BLACK WIDOW (2021)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone
Story by: Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson
Written by: Eric Pearson
Directed by: Cate Shortland
It’s finally here!! 11 years after her introduction in Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff gets her own origin film with Black Widow. However, with Natasha Romanoff’s untimely end in Avengers: Endgame, it is interesting to see how they pull off her story. This film takes a character without a future and gives her a past while also commencing MCU’s phase 4!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has never really asked much of Natasha Romanoff and Scarlett Johansson, who plays her. Trained at a young age to be a KGB assassin (and doing so in the most impractical outfits), she was never really afforded the same importance among the Avengers throughout the years. Marvel’s former CEO even discontinued Black Widow merchandise from Avengers toy lines in 2014.
I always enjoyed Natasha Romanoff because she is as human as they come, unlike many of her Avenger counterparts. Not only in her power and skills but in her humanity towards others. While we only see glimpses, the relationships she forms with the Avengers are relatable, albeit sometimes with romantic undertones. We always knew there was more to Natasha but never really knew what. Black Widow offers us that inside look to a degree.
Black Widow takes place after Captain America: Civil War when the Avengers briefly break up and just before Avengers: Infinity War filling the blanks of Natasha’s whereabouts during this time. The plot centers around Natasha reuniting with her Russian family. Through her sister Yelena, aka the talented Florence Pugh, she learns the Red Room was not destroyed as previously thought. When the two women reunite, they greet each other with a standoff. Both trained to be contract killers since they were children; this is all they know. They duel it out in the kitchen of Natasha’s previous safe house in Budapest before finally coming together. Their mission is to prevent Dreykov (Ray Winstone) from chemically brainwashing and mind-controlling young girls. Upon doing so, he grooms them to be his personal assassins.
There is a great action scene that takes place in a Siberian prison. Natasha and Yelena bust out their father figure, Alexei (David Harbour.) We learn he was previously the Red Guardian, a Russian version of Captain America, before Dreykov incarcerated him. We eventually meet mother figure Melina (Rachel Weisz), a more ambiguous character overall. She’s an important asset to the family unit and packs a punch. Both stand out in their roles, especially Harbour.
While Black Widow is packed with action, I wouldn’t call it an action film. It’s a story about found family and finding your place of belonging and that’s where this film is really strong. The characters, especially Natasha and Yelena, try to take back their lives and carve out emotions where they were once manipulated and told never to feel any. The film pokes fun at itself and the prior handling of Black Widow in the earlier phases. Yelena takes a jab at Natasha, calling her “not one of the big ones” in the Avengers group. She snarks, “I doubt the god from space has to take an Ibuprofen after a fight.” which offers a good laugh.
Florence Pugh’s Yelena really steals the spotlight throughout the film with her sardonic quips and badass action scenes. Her comedic timing is just divine, and her performance stands out in every scene she’s in. Black Widow seems to share screen time between her and Natasha, foreshadowing what may come of Yelena after Natasha’s demise in phase 4.
Where the film struggles are the lack of stakes it gives the viewer. We already know what happens to Natasha past this, so all the scenes where we would otherwise worry for her wellbeing seem moot. The film does serve us a satisfying smashing the patriarchy moment in the end! It also provides us with a more vulnerable, heartwarming, and human side to Black Widow. One who wonders about her birth mother or what her life could have been if she grew up with a real family unit and one who knows the entire dialogue of Moonranker by heart! (While Roger Moore is the best James Bond, in my opinion, this isn’t his best film.)
While I wouldn’t call Black Widow one of MCU’s best, I still enjoyed the wild ride! Johansson and Pugh’s chemistry as a sister duo is worth a watch alone, and like any Marvel movie, you’re promised a good time! I’d love a chance to see this movie on the big screen for a bigger punch as well. While it shouldn’t have taken 11 years for Black Widow to get her own standalone movie, I feel Marvel finally did right by her and her fans with this one. Make sure to not miss out on the post-credit scene either!
Black Widow launches simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9, 2021.