Published on July 2nd, 2021 | by Dan Nicholls0
Black Widow finally gets her own movie, even if it’s ill-timed for the character. It’s a palate-cleansing solo adventure with themes of family and forgiveness.
After years of solid supporting work in a host of other films, Scarlett Johansson’s world-class espionage agent with a haunted past finally gets the spotlight all to herself. Even though she sacrificed herself for the world in Avengers: Endgame we now have Natasha Romanoff’s own starring vehicle, Black Widow. This isn’t some IOU to Scarlett for her years of service, either. Black Widow immediately stands out as something more thoughtful than its kin while remaining just as action-oriented. The themes aren’t the sunniest but the movie gives you everything you want in a summer spectacle. It’s a high-class effort across the board even if it does inevitably give way to a repetitive third act CGI bonanza.
Before being taken away for years of abuse and training in the “Red Room” as a young girl, Natasha was used as a decoy daughter for a pair of Russian spies (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz) along with another adopted sister, Yelena (played as an adult by Florence Pugh). This faux-family split up after their cover got burned in Ohio but years later the proverbial daughter returns to bring them all back together again. This mission to take down the “Red Room” once and for all takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War but wisely scales back the “war” element of these MCU movies for something more intimate, earnest, and decidedly character-based. The action-packed beats are present and accounted for as one would expect with this brand of popcorn moviemaking but the whole package comes with markedly fewer caveats than many of its brethren that came before it.
Perhaps the plot doesn’t go to any surprising places and maybe the ‘surprises’ themselves are a bit too predictable, but Black Widow does everything in its potential to make the Johansson/Harbour/Weisz/Pugh family unit one you want to spend time in. The movie clips by despite the fact that it takes its time to slow down when needed and a big part of that success is due to the dynamics of the core cast. There are ticking plot clocks of course but for the most part scenes are allowed to sort of unfold how they naturally need to. This approach yields strong results and gives you the sense that there’s more room to explore here. Perhaps there’s a prequel-only Black Widow series of films that wouldn’t be such a bad idea to expand upon (those looking for concrete answers on what happened in Budapest will have to settle for some subtle touches that go for poignancy over fan service).
Black Widow could’ve really done without the constant Avengers name-dropping and it would’ve been nice to have a less generic villain other than another “old white guy with a bunch of money and soldiers”. The introduction of Taskmaster as the action antagonist allows for some inventive hand-to-hand variations on a format as Natasha is matched talent-for-talent with someone who can duplicate her every move.
As you might expect from a Marvel film with an enormous budget, the production values are top-notch. There is one particular sequence with some questionable cinematography otherwise the picture looks great. Credit to director Cate Shortland and her collaborators in melding the intimate with the spectacle pretty damn well. Marvel generally tends to produce winners and this here’s a prized one of the bunch.
It might become a regular thing now, that these blockbuster titles premiere at home simultaneously with a traditional theatrical release – as Black Widow will be available on Disney+ Premier Access for an additional fee the same time it opens in theaters. When you’re in a theater and you get bored you can’t just go on your phone or allow yourself to be distracted by something else. But on your couch, there are distractions readily available so that focused commitment becomes easier to bend. I barely got restless throughout the entire runtime, including the post-credits scene, versus something like Wonder Woman 1984 which you could detach from for minutes on end without feeling like you’re missing part of the experience. Even with the high “at home” success rate there’s still got to be no better way to experience something like Black Widow than on the biggest screen possible. Indeed any chance at an IMAX showing should be taken into consideration.
Who knows where Natasha and Scarlett’s ride will take them in Phase 4 but if the money’s there then they’ll find a way. Honestly, seeing a Black Widow/Hawkeye team up prequel about the Budapest days would actually be pretty awesome to watch. How cool would it be if Marvel keeps this ace in their back pocket for further adventures in her own series of big-screen spy-based action thriller prequels? This universe may prove to have quite the long life after the death of Tony Stark.