Black Widow Movie Review
Death stops no one, at least in the MCU. Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow for one last adventure (maybe?) in this somewhat more grounded prequel to Avengers: Infinity Game, where she died via sacrifice at a mystical cliff on a faraway planet called Vormir.
This one is set in Russia.
Despite being one of the most commercially sellable stars in the world and playing the only female Avenger since she was introduced as “a piece of ass” (her words, not mine) in Iron Man 2, Black Widow was the only major MCU character to not receive her own introductory movie.
Well, unless you count Hawkeye, and who counts Hawkeye? (he get his own Disney+ series soon)
Anyway, after appearing in more than a few movies now, it seems a little late for a movie to introduce Black Widow’s backstory (oh, and she’s dead), even though she arguably has one of the more interesting and mysterious backgrounds of any of the Avengers. But here we are, and all things considered director Cate Shortland and Eric Pearson do a pretty fine job tying past to near-present, returning us to Natasha Romanoff’s childhood (as the daughter of a Soviet sleeper cell in the U.S.) and then forcing her to reunite with her “parents” (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz). The dynamic makes for some complex relationships and daddy/mommy issues, which prove to be more fascinating than the action set pieces that are inevitably put on display.
Perhaps due to the fact that previous Marvel movies have always toyed with but never bothered to directly address who the hell Black Widow is, she’s always played a bit of a side character, even when she has played a central role in the action. What’s fascinating is that even in a movie where she gets top billing, Black Widow, and Johansson, get upstaged by her supporting colleagues. While Weisz is underutilized, Harbour flexes his flabby muscles to great effect. Whether it’s kicking ass or going for laughs, Harbour steals nearly every scene he’s in.
Except there is Florence Pugh, who operates at an entirely different plane of existence than anyone else. Quite possibly Johansson’s replacement in the MCU (and the main reason this movie exists, other than to make a billion dollars?), Pugh injects some much needed ferocity into the film, and her Black-Widow-esque character.
Johansson dons her character with ease, but there is a degree of complacency—perhaps more rooted to the writing than the actress—that permeates throughout the movie.
On the topic of complacency, Black Widow runs well in line with other Marvel movies that have come before it. While the introduction of a Russian family and all of their amusingly contradictory dynamics make for a charming first half, the second half tows the familiar line drawn by super-producer Kevin Fiege. The third act is a massive action spectacle of physics-defying (and sometimes eye-rolling) stunts that isn’t nearly as compelling as the rest of the movie, though people looking for Marvel fun and not much more (there are apparently one or two out there) won’t complain.
With the more “personal” story at play here, Black Widow had the opportunity to lean on a more sophisticated and very human villain, but Ray Winstone, as a Russian oligarch/spy master, is given little to do and unfortunately can be filed in the gallery of Marvel’s growing list of instantly forgettable bad guys. The less we say about Taskmaster's seemingly sinister and speechless villain, the better (ok... is he this generic in the comics?).
Black Widow delivers on the Marvel promise, giving audiences an entertaining, fast-paced experience with a visual effects-laden finale of explosions and people punching each other. But the best stuff comes early—even the early escape sequence, minimal effects involved, is more thrilling than the bigger, much more expensive climax. And after Endgame, and Black Widow's death, it all feels a bit inconsequential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.