Movie Review: ‘Black Widow’

Director: Cate Shortland

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz

Plot: Following the division of The Avengers following the Civil War conflict, Black Widow returns to her roots to confront old enemies.

Review: This feels like a very strange movie to be opening the high-anticipated Phase Four of the MCU. The Infinity Saga closed out with Endgame and Spider-Man on an international trip fighting elementals. Now we’re opening up with a much lower-key spy thriller focusing on a character who is canonically dead. This feels like it should have been seen before now, with the feeling compounded by the delayed opening due to the pandemic. A stand-alone Black Widow movie to flesh out her character and backstory has been in high-demand since the first The Avengers movie, and this feels like it’s late to the party. It could be argued that it’s a reset from the cosmic time battles of the previous films, but the being a jump backwards in continuity defeats that purpose.

Now, time to remove this movie’s place in a giant multi-media franchise and look at how well it succeeds in telling this story.

At this point the producers holding the reigns of the series have got a formula locked down, and in this case there isn’t a great deal of variation from their standard. All the special effects and scope of the action a highly polished. The fight choreography is creative and fast paced. The banter is equally quick and they’re past the point of explaining all the back story, working on the assumption that no-one is diving into the series for the first time here. The strength of the movie comes from pairing the well-established character of Natasha Romanov (Johansson) with an awkward family unit of equally skilled assassins and heroes. The idea that they were agents assigned to pose as a family, and they have to work out what they mean to each other, is an excellent idea to built Black Widow’s story on.

Having gone to ground following her actions during Civil War, Black Widow is drawn to Budapest by her ‘sister’, Yelena Belova (Pugh). It’s here that Natasha discovers that the Red Room that indoctrinated her as a child is still operating and using mind-control operatives to manipulate world events from the shadows. They’ll need to find and eliminate their former master Dreykov (Winstone) and his most dangerous operative, Taskmaster (Kurylenko). Natasha thought Dreykov dead when she targeted him and his family to prove her loyalty to SHIELD, leaving this dark chapter of her life open. As part of their new mission Natasha and Yelena must track their ‘parents’, former Soviet hero Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian (Harbour) and former Black Widow Melina Vostokov (Weisz).

It’s easy to feel a bit fatigued with the Marvel formula, but the dynamic between these characters keeps the story ticking along. Their relationships were built on subterfuge and loyalty to their masters, except for Yelena who was unaware that her family was staged. There’s some serious baggage for them all to unpack before they’re able to work together, and the nature of their work means they’re never going to be able to completely trust each other. It’s a very good way to break down Natasha’s character and give some more meaning to her interactions with the other Avengers over the course of the franchise.

We’re continue to be big fans of the series, and we love the direction they’re taking things in the mind-bending TV shows that are filling out the world. Whilst this is a rad adventure to close out Black Widow’s story, it doesn’t feel like the launching point for the grand, new story to take us into the future. Tonights Loki finale seems to be filling that role for us. Big reveal right there. We’d also like it if there was more Taskmaster than we saw in the trailers. More that that dude.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN