Directed By Cate Shortland
Starring – Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour
The Plot – At birth the Black Widow “aka Natasha Romanova” (Johansson) is given to the KGB, which grooms her to become its ultimate operative. When the U.S.S.R. breaks up, the government tries to kill her as the action moves to present-day New York, where she is a freelance operative.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some adult language and thematic material
– Perfect casting. Aside from the impeccable work from Johansson eliciting the heart and resiliency of Romanoff once more, it’s the work of the supporting cast that effectively steals the show for me, supplanting no shortage of intriguing dynamics that colorfully illustrate the resentment and uneasiness within this family’s tortured pasts. Pugh’s arrival is certainly most enriching in her debut to the MCU, bringing professionalism and never-ending depth to a balance of accent consistency and physical versatility that transform her once more in a career of eclectic ranges and personalities. Harbour and Rachel Weisz are equally enchanting as the quirky parents of this badass sisterly duo, with the former supplying the muscle, and the latter supplying the brains, in what is easily the most dysfunctional family put to screen in this cinematic universe. They both compliment each other extraordinarily, all the while maintaining the ambiguity of their respective characters that forces us the audience to interpret their actions and sincerities in the same manner their grown up girls do in the second act of their family union.
– Thrilling action. I’m not embellishing even in the slightest when I say “Black Widow” has some of the most ambitious action set pieces that I have seen from Marvel in quite sometime. Part of it is in the designs themselves, sifting through a variety in scheme and scope that keep any of them from ever even remotely repeating, but there’s also much to be credited to the enthralling cinematography from Gabriel Beristain, which flourishes with a series of immersive movements of the lens that gauges the gravity without compromising the clarity. In fact, there was never a single solitary scene where I struggled in my detection of the movements, despite a subdued shaky-cam embodiment that constantly moved in and around the platforms that were quite literally springing at us in three-dimensional ferocity. On top of it all, the fight choreography is uniquely unlike anything in the MCU, harvesting a consistency for crispness that speaks volumes to the kind of lifelong training that its characters endured as spies, all the while unloading with riveting intensity that preserved more stakes and vulnerability in a single solitary hit than most superhero movies are typically privy to.
– Intimate scope. As to where the past few Marvel films have a resounding worldwide impact with their respective conflicts, it’s nice to see “Black Widow” spring for an angle that is entirely personal to the story it is trying to tell. That’s not to say that it deduces the stakes that colorfully hang in the balance continuously, just that its narrative is driven by the attachment in feelings that its protagonists have to the unraveling narrative, in turn carving out more revelations about the titular character than any Marvel movie previously have been able to establish. Once in a while, it’s nice to return to these regional scales, especially considering we’re still only two years removed from the epic that was “Avengers: Endgame”. Doing so not only helps to begin the build for the next arc in Phase four, but also plays into the stripped down appeal of its two word title, providing a world with enough urgency and vulnerability because of its distant proximity from any other Avenger to enhance the odds in Natasha’s favor.
– Tonal shifts. To my absolute delight, “Black Widow” is a darker Marvel movie than we’ve typically grown to expect from this universe. From the opening fifteen minutes of the movie conveying the tragedy and lost innocence of these two girls, to the sombering sedation of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” being covered overhead during an impactful opening credit sequence, everything encased resonates itself in a world far from superheroes and ensuing hope, illustrating the claustrophobic tension with a semblance of factual social commentary from our own world that articulates the bigger picture within these moves of destiny from world leaders. Not all is stuff, however, as the script is privy to these pocketed moments of comic levity, which intentionally open themselves up more the longer the family opens themselves up to each other. For my money, nothing feels conflicting or disjointed to the integrity of the world previously established, especially considering Natasha and company stand as the beaming ray of hope in a world where the despair is quite literally so thick that it often requires cutting it with a knife.
– Feminist impact. Female-led superhero films are unfortunately a rarity in cinematic history, but “Black Widow” feels like the first that unabashedly succeeds at the notion by doing everything right that the previous installments did wrong. For one thing, it refuses to be overtly heavy-handed on its themes and commentary, like “Captain Marvel” did in shamefully conjuring up No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” during one of its many insufferable action sequences. It also measures the defining features of feminism, like resiliency, compassion, and fearlessness that it incorporates within some truly inspirational instances that don’t feel hollow because of the way they materialize. It results in an overall experience that the ladies in the audience can feel proud and compelled by, and one that refuses to waste precious screen time tearing down masculinity in ways that don’t necessarily benefit the storytelling.
