REVIEW – Black Widow (2021)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is back on the big screen and the wait was most definitely worth it. The previously delayed Black Widow is an exhilarating spy-thriller-turned-superhero-flick that finally helps flesh out one of the OG movie Avengers and kicks off Phase 4 of the MCU in style.

Many will wonder and ask why a Black Widow solo movie took so long to get off the ground as well as why now? The simple answer is that a lot of behind the scenes shenanigans were responsible for a lot of missed opportunities. The outdated thinking by problematic CEO of Marvel Entertainment kept putting the kybosh on movies like Black Panther and Captain Marvel until Disney removed all creative control from him, separating Marvel Studios from Marvel Entertainment, and handed Kevin Feige the reigns (a much longer account thanks to former Disney CEO, Bob Iger, can be found here).

VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

While Black Widow may seem out of place, that concern quickly disappears from the opening action sequence. Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Natasha Romanoff is on the run for violating the Sokovia Accords and finds herself dragged back into her past, reuniting with her old “family” and tying up loose ends.

From go-to-wo this is both a solid action movie and character piece that delves into what makes Romanoff tick. While I was adamant I never needed to see running references like “Budapest” be recreated and dealt with in detail, this has been a great and unique way to handle an “origin story.” Despite the high-adrenaline action set pieces that invoke The Bourne Identity and crescendo into over-the-top superhero spectacle, it does take the time to slow down and focus on the characters.

Indeed one of my favourite parts of Black Widow is the ability to focus on the character interplay, something the MCU films do so well without making it too dour or dull. A lot of humanity for the somewhat larger-than-life characters come from these quieter moments as well as much of the humour. I particularly enjoyed the self-deprecating and self-critical moments including one of my personal favourite observations about the MCU version of Black Widow. Even the brand new characters have enough time and great moments to get a decent fleshing out where necessary. Some may feel a tad underdone but that just enhances either the mystery (for example, Taskmaster) or just how basic they are (i.e. the big villain) and serves the story.

All the performances are great even the minor characters like Mason (played by O-T Fagbenle) are portrayed charmingly enough in their trope-like forms. David Harbour’s Alexei/Red Guardian is obviously a highlight with his somewhat broad and overbearing Russian “dad” and Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff begs the question as to why she isn’t in more action movies? And while Scarlett Johansson is pretty much on par with her previous portrayals as Romanoff, there’s something a little extra here possibly thanks to the interactions with “little sister” Yelena played by Florence Pugh, who stands out because she plays it snarky almost as a distinct opposite to the always cool and stoic Natasha.

Speaking of past performances, of course there are call backs and references to previous MCU movies but the specific ones to Romanoff’s character are so well implemented they don’t feel forced and in fact keep the character consistent (without spoiling it there’s a moment that feels on par with “on your left” that Natasha is known for that made me giggle with delight).

As I said, it’s a great way to handle an “origin story” without going over the same supposedly tired tropes. In keeping with the spy-thriller nature it’s almost an origin story in disguise. It doesn’t play with “end of the world” scenarios but the end of her world I guess or a major part of it and that’s more than enough motivation needed to keep the audience invested. With its place in the timeline I think I may have noticed only one continuity error or inconsistency but that is easily explained away to not really matter.

My only nitpick would be that there wasn’t enough to certain things. Even at over 2 hours there was a lot crammed into this movie but it still felt as if some moments were missing. Not enough of the “family” interactions, not enough of seeing how the villains operate (really trying not to spoil it), not enough of the Taskmaster being an unstoppable “Terminator”. I’m happy to concede these are more personal preferences rather than anything wrong with the movie but what we did end up with is still highly enjoyable.

While I have positive things to say about the feminism of this movie, it’s probably not my place to critique it in any depth. However I will point out that the main villain is portrayed that simply and basically because it serves the allegory perfectly. And there is a matter-of-fact moment regarding women’s biology that will make the men squirm but it’s also a somewhat necessary “deal with it” reference and reminder about the “Red Room” and just biology in general. I think it’s all great.

The heaviest topic it deals with (opening credits) is managed in such a way that some may feel is a cop out but one needs to keep in mind how broad the audience is for a film like this. I think that managing to depict it at all is somewhat bold.

This film was originally meant to be released in the middle of 2020 but was obviously delayed due to the global pandemic. That delay may have done it some good in the wake of Endgame as fans needed time to recuperate as well as allow the Disney+ shows a moment to shine, which they have. And although there is a tiny thread that connects this film to one of those shows, the order in which you see them is immaterial.

Black Widow continues the Marvel Studios formula in creating great and compelling stories that are not only exciting but also have characters you can care about. While it may not break the mould it does offer a great transition between Phase 3 and 4 reminding fans of what you love about these films and potentially setting up the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A fantastic and heroic send off for one of the original movie Avengers.

I saw this in the cinema but I am tempted to pay the premium fee just to watch it again on Disney+ I enjoyed it that much. In any case (and you know my penchant for physical media), this is an immediate blu-ray purchase for me.



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