Better late than never doesn’t fully apply to Black Widow. There’s a sense that the optimal release window was closed even before Avengers: Endgame. It’s not like Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanov aka Black Widow was a newcomer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Natasha has been a prominent character since her debut in 2010’s Iron Man 2. Since then, Johansson was part of the ensemble in Avengers, enjoyed co-starring status in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and was a key player in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War and the final two Avengers films.
Black Widow has been a fixture of the MCU longer than Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, etc. And now she’s finally getting her own standalone film? Regardless of the questionable timing, Black Widow’s film delivers on high-stakes action, humor and heart.
This wasn’t exactly surprising. It’s a Marvel Studios production, which essentially means the film starts out the gate with a B+ score. In the pre-pandemic world, Black Widow was going to usher in the Phase 4 slate, which also including the Disney+ streaming shows.
Theater shutdowns prompted Disney to play an extended game of wait and see how it goes, which meant Disney+ shows WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki beat Black Widow in getting in front of audiences.
Ultimately the scheduling shift helped the Disney+ shows since they dealt with the fallout of Avengers: Endgame. That didn’t work out so well for Black Widow, which feels even more like a time displaced outlier that maybe wasn’t essential viewing.
Yet if any OG MCU character warranted a make good standalone film it was Black Widow. This is far from the first cracks in the foundation and further proof that the Marvel Studios juggernaut can safely emerge from the pandemic as strong as ever.
The film is set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, a time period that’s previously been covered with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. Natasha is on the run from Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) for breaking the Sokovia Accords. Before she links up with Captain America and Falcon, Natasha finds herself facing some issues from her past.
Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the man Natasha thought she killed years ago, is still alive and dispatching his operatives throughout the world on clandestine missions. Natasha’s sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh, Little Women), managed to break free of Dreykov’s control and seeks assistance from the only people she can trust to help — her family.
But the pull of family and the chance to take down a monster as ruthless as Ultron and Hydra is too much for Natasha. With the help of her supplier/friend Mason (O-T Fagbenle), Natasha reunites with her family and goes to take down Dreykov and his army of Widows.
Director Cate Shortland has the Marvel Studios formula down. The lighter, funny moments come off natural while the action has a sense of real stakes with impressive physicality.
The action sequences are on par with the Captain America films with some extravagant destruction and elaborate fight choreography. There’s a poetry to Natasha’s fighting style and Shortland utilizes that well in the action sequences.
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Black Widow has two objectives. One is to close the loop on Natasha’s story by filling in her origin. The other is to introduce her likely successor in Yelena. Screenwriter Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok, Agent Carter) clearly got the memo and dutifully carries out the task.
Johansson has played various takes on Natasha over the decade and it’s nice to see she’s still able to add new elements to a character that’s avoided feeling stale. I’m still torn on Natasha’s Endgame fate and it’s a little disappointing there’s no possibility of a Black Widow 2 starring Johansson. The notion of an earlier prequel sounds silly, but I left this still wanting more of Johansson’s Black Widow.
The MCU take on Taskmaster is very different from the comic book version. It’s a twist that makes sense in the context of the film, but it would have been fun seeing a more comic accurate take battling Natasha. Comic Taskmaster is more of an overconfident, talkative thug while the movie Taskmaster is a silent, unrelenting force. That approach might seem more than a little familiar to MCU fans.
Pearson crafted his screenplay from a story conceived by Jac Shaeffer (WandaVision) and Ned Benson. The plot follows some core aspects of Captain America: The Winter Soldier — on the run from the government, being pursued by a silent assassin, uncovering long buried secrets and teaming up with new allies — along with the classic James Bond formula.
Black Widow doesn’t need to be original — it’s got great influences — and what makes it standout is Natasha’s other family.
Pugh fits right into the MCU. It’s clear Marvel Studios has big plans for her and Pugh delivers a breakout performance that will have audiences eagerly anticipating Yelena’s next MCU appearance.
Weisz and Harbour are also solid additions to the cast. Alexei is a boisterous, well-intentioned goof and Harbour gives him all the necessary bravado. Melina is more complex and Weisz gives her the appropriate layers and air of mystery.
Winstone makes Dreykov more of a personal villain and he definitely gives the Bond villain vibe.
Captain Marvel and Black Widow, both of the films starring women, have been retroactively tossed into the continuity instead of being carefully placed destinations along the journey. It’s not a bad look necessarily, but it’ll be nice for the next female-focused film to be essential viewing on the path to the next megaevent.
As usual, stick around for the post credit scene, which offers insight on the potential future of the Black Widow franchise with tie-ins to some other recent Marvel properties. For fans who enjoy MCU marathons, this post-credit ultimately will have to get scrapped due to spoilers yet it’s a nice teaser for the future.
Black Widow was proof there was enough substance to Natasha beyond a supporting role capacity to have carried her own trilogy. Despite its retroactive placement in the timeline, Black Widow offers enough thrills, new characters and a spotlight on Natasha to rank in the top half of standalone MCU films.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Marvel Studios
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