A Marvel movie saddled with a lot to do, a pandemic, and time jumps. Yet it came out entertaining enough.
Set before the events of the Avengers taking on the universal threat of Thanos, and just after she found herself on the run having sided with Steve Rogers, Natasha finds herself tangled in a plot from her past.
Black Widow was destined to launch Marvel’s Cinematic Universe’s fourth phase, rounding out the character’s backstory, in May 2020. However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, release was delayed for weeks, then months, until over a year had passed. Disney finally released it, even during a time when cinemas still had limitations, theatrically and on their streaming service Disney+. Since then, lead star Scarlett Johansson is threatening to sue Disney Studios for a breach of her contract over the film’s release.
More over, Black Widow comes as something of a surprise to all but perhaps the most diehard of comic book fans. A story that had been hinted for years (and suggested to Disney by Johansson herself) to elaborate on the character’s past. Something the MCU constantly did in films where the character was prominent. Yet… the film premieres after significant events during Avengers: Endgame.
So even before addressing the film itself, one can see that it is laboured under a lot of baggage. A lot of it outwith its own control. We also have a lot of new characters to establish.
So how did it do?
Remarkably okay. But little more than that. The film has a riotous pace; throwing a myriad of action scenes at the audience, which more often than not involve characters who are either, a: under the same training as characters we’ve seen fighting already, or b: can actually mimic the fighting of other characters. The action scenes are therefore serviceable and well shot, but also a little tired by this stage of the MCU. The most interesting fight involved two characters, Johansson and Pugh, fighting as if mirroring each other’s moves perfectly.
The film itself is stylistically similar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a more grounded movie with superhero elements. We have no gods, no space battles. We are given spy networks, shadowy influencers, assassins, and super soldiers. Which is no bad thing; Black Widow cannot be quickly overpowered in her own movie! But again, some similarities raise their heads again. Natasha is hounded by silent, masked villain who is seemingly programmed to fulfil a mission of their own. _cough_ Winter Soldier, _cough_.
The twist to this masked villain, will not be spoiled here directly. However, the revelation is also extremely similar to one from Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2. The scene is practically word-for-word.
But there are some good moments sprinkled throughout. Florence Pugh as Natasha’s estranged adopted sister is a nice addition to the franchise, and David Harbour is having a riot as Russian super soldier Red Guardian. Really hitting home the concept of a dysfunctional family, with some excellent and even heartfelt scenes that resonant well amidst the carnage of every other moment. It is good to see Harbour get some redemption after the disaster that was the Hellboy remake.
It is a more grounded Marvel movie. Which perhaps after the universe-ending scale of the Phase 3 ending feels a little underwhelming by comparison, but what they did here was commendable. They want to still have these sorts of stories, and not everything has to be an escalation of what happened previously.
That said, they could have had some more unique toys on display. The film, asides from some great little performances, did feel a little derivative and formulaic again.
Also, apparently you need to have watched Falcon & The Winter Soldier (only available on Disney+) series to understand the end credit scene. Just a warning.
A good little time spinner. It was good to see Natasha again, as a fan of Scarlett Johansson. But in the greater tapestry of the MCU, it is mostly a footnote.
Additional Marshmallows: So many Russian characters, so few actual Russian actors. Those accents…