, we got one who looks cute in a doggy tuxedo.

And that’s exactly what we need from Marvel.

Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk attends a friend's wedding in Episode 6
Photo courtesy of Marvel.com

Did we fall for the bait and switch for another episode when we were assured we would get Charlie Cox’s Daredevil? Yes. But all that means is that the stakes in the She-Hulk universe stay lower than Jenn Walter’s ego for one more week. For the past 15 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have been along for a ride that included world-altering consequences at best, and end-of-all-life consequences at worst. She-Hulk lets us take a step off that bullet train for a couple of months, and I couldn’t be happier.

Between the cosmic flop that was Thor: Love and Thunder in July and the grounded but emotional Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that is coming in November, She-Hulk is allowing fans and critics of the MCU to catch their collective breath and consider stakes no larger than a ruined groom’s cake.

The most vocal and recognizable criticism of the MCU since Thanos was defeated and Phase 4 began is that there seems to be absolutely no through-line other than multiple complex timelines. Just as MCU diehards were digging in to determine where the MCU would go after such a successful and specific goal, the hole we found ourselves in began to spread in dozens of directions and we are left wondering which path to follow.

To recap, we saw some Black Widow backstories that looked to the past instead of the future. We traveled the globe and were introduced to the Ten Rings in Shang-Chi. But that was only to learn they are likely of some kind of ancient origin even great minds like Wong, Bruce Banner, and Captain Marvel can’t decipher. In The Eternals, we received a 5,000-year epic that touched on themes such as the origin of life, our planet’s purpose, and eternal love and life. Yet somehow none of those connected to the Marvel universe in which we live.

Both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness kicked open the door to alternate timelines and realities. But with those films came very few ideas of how to control them or what their utility can be. And if that wasn’t enough, Thor and Valkyrie introduced us to ancient Greek gods like Zeus and Hercules as they searched for the antagonist whose very mission it was to destroy them all.

Those, of course, don’t even touch on the time-splintering and Kang-conquering in Loki. They leave out the ideas in Falcon and the Winter Solider and Hawkeye that our meager little planet is going down the toilet post-Thanos snap. Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel have magical moments of mysticism and empowerment for their respective heroes, but they almost seem like they are happening in an alternate universe somewhere.

She-Hulk neither references nor connects to any of that material. So far, it’s been purely an emotional hero’s journey centered on one woman’s struggle to keep the balls of superpowers, increased responsibility, and intense scrutiny all in the air without dropping them. Throw in a new job at a prestigious law firm and there’s just no time left in the day for alternate realities or even supervillains.

In taking this approach, She-Hulk has done what most other MCU properties have failed to do since Phase 4 began. Which ancillary characters stand out to you from Phase 4 before She-Hulk? Which ones made you a fan? Maybe Pizza Dog from Hawkeye? Are there characters where you can remember saying to yourself, “man, I hope we get to see them again down the road?” You might believe there were other Madisynns before there was the real Madisynn, but I assure you it’s not what you thinnnnkkkkkk.

Wong and Madisynn consult with She-Hulk in Episode 5
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Now, with such little at stake through the first two-thirds of the season, we can be entertained by and invested in other things. We can investigate what shows Wong is binging, how to locate our own Drip Broker, and the physiological mechanics of getting intimate with She-Hulk.

When Loki or Dr. Strange or Spider-Man are opening up a passage to new timelines and realities every other act, our focus must remain on questions like “Where are we?” or “What is the importance of this place?” or “How do I tie this into the overarching story?” We aren’t allowed time to understand the characters on a deeper level. That was so much of the success of early MCU movies like Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Panther—the idea that we want to know who these characters actually are.

It’s a unique and interesting coincidence that She-Hulk is now playing at the same time as Andor. While they have completely different tones, Andor has so far given us no Jedi, no space travel, no Storm Troopers, and very little that resembles the Star Wars of yesteryear. It’s a character story.

We now seem to be jumping through hyperspace all the time in the MCU, but Chewie is yelling out to us from the bridge that our tracker isn’t working. Both of these Disney+ shows are taking ambitious risks that we as viewers will be interested in character-driven plots, deep d ives into motivations, and a slower pace.

Count me in as a fan of this much-needed interlude.

The last few moments of She-Hulk’s sixth episode and the guaranteed entrance of Daredevil this week (Charlie Cox’s IMDb lists him as appearing in three episodes) mean the stakes could soon increase. But I would be surprised if She-Hulk deviates too far away from some element of a comedic layer procedural. They have spent too much time laying that groundwork and ingratiating us into the world of GLK&H. Give me three more episodes of Night Court meets Jessica Jones and they will have one satisfied customer.

Marvel clearly heard its fan base and communicated loud and clear at Comic-Con that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would be the end of this disjointed Phase 4. That movie, as we can already tell from the trailers, is sure to be an emotional tour de force that both closes the door on certain characters and stories from the first four phases and opens a new one to Phase 5.

It is absolutely no surprise or coincidence that Phase 5 will open with Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Enough playing around, says Kevin Feige. It’s time to get down to business. That business is likely to be focused on how Kang is the next common enemy among our heroes. Fans are clamoring for that destination and are ready to start another journey.

But until then, let’s enjoy the wonderfully entertaining pit-stop we have with She-Hulk before the high-stakes journey begins again.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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