Walt Disney Studios
Over the past 13 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has created a second nature feel to their releases, so when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, it was pretty surreal for cinephiles to imagine a movie year without an MCU film. The irony about the delay is that it was for a character whose solo film was also years too late – Black Widow.
As theaters begin to open again, this film finally sees the light of day. I only wonder why it took so long for Natasha Romanoff to receive her standalone film as not only does the film channel its inner Winter Soldier, but it provides a foundation for the future of the Romanoff family in the MCU.
Because of the events of Avengers: Endgame, Black Widow slips into the gap between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War and successfully fills in the blanks in the development of one of the most neglected characters in the MCU. Following a short 1995 prologue that finds a young Natasha Romanoff living as part of an Ohio-based family, revealed to be an unrelated quartet of Russian spies, the film skips forward 21 years to the haunting sounds of Malia J’s cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. In the future, Natasha is dealing with her past and the ever-changing dynamic of her former family.
While primarily a straightforward narrative as opposed to the recent MCU films, Black Widow falls in line as one of the darkest films within its 24 as the film not only focuses on Nat and her family but the backdrop of female enslavement and child soldiers. Thanks to Eric Pearson’s screenplay, light is shed on the consequences of those enslaved and the concept of a lost childhood through Nat and Yelena’s eyes.
While some may view this as a deterrent, Pearson’s and director Cate Shortland’s choice to focus on the family dynamic rather than just the “What was Nat up to before Infinity War?” creates stakes that, quite honestly, the film would have lacked if they didn’t. Cinephiles are aware of Nat’s ultimate fate, so putting a focus on Nat, Yelena, Alexi, and Melina was the best choice for the film.
This strategic play only works because of the fantastic performances by the ensemble. Scarlett Johansson brings the charm, charisma, and badassery in her first standalone film that has made her one of Marvel’s most beloved characters. The question that many will ask upon the film’s conclusion is undoubted, “What took so long?”
In their supporting roles, David Harbour’s Alexi (AKA The Red Guardian) and Rachel Weisz offer up a giant-sized bowl of chemistry as the two share both sweet and hilarious moments on screen, especially a dinner scene where Alexi is made aware that a certain someone has been named in his honor. Both effectively echo the reluctant but loving father and motherly roles.
Now, if you’re reading this thinking, “Hmm, he forgot Flo!” Rest assured, I did not. Black Widow’s secret weapon and MVP is none other than the delightful Florence Pugh. While every bit as dangerous as her sister, Pugh’s Yelena is nothing short of magnetic. Because of Yelena’s significant and essential arch, Pugh is challenged to show an incredible range. She steps up to that challenge with confidence and has me very excited about her future in the MCU.
To the surprise of no one, the action sequences in Black Widow deliver on any Marvel fan’s expectations while offering up some excellent hand-to-hand combat that mirror those seen in the Jason Bourne series. In addition, Gabriel Beristain’s cinematography gets right into the action and leaves little to the imagination as cinephiles are up close and personal with every piece of the action.
While the film surpassed expectations, its use of Taskmaster and finale left little to be desired. When first hearing about Taskmaster being the film’s villain, I was filled with excitement, and while still menacing when on-screen, its arc in the movie was alright. The other glaring issue with the film is in its final 5 minutes, where there is little done to explain what consequences our hero faces after she completes her mission. It left a sour taste in my mouth. Still, thankfully that post-credit scene hits on every level and sets up the future of the MCU beautifully.
Thankfully, one of my least anticipated Marvel films turned out to be one of the biggest surprises. Black Widow is both complex and engaging as its focus on familial relationships leads to some of the most memorable moments thanks to its ensemble and, in turn, creates new characters for Marvel’s team to play with in their billion-dollar sandbox.