Friday, July 9

Black Widow Review

Black Widow

Dir: Cate Shortland

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, and O.T. Fagbenle

2 hr 13 min


In the Marvel Universe, we've seen a teenage web-slinger, an ancient god with a mythic hammer, a millionaire with a technologically advanced suit of armor, and a super-soldier whose strength and speed are beyond any other human. Finding a normal human amidst these superhumans is always interesting, especially one that can hold its own without gamma-ray modification, radioactive spider bite powers, or advanced machinery. 


Natasha Romanoff, alternatively known as Black Widow, is a talented spy and deadly assassin. She was trained from childhood in a top-secret Russian training program known as the "Red Room," a program that takes young women and turns them into elite assassins known as "Black Widows." She eventually abandoned the group and joined The Avengers. Natasha is one of those humans who stands toe-to-toe with superheroes, often using her cunning intelligence and lethal hand-to-hand combat skills to match the super abilities of her counterparts. 


Natasha's story within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a sad one. Often her character was relegated to simplistic supportive roles where she was primarily used as a feminine object. The lone female in a group of men would show up to save one of the other characters with her spy skills, calm the Hulk with a lullaby, or fly the Avengers plane from one adventure to another. This all led to her ultimate sacrifice in 2018's "Avengers: Endgame," a moment for the character that could have been monumental for her complete story but ultimately felt tone-deaf within the story. 


Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland, provides the back story for Natasha. It explores her childhood within a deep operative spy family living in America, the dark roots of her training program with the Red Room, and minor character pieces that provide context for her role as an Avenger. The introduction is interesting and exciting, but the push to stay within the formula crafted by the Marvel Cinematic Universe eventually overshadows the exciting parts that begin this story. 


 The film begins with a young Natasha (Ever Anderson) living in a small town. Her mother (Rachel Weisz) sets the table for dinner with her younger sister Yelena (Violet McGraw). Natasha's father (David Harbour) returns from work; he looks distracted upon arrival and then nervous once a mysterious phone call disrupts dinner. The family immediately abandons their home, driving aggressively through their quaint town while streets close around them with the sight of flashing lights. Quickly, they are followed by people shooting guns and narrowly escape. Natasha's family is revealed as a Russian spy operation, immediately after running this mission, the family is separated, and Natasha and her sister are sent away. 


In these initial moments, Black Widow interestingly establishes its story, showing a group of trained spies trying to detach from the emotions that compose a family. The kids do a great job of interacting with the adults in these early scenes. Their emotion for the family is felt deeply, while the adults have grown to view these interactions, and this family, as a mission. 


Black Widow transitions into adulthood for Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), now an Avenger and international superstar of sorts, and Yelena (Florence Pugh), now with a mind-controlling group of assassins. Scarlett Johansson has played this role many times. Yet, provided with her own singular story aside from the supporting role provided in other films, Johansson shines throughout this film. Add Florence Pugh, who is excellent in everything she does, and the chemistry between the two assassins is humorous and heartfelt. Pugh wholly owns the role of Yelena; whether mocking her sister's combat moves or taking control of her emotions during a family dinner, she is a great addition. 


Black Widow works great until it feels the need to push the Marvel formulaic measures into the forefront. Once the dynamic family story ends and the human element for these characters turns into a story about global control using mind-altered assassins under the management of a bad guy named Dreykov (Ray Winstone), who ultimately doesn't work for the story, the film crumbles apart. And when the story falls out of the sky in a blaze of flames, the abandoned potential to make a compelling story for this overlooked Marvel character turns to ashes. 


The cast and a few of the early action scenes, which stay in the realm of spy film espionage action, provide Black Widow with enough entertainment to keep things interesting. Still, it's hard not to imagine something better for Marvel's Black Widow.  


Monte's Rating

2.50 out of 5.00

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