Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW..Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)..Photo: Film Frame..?Marvel Studios 2020
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After what feels like one of the longest waits in history, the Black Widow movie is finally here. It seemed like a no-brainer to give the title character Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) her own solo movie, especially after spectacular performances in everything from 2010’s Iron Man 2 all the way through 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
Now, after a delay due to the global pandemic, all the world can see Black Widow in her first solo film. But the product we get doesn’t quite feel well worth the 10-year wait.
The film is directed by Cate Shortland and boasts Jac Schaeffer, the creator and head writer for WandaVision, as one of its writers. But it largely lacks the creative and emotional appeal that WandaVision and most of the top-tier Marvel titles have.
Black Widow opens with a scene that establishes the little-known backstory of the onscreen Natasha Romanoff. A Soviet operative, she’s forced to live the American dream with her “family” as a child, all of them spies: sister Yelena (played by Florence Pugh as an adult), mom Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour). When their long mission is finally over, it’s hard for young Natasha to imagine leaving the land of the free, knowing that the Black Widow program awaits her back home. But she has no say and is immediately brought back into captivity once the family flees the country.
The opening probably delivers the most gut-wrenching punch of the piece, showing us a child in distress about returning to slavery, basically. But when we shift to adult Natasha, the movie turns into a bloated explosion fest. We join Black Widow as she hides from the law after things go wrong in Captain America: Civil War, and before things get even worse in Avengers: Infinity War. Instead of lying low, Natasha gets swept into a mission to destroy the Black Widow program, something she thought she took care of years ago when she attempted to assassinate the program’s leader.
Like many veteran MCU actors, Scarlett Johansson shines in this role in a way only she can. The characters feels engrained in her DNA at this point, and luckily, nothing about Natasha’s characterization is out of the ordinary in this film. It’s the same old Black Widow we know and love, minus the cringey crush on Dr. Bruce Banner.
In her way stands the menacing Taskmaster, a popular villain in the comics who possesses an amazing feat: the ability to mimic the fighting style of other opponents. And while that should, in theory, be a nice, complex Black Widow-level threat, Taskmaster ultimately feels wasted here.
You’re probably wondering who’s behind Taskmaster’s mask, and there’s an interesting answer to that question which I won’t reveal. But Taskmaster is used more like a secondary villain in this movie, the muscle for the slimy Black Widow leader who sits behind a desk all day. Taskmaster features in a few action scenes that end up feeling like weaker versions of sequences from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
To help defeat Taskmaster and co., Black Widow calls on her found family from her U.S.A days. I cannot stress this enough: I have never cared less about a group of Marvel characters, which is quite sad because the Marvel Cinematic Universe is filled with characters who have emotional depth, intriguing backstories, and Disney+ potential. But Black Widow tries to deliver so much in just over two hours that it’s hard to give every single character a well-rounded backstory.
Take Yelena, for example, who has continued spy work even after leaving the Black Widow program. She’s just as deadly as Natasha, but her character can be summed up as “girl who makes smart remarks to show how dissatisfied she is with the situation.” (Think Aubrey Plaza’s character in Scott Pilgrim, but she speaks Russian and is in every scene.) This feels like a huge waste of the talented Florence Pugh, but luckily Black Widow isn’t the end of the road for her in the MCU.
Rachel Weisz plays the “mom-type” of this superhero family, and that’s about all I have to say about her character. David Harbour, at least, is a scene-stealer with his washed-up character Alexei, who was once Russia’s version of Captain America known as the Red Guardian. I honestly wish the movie could have given us just a little more with Harbour’s character, but like most of this movie, it’s on the edge of being great and never quite gets there.
Just before the third act, the film tries to set up an emotional moment between the family that just doesn’t land. And then the third act itself seems like a finale that no part of this movie built up to. Taskmaster gets sidelined. The slimy Black Widow leader abuses Natasha when she’s defenseless and it feels all kinds of wrong. And then it’s capped off by a Michael Bay-style extravaganza of explosion after explosion.
The end of the film left me wanting so much more from a character who had been built up for so long. And it feels like the end of a hot streak for a studio that put out imaginative solo movies like Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. Black Widow is about as standard as it gets when it comes to the action-spy genre; it’s closest point of comparison in the MCU is probably The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Black Widow is releasing on July 9. At this point, it looks like it may be overshadowed by the final episodes of Loki, much in the way The Rise of Skywalker was overshadowed by The Mandalorian. Perhaps this is an indication that Disney+ shows are the wave of the future.
At its best, Black Widow nails the spy genre, includes some awesome performances from the entire cast, and gives you all the action you could ask for in a summer blockbuster flick. The movie isn’t all bad and audiences will certainly find something enjoyable to watch. But at the end of the day, it ranks low on the list of MCU films and may become just as forgettable as Thor: Dark World.
Next: Take the Black: Loki reviewed, The Wheel of Time revealed, and more
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