In a Disney+, money hungry multiverse, where Marvel Studios are hammering us with new shows and content on a weekly basis since Christmas (just think of WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and now Loki) , it’s fair to say that MCU movies were a rare pleasure during the pandemic. After literally two years since the movie wrapped production, Black Widow finally hit theatres and Disney+ Early Access on July 9th, with the intention of giving the character of Natasha Romanov (aka Black Widow) the send-off she deserved. This film was pushed back so many times it might have been one of the greatest victims of the pandemic among blockbuster movies. Does it live to its expectations? Well, sort of…
Two years after Avengers: Endgame, this is a journey into the past, at a time where Black Widow was in-between missions for the Avengers and focusing on her other family…meaning we get to venture to Mother Russia! Directed by Cate Shortland, a newcomer in the Marvel Universe, this is the story Black Widow never got…but all too late.
The MCU timeline can be confusing, so let’s start with the simple fact that Black Widow takes place between the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Nastaha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson, competent as always as the Widow) is trying the evade S.H.I.E.L.D and the American government following her involvement in the escape of Captain America and the Winter Soldier, who were branded ‘enemies of the nation’. She is laying low in the mountains, until a friend from the past comes knocking: her Russian sister Yelena (Florence Pugh, she steals the show in each scene). Although not a sister by blood, she managed to escape the Black Widow program like her sister before her, which turned orphan women into killing machines and spies for the Soviet Union. Trying to convince Natasha to rejoin the fight, they’ll need to put an end to the evil program and its founder, a Russian master manipulator named Dreykov (Ray Winstone, with a weird Russian accent), as well as his agile henchman: The Taskmaster (this robot-soldier is powerful enough to mimic his adversary’s moves during combat). In order to find Dreykov’s base of operations, ‘The Red Room’, they’ll need the support of their old ‘fake’ family of Russian spies, namely the Red Guardian (David Harbour, very funny) and their mother figure Melina (Rachel Weisz).
This is where the cold war espionnage era of James Bond meets the Avengers, but better to consider it as a spy movie rather than a superhero film. Funny enough, huge fans of the 007 franchise will notice unmistakable references to a vintage Roger Moore adventure: Moonraker.
As soon as the opening credits roll, we know this a women’s movie as an excellent female cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana plays loudly. Before jumping into anything, SPOILER ALERT, the very existence of this movie feels a little awkward, considering that Natasha Romanov died on a strange planet while searching for the Infinity Stones during the events of Avengers: Endgame. This is a film about a character whose fate is already determined, so nothing can really happen to her during said events. With that idea in mind before the film starts, the emotional impact we have with her is not as powerful. Also, while very good in the part, Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal here is mostly defined through her physical agility for combat, as her Black Window becomes more and more stoic.
As a superhero/spy movie, the action could have been better executed, considering that fight scenes went under big editing and cross-cutting. We cut from one scene to another while characters are fighting, leaving us missing on all the action. This is flagrant when the Red Guardian comes face to face with Taskmaster in the third act. That being said, hand-to-hand combat scenes and gun fights are actually more rare in this film than other previous entries, so the damage is not so important.
Although the movie is overall competent from a narrative perspective, there are two things that make it entertaining: Florence Pugh and David Harbour. Both actors do an incredible job at being entertaining and stealing the show from Scarlett Johansson, making their jokes and struggles both efficient and heartfelt. The character and adult moments, reuniting all these characters together after a few decades, show great chemistry between the actors.
Another thing the movie struggles with a little is tone. As a film that was mostly ordered by fans who felt that the character of Black Widow never had her moment to shine compared to her male colleagues (which is true), it is searching for its own identity and confuses itself between gags and serious taboos. There are a few scenes in particular where we should definitely feel bad when characters reveal horrors from their past, but the line is delivered as a joke to make it a lighter conversation (it’s a Disney movie after all). There is a specific scene in a helicopter where Yelena and Alexei discuss a horrible contraceptive operation on young women of the Black Widow program, but the line delivery is made to make us laugh…which makes it awkward. This happens a few times during the film, namely when Natasha confronts her nemesis in the concluding chapter; there’s something to do with ‘male hormones’ (you’ll know what I mean).
This was an ideal opportunity to counter-attack for the poor treatment the female leads had in the MCU, but it’s fair to say they didn’t made use of it as they should have. That being said, there is a massive difference between the hypersexualized version of Black Widow we first had in Iron Man 2 (2010) and the more realistic and human side of her we have now (see below).
Overall, Black Widow is worth our money to MCU fans, but better solo entries were produced in the past for sure; movies like Black Panther, Iron Man (2008) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) were better executed than this one. Yes, Natasha Romanov finally had her farewall, but it’s not as powerful as we might have liked. Will we see Scarlett Johansson in future MCU projects? Unclear…but we never know.
*Stay for the postcredit scene, there will be references to future Marvel projects including Florence Pugh’s character!
Now in theatres and available on Disney+ through Premier Access.
MY GRADE: 7/10