When the Black Widow solo movie was first announced fans of the character rejoiced. They would finally get an opportunity to find out what happened in Budapesh err… Budapest, or just how much red is in Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johanson) ledger. In a strange twist of fate, the COVID pandemic and Disney’s unwillingness to forego millions of dollars at the box office led to more delays than a Jay Electronica album. Thankfully, with the success of Disney’s premiere access releases on Diseny+ such as Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Cruella, Disney finally relented and decided to release Black Widow both on Disney+ and in theaters. Strangely, there is a lot riding on this film but not for the reasons that you would assume.
It’s not a matter of if the film does the character justice or any standard concern. No, this film’s performance will essentially dictate how Disney handles all future releases. It’s one thing for one of their animated films to perform well with a duel release. If they can make the same (or more) money on an MCU film, it will open the flood gates for future duel releases and a boatload of money. The question is, is Black Widow worth watching from the comfort of your own home for $30 or even for $10 at your local movies theater?
*Some Spoilers Follow*
Black Widow Returns
Black Widow follows Natasha Romanoff soon after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Romanoff is on the run from the US government after switching sides and assisting Captain America in his escape. While on the run, Romanoff is dragged back into the world of Russian espionage, by her adopted sister Yelena Belova (Midsommer star Florence Pugh). When Belova is freed from the shackles of the Red Room, it kicks off a series of events that forces Romanoff to confront her past, including her complicated relationship with her adopted parents Alexi (Stranger Things alum David Harbour) and Melina (The Mummy’s Rachel Weisz) and her greatest regret: the killing of Dreykov’s Daughter.
“So, are we going to talk like grown-ups? – Natasha Romanoff
“Is that what we are?” – Yelena Belova
Marvel’s Real First Family?
Did anyone else have the highlight of Black Widow being the entertaining and shockingly relatable family dynamic on their 2021 bingo card? Didn’t think so. The writers and actors took great care in focusing on the tenuous familial bonds between the four main characters (Romanoff, Belova, Alexi, and Melina). During the first interaction between Romanoff and Belova as adults, they quickly go from trying to kill each other to making fun of each other for their various life choices. The image of Romanoff holding Belova down while yelling at her to “stay down” is something every older sibling can relate to. The only thing missing was Romanoff making Belova slap herself while yelling “quit hitting yourself”. The big and little sister dynamic was played to perfection by Johanson and Pugh.
Alexi and Melina seamlessly slide back to treating Romanoff and Belova like children. If your master spy mother tells you not to slouch, you better listen. Moments like “Red Guardian” Alexi talking with boastful pride about his daughter’s being legendary murderers, to Belova’s heartfelt breakdown at the dinner table. All of these moments would have fallen flat if they weren’t beautifully written and acted. Every interaction covertly pulls at your heartstrings. Each character’s individual pain is highlighted by their cascading strained interactions. The construction of this dynamic does wonders in giving the viewer a reason to care about characters we not only have never seen on the bigs screen but for the most part, have never even been mentioned in the MCU.
Stakes? What Stakes…
No matter how enjoyable this film is, it’s far from perfect. Black Widow is a fun but predictable action movie with few surprises. The only significant plot twist involves the origin of the photo-reflective killing machine Taskmaster. Predictable nature aside, this was an essential element to capping off Romanoff’s story. Romanoff’s greatest regret eventually became her greatest adversary.
Though Taskmaster is a worthy adversary for Romanoff, the puppet master of Rommanoff’s destruction, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to what’s expected from a big bad. Dreykov is another in a long line of flat villains. Dreykov’s inability to be compelling is an unfortunately common trait with MCU Villains. For every Killmonger there is a Darren Cross. You don’t even know who that is, do you? Told you so.
The elephant in the room with Black Widow has always been how do you invest in the stakes of the film when you know the titular character is going to die. Well, it’s not easy… It’s almost impossible. We can however become invested in the characters whose fates were unclear like Belova, etc. In the end, this is one of the great failings of Black Widow.
Widow’s Mission if she Chooses to Accept it…
Between the globetrotting, cool gadgets, amazing car chases, intense hand-to-hand combat sequences, and insane set pieces, the action in Black Widow is beyond what we are used to in an MCU film. Black Widow is less like Marvel’s Avengers and more like a Mission Impossible. The writers highlighted the spy/espionage aspects of Black Widow, and that is something we haven’t seen since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Though Romanoff is an Avenger, this story is self-contained and not hindered by the baggage of other standard MCU fair. We haven’t had a tonal change like this since the Ant-Man, which was a heist movie ( and on paper that still sounds insane, but it worked out).
Critics tend to be too hard on superhero/action movies. Grading a movie like Black Widow on the same scale as The Godfather would be nonsensical. That said, it doesn’t mean we should overlook some of the glaring issues with the film. The plot is predictable and the stakes are questionable, but the action and world-building more than make up for it. The shift in tone from superhero movie to Mission Impossible- Esq spy film is a much-needed change from the MCU’s status quo. The time and care spent on building the dynamic between Romanoff’s adopted family more than makes up for the film’s failings. If you are tired of the oversaturation of superhero films, Black Widow is the movie for you. The film is a fun, well-paced action movie that is more than worth a trip to the theaters or $30 bucks from the comfort of your own home.