REVIEW: Black Widow – Touching But Out Of Place Tribute

black widow review

Black Widow‘s fashionably late entrance into the MCU does it more harm than one might expect. Despite a powerhouse performance from Scarlett Johansson and an epic introduction to Florence Pugh’s Yelena, something doesn’t quite hit home. That being said, it’s far from the worst Marvel movie and still manages to get in a few good punches – of the physical and emotional variety.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe Black Widow really took until 2021 to come out, especially considering Lionsgate had a script ready before the MCU even existed. But thanks to all manner of creative postponements and pandemic delays, Natasha Romanoff didn’t get her origin story until it was a send-off. As backwards as it seems, Black Widow still manages to be an effective farewell for its titular heroine thanks to the themes woven into the screenplay and Cate Shortland’s capable direction.

The first thing to get out of the way is that it is a good film. Not only that, but it makes for a solid Marvel solo movie, even if it’s not blowing minds or breaking barriers. Natasha not having superpowers is an asset, because it requires more grounded action sequences. Fans can admire the prowess of fight choreographers and stunt performers alike – even if they inevitably give way to explosions like every other action flick.

The opening act introduces viewers to a new crop of characters they will inevitably grow to care for, and their arcs are gripping and surprising. Natasha’s first “second family” turns out not to be the Avengers, but the Russian spy cell she was ensconced with as a teen: “Mom” Melina (Rachel Weisz), “Dad” Alexei (David Harbour), and “little sister” Yelena. Everything that takes place between young Natasha and her picture-perfect family retroactively sets the scene for unspoken abandonment issues and mistrust of others in the MCU.

black widow - scarlett johansson & family

Perhaps it’s the height of irony that this also creates one of the film’s biggest weaknesses: Natasha is the only character without a future. It’s not simply that we know she dies after Avengers: Endgame and therefore her fate is never in question. It’s also the fact that this film takes place directly after Civil War, but we already know that no mention is made of her side venture when she re-appears in Infinity War. In and of itself, Black Widow gives a compelling explanation for Natasha’s actions in subsequent movies. The problem is, however, said movies clearly didn’t get the memo in time so it rings hollow.

But back to the supporting cast, because that’s really where the movie shines. Pugh runs the gamut from ruthless programming to heartbreaking vulnerability, perfectly embodying a young woman betrayed by her loved ones and brainwashed for a decade. She and Harbour also do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the comedic moments, although Weisz is no slouch either. Having experienced the film on both the big screen and Disney+, trust that said humorous beats play better in a theater. Overall, the four protagonists make an incredibly convincing unit whose loyalties are in question. The only downside is really that the rest of the family might be more entertaining than Natasha herself.

On the other hand, the villain of the story never really measures up. The very concept of the Red Room is both fascinating and horrifying, and Black Widow would honestly have been a superior story is if showed Natasha’s escape rather than simply referring back to it. But instead, the film is set up as a return to the Red Room – which loses some of its power when viewers know she already successfully took it down once. Ray Winstone’s Dreykov is also not particularly imposing, nor do his mind games feel particularly chilling – even though his actions are of course atrocious. The Taskmaster makes for a great in the first half of the movie, but the denouement leaves something to be desired.

black widow - taskmaster

Overall, Natasha’s final film is well worth the watch – especially if you’re able to catch it in a theater. Just don’t expect it to rewrite the script of MCU films as a whole, or for it to have a particularly strong or lasting impact on her story as whole. It could have if had come out even 5 years ago, and if the next few films had taken its events into consideration. But as it stands, it’s still a good introduction to Yelena. And stick around for the post-credits scene: aside from being the best scene in the movie, it reveals just how she’ll come into play in Phase 4 of the MCU.

Black Widow is in theaters July 9, as well as through Disney+ Premier Access. The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material.