When Black Widow was first introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was difficult not to be excited. She is a character full of intriguing history in the comics that could be explored onscreen; she was a bonafide badass, but she was forged to be so. Unfortunately, the character in the MCU hasn’t been entirely all that this reviewer has personally wanted. Due to storytelling choices made in certain films, it sometimes felt like she got the proverbial eh end of the stick, even though fans did get little sprinklings of bread crumbs cluing us into the character a bit more. But, when Avengers: Endgame happened, it felt like we’d never get to know the character that the MCU kept stringing along for the past decade. Now, with the BLACK WIDOW movie finally coming out, fans will get some closure surrounding the character and, for the most part, it does help fill in the blanks on the MCU’s version of the character. The question is, though, whether or not Marvel waited too long to finally release this film.
As a general head’s up, I will be aiming to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. If you want active spoilers, this is not the review for you. That being said, BLACK WIDOW takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run as one of two remaining Team Cap members still having not been apprehended. While evading capture after being declared in violation of the Sokovia Accords, she goes into hiding. Unfortunately, Natasha is not as hidden as she might think. Someone of unknown origin attempts to take something that was sent to Natasha at her Budapest safety house, which ultimately draws her into a conspiracy that throws back deep into her past, reuniting her with those she had long since left behind, and those who would seek nothing but her ultimate suffering. It should be noted though that Taskmaster is grossly underutilized in the latter context.
While the screenplay itself is lengthy, with the runtime hitting about 130 minutes or so, there’s a lot viewers will get to explore as they watch Natasha navigate frequently changing situations onscreen. As has been the case for many an MCU film, the theme of family looms its head once more, further highlighting the argument between family by blood relation versus the family we’ve chosen. The introduction of Florence Pugh‘s Yelena, David Harbour’s Alexei, and Rachel Weisz’s Melina in this film and, more importantly, this Universe is another visual demonstration of how family is sometimes not something we plan for, especially when circumstances are designed against the construction of that family unit. Within this quartet of characters – Natasha, Yelena, Alexei, and Melina, all actors portray the awkwardness well, especially given what is learned of their collective past. But this awkwardness does not take away from the theme. In fact, it illuminates it in the end.
As far as individual performances go, Scarlett Johansson fairs well onscreen as Natasha Romanov. Though, the jury is out as to whether or not there is character growth illustrated in her performance in BLACK WIDOW. Given the emotional complexities of everything her character has gone through leading up to this point, it is sometimes difficult to really feel convinced by what Johansson delivers. The cracks do seem more apparent when taking into account Pugh’s natural charisma and comedic timing with Yelena’s quips onscreen. Once Harbour’s Alexei gets thrown into the mix, Johansson’s Natasha almost gets lost. Rachel Weisz’s Melina also gets a bit lost, though the character itself calls for being more subdued. However, I did wonder whether or not Weisz might have been miscast as it did not seem to be the best representation of what viewers know she can do.
While Natasha and her family unit are the focus of the film, the stunt team and the action sequences developed for BLACK WIDOW should get massive kudos. As per the MCU standard, the film is a chockablock full of action sequences, which is fitting given the titular character and how many people would love to get her. While some sequences were breathtaking to behold in scale, the best action sequences come when the number of players is scaled down or when not needing to clash with major VFX moments onscreen. As one of the most down-to-earth superpower-wised characters, it’s honestly nice to see how the sequences translate when focusing purely on the physicality between trained fighter characters. It might take away from the superhero-ness of it all, but that’s one of the things that has been a major plus with this version of Black Widow. It provides that foil of relatability in a way for the viewer. These moments are captured to visual perfection through Gabriel Beristain‘s cinematographic eye.
Overall, BLACK WIDOW is a decent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though some would put it as a mid-tier level addition. The performances run a range of decent to scene-stealing, though the scenes are not particularly stolen by the titular character. The action sequences along with Pugh’s and Harbour’s performances are most notable and highlight the direction provided by Director Cate Shortland. Given that the film comes out after what we know from End Game, it does leave a strange taste. This despite the fact that the film itself provides some closure to fans of the character. It does feel like a missed opportunity by Marvel Studios and Disney proper to have waited so long for release. As the film stands, BLACK WIDOW may not deliver as strong of an impact had the film been released prior to Civil War.
The action-packed spy thriller will launch simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access* in most Disney+ markets on July 9, 2021.
*Premier Access requires a one-time additional fee. All images provided by Marvel Studios.
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