The year-long delay in Marvel’s “Black Widow” has an additional poignancy. It will finally end July 9th, when the film will be available in theaters and for a premium Disney+ charge. There’s an underlying sense that this story would feel a bit delayed in May 2020. Why did Iron Man, Captain America and Thor get three separate films before Natasha Romanoff? Black Widow felt neglected long before the pandemic. She was only allowed to continue her story in “Avengers: Endgame,” but Cate Shortland’s film confirms that she could have had her own movie ages ago. There is enough character, backstory, and intrigue to make this a series. Many movies set in 2021 feel different, but “Black Widow” feels like a preCOVID product. It’s a glimpse into the past of one of Marvel’s most beloved characters, and it’s better than ever.
The best parts of “Black Widow,” echo the 1970s spy movie tone from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (both director Shortland, and writer Eric Pearson, who are both MCU veterans) unabashedly draw from action and espionage greats. There are elements that echo “Mission: Impossible,” the “Manchurian Candidate,” as well as James Bond (a clip of 007 is even shown on a TV in the film). The film “Black Widow” blends all these spy-action legends into something that feels fresh and original. This is due to Shortland’s tight choreography and the great cast that includes Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz as well as Florence Pugh.
” F9″ might have the word “family” in their hands this season, but it’s also the main theme for “Black Widow.” Natasha Romanoff runs from one family and is forced back into the arms another. The film opens with an excerpt from “The Americans.” It’s revealed that Natasha, a young girl, and Yelena (played by Pugh as an adult), lived briefly in Ohio under the guidance of Alexei (Harbour), and Melina (Weisz). Although they appeared to be a normal family,’mom and ‘dad were actually Russian spies and the girls were being prepared for their induction into a super soldier program in the homeland. After an exciting opening, “Black Widow”‘s credits reveal that Natasha ( Ray Winstone ) and Yelena had been transformed from ordinary girls to killing machines. They were separated after Romanoff killed Dreykov ( Ray Winstone ), the head of the program and destroyed his Red Room. Or was she?
Jump to ” Captain America Civil War”, where Natasha is running from her government, underground for violating the Sokovia Accords. She is off the grid when Yelena sends her a package. Yelena has discovered a substance that frees the Widows of chemical subjugation and she is on her own forced exile. This package is a reversal in the super-soldier serum idea that drove projects like “The Falcon vs. the Winter Soldier.” While Bucky Barnes stories focused on vials which could turn ordinary men into killing machines and “Black Widow,” focuses on vials capable of turning killing machines back into normal women. Yelena, knowing that it will take her to Budapest, sends her sister a box of vials. They are able to free Alexei (aka The Red Guardian) from prison and reunite with Melina, the Black Widow.
“Black Widow” lacks a strong villain. New ads highlight the Taskmaster, an enemy that can imitate its enemies fighting skills. While those scenes are notable for their action, some parts of the film lack the urgency of a stronger enemy. Shortland is a master at keeping “Black Widow,” sleeker than many other MCU directors. This film is more focused than what we get from the MCU. It moves quickly from one action set piece, and only loses its momentum in a few scenes. These include an extended family reunion and a talkiest scene in history in the third Act. One almost wonders if Shortland or Pearson aren’t parodying Bond films with their legacy of monologuing evil guys. Although it’s not often in the MCU, the pace of “Black Widow” is a plus. It tells a simple story and has significantly less fat than many other superhero films. Although it makes sense for a no-nonsense killing machine such as Black Widow to have a non-nonsense installment, it’s great to see it actually happen.
There are plenty of opportunities to play with themes and diversions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some. “Black Widow” has a unique duality that will make it more interesting to return to this universe’s other projects. It deliberately echoes themes from covert government programs like “Winter Soldier,” which reveals that the Americans don’t have the market monopoly. This also intensifies Natasha’s struggle to be both a lonewolf and needing a group with whom she can run. Many people have written about how WandaVision made MCU projects more richer. There are elements in “Black Widow,” which should also do the same for Johannson’s past projects and for Pugh’s future projects. It is a standalone film that enhances other films.
Hardcore Romanoff fans may not like the attention Romanoff gives to her family, especially Yelena and Red Guardian, but they are both good enough to make no complaints. Harbour’s portrayal of Russia’s Captain America is clever. He finds the right mix of humor and bravado. Comparing Harbour’s performance in “No Sudden Move,” this week, reveals that Harbour has a considerable range for an actor who feels he’s at the end of a remarkable ten years of work. The film belongs to Pugh who reads every line in the project. Johannson is clearly trying to pass the baton to Pugh who will be appearing in Disney+’s “Hawkeye” in the same manner as Captain America’s shield passed from Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson. Pugh is more than ready for the challenge, finding the right blend of strength and vulnerability. It’s an outstanding MCU performance, and the film’s MVP.
The third act of this MCU film gets repetitive and cluttered. However, it recovers with a stunning final action sequence that sends characters & debris hurtling through space (a classic MCU sequence but Shortland’s choreography makes the scene feel more urgent). It’s a film that works on its terms. A long-delayed enrichment of the story of a beloved characters that will make her ultimate sacrifice for “Avengers: Endgame”, feels even more powerful in hindsight. Every blockbuster this Summer has been hailed as a sign of normalcy. “Black Widow” however is more a reminder about what fans loved before the world shifted.