Synopsis: Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha Romanoff must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O.T. Fagbenle, Rachel Weisz, William Hurt, Ray Winstone
Director: Cate Shortland
Running Length: 133 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: In the year we’ve had to wait since Black Widow was supposed to debut, I’ve occasionally caught wind of a think piece or two (oh, how I love a think piece by another wise Marvel fan or general fuddy duddy) that has blasted the movie for being “too little, too late”. Too little, too late for what? We live in a world where we make full billion-dollar trilogies that later serve as prequels to sequels that are themselves sequels to their own prequels. I think we can allow a superhero or two to come back from the dead so they can tell their origin story. If I have to sit through countless tales of how Batman got his cowl and Superman got his cape, I believe I’ve earned the right to know how Black Widow developed her love of changing up her hairstyles.
At times, over the years that Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story) has played Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, I will find myself wondering what the character and even the whole Avengers make-up would have been like had Emily Blunt stayed with the role as originally cast. Hilariously, it was Blunt’s commitment to the far over-schedule 2009 Jack Black ‘classic’ Gulliver’s Travels which led to her stepping down from the part when it was introduced in Iron Man 2, paving the way for Johansson to take it on. The rest is history and now Johansson is set for life with all the residuals she’ll receive for her efforts. Part of that deal was, I’m sure, this stand-alone film that was never quite the priority until now and I’m actually glad it came out when it did. Now, Black Widow isn’t just seen as a filler film while audiences wait for the next Avengers adventure, and it doesn’t have to be a connector (at least a major one) to anything currently cooking in the Marvel Universe.
Right off the bat audiences are going to be able to tell that director Cate Shortland and screenwriters Jac Schaeffer, Eric Pearson, & Ned Benson don’t have a traditional Marvel movie in mind. Far more along the lines of a James Bond-ian espionage thriller for the majority of its running length, the Marvel-ness of it all doesn’t truly come into play until the final act when we get a major dose of the heroism that has come to define this franchise up through today. That accomplishes two things in my book. There’s a little something thrown in for those fans who miss their Marvel friends and have been waiting for more high stakes action (though The Falcon and The Winter Soldier on Disney+ had a fair amount of it) and it gives Johansson a stand-alone film that has a style all its own. A superlative plus is the addition of two (or two and a half possibly) new characters that amp up the fun.
An opening prologue introduces us to young Natasha and her “sister” Yelena as well as her “parents” Alexei (David Harbour, Hellboy) and Melina (Rachel Weisz, Oz the Great and Powerful) while they are posing as an American family in the mid ‘90s. After their mission goes south, the group is separated and it’s only after the events of Captain America: Civil War twenty years later when Natasha is a fugitive from the government that she is put on a collision course with her past. Reuniting with the now-grown Yelena (an fantastic and energetic Florence Pugh, Little Women), another in a long line of Black Widows, the two have some old business to work through first and their physical and verbal sparring is one of the first highlights Shortland capitalizes on. Showing Natasha and Yelena as immovable forces pursuing each other, the interplay between the two is captured with a fresh style and played to the hilt by both actresses.
Eventually breaking out Alexei from a maximum-security prison (another gigantic and impressive sequence), the two Black Widows now have an aging former father figure to deal with, one that served as Russia’s version of Captain America: the Red Guardian. Though offing mugging to the extreme back of the theater, Harbour has a good time with this role and when he’s not trying to fit into his old suit, he’s finding some nice ways to connect with Pugh to quash a few fake-father/fake-daughter issues. This all leads to finding mom who may just have the key to how a vengeful assassin (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace) has been tracking them down and also how to save numerous Black Widows out in the field from a maniacal villain (Ray Winstone, Cats) that is controlling their every move.
I’ll admit, it’s hard to watch the film and not have that one scene in the Avengers: Endgame (you know the scene) in the forefront your mind. Yet it doesn’t render this movie pointless nor even gives it a feeling of remoteness in relation to the action that’s taking place in front of you. Black Widow is exactly what it sets out to be, a summer blockbuster stand-alone utilizing an existing character from a proven franchise. The popular character has been given a breakneck outing that has its own style that separates it from others, but still has enough of the Avengers DNA (and that welcome final credit scene…stay for it) to link it to what has come before.