MickeyBlog Movie Review: Black Widow
When Iron Man 2 debuted in 2010, the press junket quotes suggested that a standalone Black Widow movie lurked just around the corner.
Movie analysts presumed that Scarlett Johansson would star in a solo outing after The Avengers debuted in 2012.
Then, The Avengers: Age of Ultron came out, but there was no Black Widow.
Later, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame reunited various characters from the MCU.
The origin story of Natasha Romanoff never came out. Even Ant-Man got two movies in the interim. Ant-Man!
In July of 2021, after more than a decade of anticipation and expectations, a solo Black Widow outing finally entered theaters. Was it worth the wait? Well…
The Story of Black Widow
Johansson has appeared in seven previous MCU movies as Black Widow. So, you know the deal already.
Romanoff comes with mysterious origins, as she’s apparently Russian or Russian-adjacent and a ruthless mercenary.
We know from previous Marvel movies that something bad went down in Budapest, as Loki torments her over something involving “Dreykov’s daughter.”
This film fills in that backstory while unveiling Romanoff’s replacement, as the title character met a heroic demise in Avengers: Endgame.
So, the events of Black Widow take place during the aftermath of Avengers: Civil War.
After asking Steve Rogers not to do something stupid in that film, Romanoff ultimately sided with him. Now, she’s on the run as the returning General Ross pursues.
We’re squarely in the year 2016 in the MCU timeline, seven years before Romanoff’s sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame.
However, part of the story takes place in Ohio in 1995, where we learn that Natasha spent at least some time in the United States as part of a nuclear family.
In fact, the setting is very The Americans, as we quickly learn that mom and dad work for the Russians.
More importantly, Natasha loves playing with and is extremely protective of her younger “sister” named Yelena.
Flashbacks reveal why they left their Ohio home and what caused the family to separate, leaving Black Widow alone until she befriended the other Avengers.
This film works as something between an origin story and a videogame side quest.
Black Widow must bring down the Red Room before she may rejoin the Avengers.
MCU fans are familiar with the Red Room already, as this nefarious organization trained Natasha as an assassin.
We discover that the same statement applies to Yelena, and both women seek revenge.
The Characters of Black Widow
The film is very much Johansson’s, as Marvel understood that it was a long-overdue project.
However, Florence Pugh will take over the title of Black Widow or something akin to it in future Marvel projects, just as Sam Wilson is now Captain America.
As such, Black Widow functions as a proving ground of sorts for Pugh’s character, Yelena Belova.
While not Romanoff’s blood sister, Belova lived with her in her early childhood. So, she thinks of Natasha as her sibling.
During the film, we learn that Belova turned into an equally impressive assassin, albeit one with a touch more innocence.
Early on, red sparkles open the character’s eyes to the perils of Red Room training. Then, she reaches out to her former sister for help.
The interactions between the two women will ultimately determine your enjoyment of the project, as it’s a passing of the torch.
You must buy that Belova and Romanoff care for one another enough that the former woman can become a superhero, too.
To Pugh’s credit, she’s perfect for the role and feels like a superstar in the making.
I’d previously loved her in Fighting with My Family and Little Women. With this performance, she proves she’s ready for mainstream success.
Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz portrays Melina, the mother figure to the two girls. She’s also a master of espionage and science.
I’m a Weisz superfan (watch Disobedience!), but this character didn’t feel fully fleshed out despite appearing frequently.
She’s a…caring mother…and pig trainer…who doesn’t want to go back to Russia…but works loyally for the villain for years longer than needed. It felt inconsistent.
Who cares, though? David Harbour mugs his way through enough scenes as the Red Guardian so well that his presence alone makes Melina more enjoyable, too. Harbour’s a star.
My Review of Black Widow
The villainous General Dreykov received a name drop during a scene between Loki and Romanoff in The Avengers.
Since then, we’ve awaited context for why Black Widow did something…unforgivable.
This entire film tracks Romanoff’s search for the mysterious Dreykov, leader of the Red Room.
Black Widow thought she had killed him, but he’s very much alive. Also, he hates her for the whole “Dreykov’s daughter” thing that Loki mentioned.
As an action movie, Black Widow careens between spectacular sequences and set pieces, such as the introduction of the formidable Taskmaster.
This person can learn from and then mimic the abilities of others, making it all but unbeatable in fights. Taskmaster works marvelously as a fight scene villain.
Director Cate Shortland, whom Johansson personally courted for this role, demonstrates excellence with her small-scale storytelling.
The family bickering feels real, the parental advice loving and wise. However, I’m not quite sure why Yelena would ask for Natasha’s help but then threaten her with a knife.
Minor inconsistencies like that appear throughout the film, which prevents it from reaching the heights of the best MCU titles.
Similarly, the ending falls into what I call DC Movies territory. Those popcorn flicks always finish with absurd, explosion-heavy battles.
When done well, I enjoy those just as much as the next person, but there’s some stuff here that caused me to giggle.
One henchperson gets thrown off a carrier and is hurtling at incredible velocity to the ground.
This employee of the year takes notice of our heroines and starts shooting at them. Personally, I’d worry more about my upcoming ground-splat.
Black Widow gets pretty silly at times, but its characters and family interactions allow it to overcome the 1960s James Bond moments.
Marvel absorbed plenty of justified criticism over its female-unfriendly productions over the years. Black Widow didn’t even get any merchandise for far too long.
This film works as a universal mea culpa, as it’s brimming with female empowerment and personal growth.
The children of the Red Room grow into incredibly efficient female assassins who pose a threat to Yelena and Natasha.
A powerful jerk, Dreykov, preys on young girls and thereby deserves a solid superhero thrashing.
Two sisters overcome their differences to team up and try to take down a seemingly unstoppable foe.
Most importantly, Natasha Romanoff shines in a fitting swan song for the character. She proves once and for all that she’s the most significant Avenger.
Scarlett Johansson getting her own movie as she deserved #BlackWidow #NatashaRomanoff pic.twitter.com/H21SBeQ5Ee
— elo ⧗ saw bw (@doraemaynat) July 9, 2021
While Iron Man and Captain America garner all the attention, the Black Widow completes her Saul/Paul transition from assassin to savior.
The film’s events undeniably go too far at times, but there’s plenty of heart and decency in Black Widow.
The wait is finally over! 💥 Experience Marvel Studios' #BlackWidow! Get tickets or order it now. https://t.co/cWeQKLS0qL pic.twitter.com/1NfOOhnTYL
— Black Widow (@theblackwidow) July 9, 2021
Ted Lasso recently reminded the world of the value of trying to do the right thing even when you’re in pain.
Black Widow works as the superhero equivalent of that, a redemption arc wherein women overcome their terrible lot early in life to become virtuous.
While I have some quibbles with various moments in this film, its heart is in the right place, which goes a looooong way with me.
I’d give Black Widow an A- and have already noticed that it holds up well with repeat viewing.
The movie has several “Oh, come on!” moments, but it’s an extremely satisfying product overall.