July 12, 2021
$29.99 Disney+ Premier Access;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material.
Stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenie, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko.
The 24th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon finally puts the focus on Black Widow, the enigmatic member of the Avengers whose primary character arc has been seeking redemption for past misdeeds from her life as a Russian spy and assassin.
The film is mostly set in between the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, when Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run after betraying Black Panther during the feud between Iron Man and Captain America that shattered the Avengers superhero team.
We also learn more about Natasha’s backstory, thanks to an opening flashback to her youth when she was posing as the daughter for a family of Russian sleeper agents in Ohio. When the mission ends, she and her “sister” Yelena are sent to the Red Room, a secret Russian program that has been re-conditioning young girls into deadly secret agents for decades.
Natasha believes she destroyed the Red Room when she defected from Russia, but soon learns from the adult Yelena (Florence Pugh) that not only does it still exist, but it has refined its methods for brainwashing its army of girls. Yelena has come across a chemical that can restore their free will, but is now on the run herself, pursued by the Taskmaster, the Terminator-esque enforcer of the Red Room.
To stop the Red Room once and for all, Natasha and Yelena must recruit their former “parents” (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz) for an explosive family reunion.
In both style and story, Black Widow positions itself as a sequel to Civil War and a spinoff of the “Captain America” movies. Director Cate Shortland takes a lot of cues from how the Russo Brothers established the espionage thriller tone of their corner of the franchise in both Civil War and 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier.
While Black Widow has a wealth of comic book source material to draw from, it plays less like a superhero movie and more like a female-centric homage to James Bond, with story points and action sequences that seem directly inspired by the long-running spy franchise (aside from opening sequence that is more in line with “The Americans”).
This seems to have set off a divide among online fans. A number of comic book fans have been complaining about unfulfilled expectations about adapting the comics lore. Meanwhile, those who might not be as familiar with the comic books and are fans because of the movie side of things are more likely to see this as a fun action thriller, though it’s hard to deny it resorts to some narrative shortcuts in its final act.
Johansson does a nice job fleshing out a character mostly relegated to a supporting role before now, but the MVP of the film is Pugh, whose Yelena character is now well established to carry forward in the MCU.
Be warned, though. This being the new era of MCU on Disney+ means that viewing the Disney+ Marvel shows will give a better appreciation of how the post-credits scene pushes the new phase of the MCU forward.