Two years after Spider-Man: Far From Home and a year-long, pandemic-caused delay, Marvel Studios returned to the big screen with an “origin story” of sorts with one of their original characters. Usually, origin stories serve as little more than a preamble chapter to what is to come for that character. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has had to wait patiently – eight original character chapters along with Avengers ensemble films and other heroes introduced in between – for her turn. Now, it has finally arrived in her self-titled stand alone film. However, this human narrative story felt like it should have come much earlier.
This review is spoiler-free.
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) confronts the darker parts of her history when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past call her to action.
A small opening to Natasha’s past showed when she was growing up with her family akin to FX television show, The Americans. The human connection is established as we see how Natasha had gotten her start. That family dynamic the Natasha had immediately drew me in with her “parents”, Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz). Fast forward to 2016, we see Ms. Romanoff, now a fugitive after the events of Captain America: Civil War, going into hiding from Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). Natasha is doing everything she can to stay busy during her isolation until something comes to the Avenger, leading her to people in her past and finally confront everything she’s been running from.
What really worked with this movie was the family dynamics between Natasha and her reunited family. It’s clear that they are estranged as Black Widow is immediately engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Once Alexei and Melina join their daughters, not only does the action pick up going into the third act, but the laughs also increase. I was really surprised as to how funny this Marvel movie was. David Harbour is excellent as the Red Guardian; the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America. He is hilarious as he tries to bond with both Natasha and Yelena.
The true showstealer is Florence Pugh. Her character, Yelena, is entertaining to watch as she showed she can handle an action movie of this magnitude. She delivered on both action and comedy, poking fun at the Black Widow’s iconic pose. Florence and Scarlett had wonderful chemistry as on-screen sisters that made the story progress as far as the theme of family (Vin Diesel would love that). Pugh found the right balance of strength and vulnerability out of all of the characters. She’s the real MVP of this movie to me and I hope to see more of her in the upcoming future. Unfortunately, this sometimes felt as though Scarlett Johansson was taking a back seat in her own film at times.
Oh, the villains. Besides the future widow trainees of the Red Room, our big villain was The Taskmaster. Knowing the backstory of Taskmaster, I was hoping that we would get a villain that would be formidable for the Black Widow. With the ability to mimic her opponents’ fighting styles in order to find out how to use them in battle. In the film, you can see Taskmaster use techniques from other MCU heroes such as Spider-Man, Captain America and Black Panther. The backstory used for the film worked in the overall plot of the film, but I felt sorely disappointed in the execution of so a big villain in the comics. Ray Winstone just seemed to be there as the head of the Red Room, Dreykov. I don’t think the film would suffer if he wasn’t there as he wasn’t a viable threat in this movie, but I suppose he serves a purpose.
Director Cate Shortland did an excellent job in completing this film and I hope she returns for another MCU film in the future. But the biggest question is the timing of this film. The first MCU film of Phase Four is a prequel movie that takes place between Civil War and Infinity War is a solo film that shouldn’t have waited 11 years to see the light of the silver screen. The deeper themes that could have been explored were drowned by the bombastic action and is powered by a solid supporting cast to help Scarlett Johansson as the leading lady. Black Widow is a solid, entertaining adventure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ever-growing history and while I enjoyed watching it on Disney Plus, it felt too little, too late for a character that’s now gone in the current MCU.
It’s been a pleasure, Ms. Romanoff.
What did you think of Black Widow? Did you enjoy it in a theater or did you sit at home with Disney Plus? Do you think this original Avenger deserved her solo film a lot sooner than we got it?
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