After years of waiting, BLACK WIDOW is finally out for our viewing pleasure and believe me when I say it is well worth the wait. Not only has COVID-19 delayed the film for over a year, but we have been waiting almost a decade for Marvel to realize Black Widow needs her own movie like the rest of the Avengers. It only took the success of movies like WONDER WOMAN and CAPTAIN MARVEL to show female hero stories have an audience and it is finally time to hear Black Widow’s story.
BLACK WIDOW really is Marvel’s “James Bond” film, well… more like THE AMERICANS + RED SPARROW + James Bond. The movie starts in the 1980s, with an AMERICANS-esque origin story scene that shows how Natasha Romonoff (aka Black Widow aka Scarlett Johansson) first came to the United States. And no, it wasn’t part of a student exchange program. She is living with her “family” in Ohio—father Alexei (David Harbour), mother Melina (Rachel Weisz), and younger sister Yelena (later played by Florence Pugh)—but everything is not as they appear. The “family” is really a group of Russian spies, and their time in America is quickly coming to an end as SHIELD begins closing in.
SHIELD is especially interested in the family because Alexei is “Red Guardian”, the Russian version of Captain America, and Melina is a black widow, or a highly trained Russian spy and assassin. So, with a tense opening chase scene (and an amazing title sequence to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), the “family” sets off to Cuba, where Natasha is sent back to the black widow program for additional training and Yelena is introduced to its horrifying Red Room.
Cut to “present” day, which is actually the time period between CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Natasha is on the outs with part of her Avengers crew and on her own to do a side mission. After being sent a strange substance from her estranged “sister” Yelena, Natasha heads to Budapest (yes, that Budapest) to get answers. Of course, things quickly escalate and Natasha discovers the black widow program, which she thought she had destroyed long ago, is still in existence. Now it is up to her to destroy the program, and its leader Drekov (Ray Winstone), once and for all.
Director Cate Shortland ensures BLACK WIDOW has the right tone, perfectly balancing humor and drama. Because let’s be real, although this is supposed to be a Natasha Romonoff/Black Widow-centric movie, the character doesn’t have that much personality. So, it is no surprise that the best part of the movie is the familial chemistry and hilarious antics between Natasha, Yelena, Melina, and Alexei. So much so, that it seems like this was an absolute blast to film. From Yelena making fun of Natasha’s hero poses—which apparently was written into the script after Pugh joked to Johansson about it in real life—to Alexei not being able to let go of the good ole days and trying to fit into his old Red Guardian costume, this movie was a ton of fun. I think THOR: RAGNAROK now has competition for being the most fun (and humorous) Marvel film.
But while BLACK WIDOW is one of my new favorite Marvel movies, I was a bit disappointed by the big action scene in the third act. Yes, I enjoyed the fight scenes, but I also found it a bit hypocritical. The entire movie is about humanizing Natasha, showing that she doesn’t have super powers, she is just that good; Natasha is a kickass spy, trained to be the best of the best since she was a kid. But in the big final act, instead of keeping the fighting to a more realistic level, it veers too much into super hero insanity.
Without getting too much into spoilers, Natasha and co. are in freefall for a good 30 or so minutes, ricocheting off of debris and landing on falling surfaces like Captain Marvel or Thor, only to swing to another area to continue the fight. I will not pretend to be a realism purist in a Marvel movie, but I wish the fight scenes would have better illustrated Natasha’s human side, both in more practical fight scenes and in the injuries sustained in all of the fighting.
Of course, no Marvel movie is complete without an end credit scene setting up what is to come. Again, in an attempt to avoid spoilers, all I will say is you may want to watch at least the end of FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER on Disney+ and brush up on the events of AVENGERS: ENDGAME to understand what is being teased next.
Although this may be the swan song for Natasha Romonoff, if BLACK WIDOW is any indication of what Marvel has up its sleeve for “Phase 4” of the cinematic universe, we are in for a real treat. Of course I want to see more from Pugh, but how about an origin story on Red Guardian and his Cold War-era competition with Captain America. You heard it here first, folks!
Check out BLACK WIDOW in theaters, or at home streaming on Disney+ Premiere Acesss for $29.99!
My Review: A-