After more than a year delay, Black Widow has finally hit theaters and premiere access streaming on Disney+. The question on everyone’s mind though: is Black Widow worth it? Whether that be time or money, I’m here to say yes. Yes, it is.
If you follow the MCU closely, then you know that Natasha Romanoff’s story ended in Avengers: Endgame when she sacrificed herself so that Hawkeye and the Avengers could receive the Soul Stone in hopes of stopping Thanos. So, with no future for Natasha in the MCU, what is the point of this film?
Black Widow features Natasha on the run following the events of Captain America: Civil War. With the Sokovia Accords in full effect, the Red Room (the Black Widow training program in Russia) and her adopted family. More than anything, I feel that Black Widow is meant to pay past dues – specifically to Scarlett Johansson – since a Black Widow was denied by Disney a few years back. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything here for Natasha as a character though.
Narratively, the film focuses on Natasha’s past, expanding on her in a way that will force viewers to look at her actions in Infinity War and Endgame through a different lens. The theme of family is interwoven throughout the film and allows for some of the best moments. Florence Pugh steals the show as Natasha’s younger sister, Yelena Belova, who is also a Black Widow. The chemistry between the two is electric, and they weave in and out of anger, humor, and emotion with ease.
David Harbour plays the girls’ adoptive father, Alexei, the Red Guardian, while Rachel Weisz portrays Melina, their adoptive mother. Both are excellent in their roles but don’t get much to work with. Scenes featuring all four actors are equally funny as they are engaging and touching, and the relationships between them make Black Widow feel special. Individually, however, Harbor and Weisz or sorely underutilized. Despite being Russia’s version of Captain America, Alexei serves as nothing more than to be the butt of every joke. Meanwhile, Weisz’s Melina just seems to be there, and I can’t help but feel that this was a huge miss on Marvel’s part.
Tonally and stylistically, the film is very reminiscent of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Since the Red Room – and the Black Widows in general – creates a large aspect of the film’s plot, using the spy-thriller as the film's genre makes sense. The action is solid, and the film moves at a brisk pace. Cate Shortland (Lore/ Berlin Syndrome) does an adequate job of infusing Black Widow with enough personality to help it stand out, while also maintaining that familiar, Marvel tone we’ve come to love and expect.
Unfortunately, not everything is great here. While Ray Winstone is despicably evil as the film’s villain, Taskmaster fails to deliver the sense of dread and doom that the creators were going for. Yes, there are some cool action sequences, but nothing to write home about. Ultimately, I feel that the inclusion of the Taskmaster is pointless. Even the skillset of being able to mimic fighting styles doesn’t really play out here since most of the fights involve Widows fighting other Widows. So, their fighting styles already mimic one another.
And while the movie is solid overall, it does lose its footing as it races towards the climax. Generally speaking, the quality and identity of Black Widow slowly disintegrates throughout the film's run, before becoming a CGI nightmare during the third act. Yes, I am talking about that scene from the trailers where Natasha and Taskmaster are sky-dive-fighting. Despite some truly incredible scenes early on, the fact that the film loses its footing at the end just means that it’s what is fresh on your mind when you leave the theater (or your couch, I guess). And that’s a shame because there really is an entertaining and engaging film that respects Natasha’s legacy, but I’m afraid too many people will look past that to the problems, and that those shortcomings will ultimately serve as Black Widow’s legacy… until people go in for a rewatch anyway.
Black Widow is a high-action, MCU film that pays homage to Black Widow as a character, and the legacy she leaves in the Marvel universe. It's hard not to find this movie engaging with strong family themes and amazing chemistry between the cast. The plot is also worthy of its own story as the MCU explores one of the most retched depths of criminal activity that one can imagine – the exploitation and manipulation of children. As I stated though, an over-the-top climax that’s executed with poor CGI causes the film to end on a sour note. Despite that, there’s no taking away from the character elements here, and the new possibilities that Black Widow creates for Marvel moving forward.
SCORE: 6.5/10 - GOOD