“Black Widow” stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz. Released on July 9, 2021, the film has Natasha Romanoff confronting her past.
The film is directed by Cate Shortland, who also directed “Somersault”, “The Silence”, “Lore”, and “Berlin Syndrome”. It is based on the Marvel character of the same name created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck. It is also the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2010, the world was introduced to a follow-up of the action blockbuster that kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe called “Iron Man 2”. The film, which continued the adventures of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, featured the big-screen debut of another Marvel hero named Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Since her first appearance, Black Widow, a highly trained assassin and a member of S.H.I.E.L.D, has become a highly notable presence in the MCU thanks to the character’s history and Scarlett Johansson’s near-perfect portrayal. Despite that, she hasn’t had a chance to headline a solo film like Iron Man and Captain America…until now. After taking a year-long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Marvel Cinematic Universe is officially back in full swing this year, and it’s much different than what we’ve seen in the past. The massive franchise began its fourth phase this year with three television shows on Disney+: “WandaVision”, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, and its recent one “Loki”. If you haven’t watched them yet, I would highly recommend them, especially “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”. The fourth phase continues with the long-awaited solo film based on Black Widow, and let me tell you, it is seriously long overdue. Everyone has been asking for a Black Widow solo film since her debut in “Iron Man 2”, especially after what happened to her in “Endgame” two years ago. Now that our prayers have finally been answered, was it worth the wait? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Natasha Romanoff (Johansson), an Avenger who finds herself on the run from the authorities after the events of “Captain America: Civil War”. She later discovers a dangerous conspiracy related to her early days training in the Red Room as a Black Widow. With no one else to turn to, Natasha will have to rely on the people from her past to help her out, including another Black Widow trainee Yelena Belova (Pugh) and a Russian super-soldier named Red Guardian (Harbour). Her globe-trotting adventure will force Natasha to face the demons of her past and a force that threatens to take her down. Instead of moving forward in the MCU, the film travels back in time to the events between “Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War” to further explore Romanoff’s character. You know, before she met her unfortunate demise in “Endgame”. This strategy was somewhat similar to “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, another MCU film that takes place between “Civil War” and “Infinity War”, except this film was a bit less light-hearted than the “Ant-Man” sequel. Not only does it take some inspiration from the other spy thrillers like Jason Bourne, but it also appeared to be a bit more grounded regarding its themes and tone. So there’s a lot of potential for this latest solo film to reach the high standards set by the other superhero films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and even “Iron Man”. Unfortunately, in terms of the execution, “Black Widow” is more along the lines of a standard, big-budgeted superhero thriller rather than a colossal blockbuster event. Maybe it’s the timing of its release that affected my experience, or perhaps I was expecting too much out of it. Whatever the case may be, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed with the final result. It got off to a promising start in the first act, but after that, it had a difficult time maintaining the emotional depth it was going for amid its typical MCU formula. However, it offered plenty of action, visual flair, and chemistry in its cast to inject some enjoyment and thrills into its core. Cate Shortland becomes another lesser-known indie director to helm a big-budget action film, let alone a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Even though I haven’t seen any of her other films, I was curious to see the direction she’s taking for the film. After watching it for myself, I must admit that she handled this approach quite well. Her direction towards the action sequences lacked the profound intensity that the Russo Brothers provided in “Civil War” and even “Endgame”. Nevertheless, Shortland made a noticeable effort to deliver a more dramatic side to these characters and some female empowerment. Scarlett Johansson managed to carry her film alone without the Avengers’ help thanks to her suitable performance as Natasha. It’s a shame that this would be the last time we get to see this character, but I’m glad that Johansson managed to make this bittersweet farewell a decent one. Florence Pugh, who has been impressing me since seeing her in “Fighting with My Family”, makes her MCU debut as Yelena Belova, a Black Widow who is also a sister-figure to Romanoff. I thought this character worked well as a driving force for its themes of sisterhood and as an enjoyable partner for Natasha. With the mixture of humanity and humor and Pugh’s magnetic performance, this was an encouraging sign of good things to come for Yelena in the MCU. David Harbour was also highly enjoyable as the Red Guardian regarding the comedy, and Rachel Weisz delivered a respectable performance as Melina Vostokoff, Romanoff’s mother figure. There were a couple of action scenes that I found to be entertaining, such as the skydiving sequence that was shown in the trailers. Sadly, the rest of them didn’t stand out as much as the ones from the past couple of MCU properties regarding Shortland’s direction and a couple of quick edit maneuvers. As for the other flaws besides its flat execution towards its themes, the film somehow lacked the high-stakes storyline it was going for, especially since the film was released after “Endgame”, so the sense of danger for these characters was pretty muted. The film also suffered from its mediocre antagonist Dreykov, played by Ray Winstone. A flaw that still plagued most of the installments in the ever-lasting superhero franchise. At first, I was worried that Taskmaster would fall prey to that mistake as well. But the character turned out to be all right. The costume design, his abilities, and his big surprise during the third act made him a worthy opponent for Natasha. He’s far from a memorable villain, but for the most part, Taskmaster’s debut in the MCU was tolerable.
Overall, “Black Widow” continues the fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a small pop instead of a big bang. The cast and its thrilling action should be enough to please a good amount of Marvel fans. However, it’s a step down from some of the high-standard MCU installments due to its average storytelling, a weak villain, and underwhelming execution towards its themes. I managed to enjoy plenty of moments in the long-awaited solo film featuring the last appearance of Natasha Romanoff. Unfortunately, after experiencing “Endgame” two years ago and the recent MCU shows on Disney+, I wasn’t able to regain the awe-inspiring spark from this one. I guess I only have myself to blame for setting the bar a bit too high for “Black Widow”. Maybe if I watch it again in the future, my viewpoint towards it would change. Until that happens, all I can say about it is that it’s an enjoyable yet noticeably flawed thriller that’s worth seeing in the theater. Of course, like many other Marvel films, there’s a bonus scene after the credits, so make sure you stick around for that.