– Stylishly sleek. Similar to the way “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” commanded a new generation of spy-thriller captivity, “Black Widow” too brings with it a barrage of notably influential instances that pays dividends to its substantial identity. Aside from the obvious traits, like identity manipulation and opening credits with a roaring musical number, there’s a couple of instances involving flashback storytelling that satisfyingly feed into the boundaries of deception, complete with even fooling the audience in ways that they weren’t previously privy towards. On top of this, the editing itself is constructed cleverly in a simultaneously unpredictable manner, deviating between abrupt cuts and fadeaway’s that serve as a faithful homage to the James Bond films of the 70’s and 80’s that I grew up appreciating. It distinguishes itself with a visual flare that very few other Marvel or superhero films concern themselves with, and completely immerses us in the espionage world in a way we can practically touch in every shot.
– Audible intensity. Musical composer Lorne Balfe is putting in hours lately, with this being the third score that I’ve heard from him in the last four weeks. Granted, “Black Widow” has been delayed for over a year, but with the combination of choir hymns and organ dominated encompassing, channeling a distinct Russian musical flavor, it’s clear that the heralded composer has saved his best work for last in his respective offering’s. These compositions instill so much emphasis and underlining tension to the action sequences they accommodate, mixed with a blaring volume that perseveres intently without annoying the tenderness of my audible senses. Considering Balfe is the same man who worked handedly with Hans Zimmer to craft the mesmerizing score in 2008’s “The Dark Knight”, his work on “Black Widow” exudes the kind of personality and heritage most prominently conveyed in the titular character, and cements why action and music is perhaps the most beautiful marriage in all of cinema.
– Weak villain. One of those problems that a majority of MCU movies can’t escape, and one that is unfortunately prominent in this film is the mishandling of its monumental antagonist that would be better suited not being involved in this film at all. I say that candidly because not only is the Taskmaster brutally underdeveloped and practically absent away from scenes not involving physical confrontation, but this character deviates dramatically in expectations in a way that I can’t imagine many people will enjoy if they understand the magnitude of this prestigious villain. On top of all of this, Taskmaster isn’t even the primary antagonist in this movie, and is instead exchanged for another adversary that isn’t the least intimidating or remotely compelling in the same manner that Taskmaster frankly should’ve been. It brings back these unflattering feelings of how The Mandarin was used in “Iron Man 3”, and leaves me once again unimpressed by who I feel is the most pivotal factor in a superhero film.
– Where it fits. As far as continuity is concerned, there’s definitely some issues with the little things, like character likenesses to previous films, to bigger things with its almost inconsequential emphasis with when this movie was released versus when it should’ve been. Considering this film takes place between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War”, it’s very much a film that builds very little for the future, and instead rewinds to a past where everything has been solved, and there’s no semblance of registering uncertainty hanging in the balance for future installments. For a first step in the next phase, it’s a little hard to believe why or how this sets movements in motion for the next slate of films, especially considering the post credits scene caters more towards a Disney Plus show instead of a following cinematic chapter. “Black Widow” is definitely a film that dropped a couple years too late, and it shows in nearly every example of non-existential momentum that often feels like a movie that we already know the ending to.
– Third act convolution. The climax of this movie is sloppily rendered to say the least. Whether in the abundance of subplots that it clumsily stitches together toward resolution, or the alienation of the intimate story device in favor for a boisterously off-the-rails confrontation, the final half hour of this movie are definitely the weakness, and one that nearly knocked the wheels off of this mostly smooth ride. Considering this is an MCU movie, it’s normal to expect a big blow-off with the movie’s resolving moments, but I felt like the pacing and direction steered away a majority of the momentum during this sequence, especially considering the complete lack of vulnerability is constantly present in some questionable character movements. On top of it all, the final chapter in Natasha’s saga feels overshadowed by the emergence of Yelena, and what she means to the next chapter of the MCU, which in turn raise questions of where exactly this character was during the world-turning events of Thanos, especially considering her sister is a member of the team tasked to resolve it. For my money, the first two acts of this movie are a really intriguing spy thriller, but the third act is an example of DC-level resolution that is every bit overzealous as it is clumsy at stitching the pieces together.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-