Review: 'Black Widow' gives beloved character worthwhile and deft solo outing
Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney
Marking their big screen return in two years, Marvel’s “Black Widow” seeks to give fans clamouring for a solo outing starring Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff a sense of closure. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen 2019’s “Endgame,” but the untimely demise and, basically, throwaway death of the beloved Avenger wasn’t met with fierce enthusiasm. Introduced first in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” Black Widow had been a valiant and determined ally to Captain America’s Steve Rogers and the S.H.I.E.L.D organization that her wishy washy death felt mishandled. Wheather her first (and presumably only) feature, Cate Shortland’s flawed, but fun, action packed and engaging “Black Widow” will subside the overall sting remains to be seen. Marvel gonna Marvel, and seldomly do they miss their target, though you can’t help but feel aspects here are manufactured because the outcry was overwhelming. Credit where it’s due, “Black Widow” still manages to get the job done.
Some will immediately sniff out “Black Widow” for the glorified side mission, meant to set up an inevitable Disney+ series, that it is, Shortland, clearly working with her biggest budget and a script by Eric Pearson, gets some nice digs about body autonomy and family trauma, albeit with the glossy undercooked remnants of a Marvel movie. That “Black Widow” has a conversation surrounding women's abilities to kick butt without a suit of armor, a majestic hammer, or super soldier serum while also being the first Marvel movie to feature a scene discussing women’s menstrual cycles, is progress. It shouldn’t feel like a breakthrough considering there’s been 24 movies and several mini-series, but I digress.
“Black Widow” has been described in circles as a “prequel” and despite it tackling an arresting epilogue around the rough upbringing of Natasha and her younger sibling, Yelena, the film is sandwiched somewhere between or during the events of “Age of Ultron” and “Captain America: Civil War.” Natasha (Johansson) is on the run for having broken the Sokovia Accords, but in her downtime has stumbled upon an old adversary long presumed dead, a Russian oligarch named Dreykov (Ray Winstone). With the help of a brain controlling drug, the same one used on Natasha during her childhood spent at the “Red Room,” a military school to mold young, impressionable girls to be lethal assassins, Dreykov’s Widow army is almost ready to unleash world domination. Natasha links up with her estranged sibling, Yelana (Florence Pugh) and the two bicker and thrash around in an apartment complex before understanding their same objectives.
Yelana and Natasha were brought up together, but the former doesn’t receive the acclaim or attention of her sister thanks to “Avengers” status, but Pugh absolutely steals the show as a new favorite in the MCU. From there, “Black Widow” sticks to the Kevin Feige formula as the globetrotting adventure reunites Natasha with her family: Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei aka Red Guardian (David Harbour - the sole comedic relief in this surprisingly darker chapter) who are on the hunt for Dreykov because the screenwriters have to come up with something even if the overall placement doesn’t make sense in the grander scheme of the MCU.
But hey, if a loose plot manages to get Johannson, Pugh and Harbour in a room together to do Marvel’s dirty work, maybe it wasn’t such a waste. The fight choreography remains top-tier and Shortland stages an exhilarating prison escape sequence midway through that is a breathtaking reminder of the studio’s caliber. Does it all feel a bit awkward considering we know the inevitable outcome of Romanoff's fate? Absolutely. Nobody is denying “Black Widow” is long overdue (after “Captain Marvel,” it’s only the second solo outing with a women lead), but this was a nice refresher back into the feature length MCU canon and should hopefully set the bar of inclusiveness for the remainder of Phase Four.
BLACK WIDOW will open in theaters and debut on Disney+ with premier access Friday, July 8th