“Black Widow” is directed Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore) and stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character in her first solo movie after appearing in various MCU films since 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” Also joining Johansson is Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Fighting with My Family), David Harbour (Suicide Squad, Hellboy) O-T Fagbenie (Maxxx, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), William Hurt (Into the Wild, A History of Violence), Ray Winstone (Point Break, Beowulf), and Rachel Weisz (Denial, The Favourite). This film follows the Avenger Black Widow as she confronts a conspiracy tied to her past. The film follows her on the run not only for her life, but she’s also fleeing from her mistakes, and is set between the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Sorry to use the cliché phrase, but it’s finally arrived! I’ve wanted to see a “Black Widow” solo film ever since the early 2010s. Not only is she one of the standout characters of the MCU, but of all the characters that started in this universe as part of the supporting cast, I think Black Widow is arguably the one who I wanted to see more of compared to any other. Hawkeye? Who cares? Granted, I thought he was a shining star in “Avengers: Endgame,” but early on in the MCU, I thought he was the least compelling of all the hero characters. There are times in “Iron Man 2” where I honestly think Scarlett Johansson shines more as an action star than even Robert Downey Jr., the film’s lead. Naturally, when they first announced that a “Black Widow” movie was happening, I was incredibly giddy. I thought it was a solid way to get to know more about a character who has displayed some spotlight over the years, but never took all of it for herself.
I will admit, the first trailer, while good, left me a tad uneasy by the end because those who saw it may remember the big action sequence in the end where the laws of physics are those of Middle Earth times five. In fact, I will say, that sequence was fun and worth the ticket price for the big screen experience, but it is also something that comes off like a video game. Now, video games over the past number of years have become experiential to the tenth degree, and so have our movies, but this movie by the end of it throws a middle finger to reality just for the sake of looking cool. Granted, it’s the MCU, which has a lot of fantastical elements. But this is something I would expect more out of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie as opposed to a movie like “Black Widow” where in comparison, it is a bit more grounded. However, this brings me to my next notion.
First off, I liked “Black Widow.” It was a fun time and I do recommend it to fans of the character, Marvel, and even general moviegoers who have not dipped their toes into the MCU all that much. If you cannot leave your house for whatever reason, by all means check the movie out on Disney+. It is worth $29.99 on top of your subscription fee, but I am sure if you watch it, you’ll have a decent time. If you want an experience, check this thing out in theaters! One of the big trends that has been going on in Hollywood and movie fandom is the desire or building up of anticipation for people to get back to the cinema. We’ve seen films like “A Quiet Place Part II,” which was good, alongside “F9: The Fast Saga,” which was bad, do that already. Both films have performed decently at the box office and evidence suggests that “Black Widow” has come out of the gate stronger than both of these films. Cinematically, “Black Widow” reminded me of the “Mission: Impossible” movies. Spies gone wild with crazy action sequences that for the most part are well choreographed.
The best part of the “Black Widow” movie is not even the action itself, which is one of the first things I think of when it comes to Marvel. Many of the universe’s films including “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Ant-Man,” and “Avengers: Infinity War” come packed with some of most memorable action scenes of the past decade. In the case of “Black Widow,” the best part is arguably the family dynamic between Romanoff and the people from whom she has distanced since her younger years. Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh have near perfect chemistry and they felt interlinked like little cogs in a clock in every other scene. I think Rachel Weisz was an interesting choice to play Natasha’s mother, and the execution pleased me. Although the best part of Natasha’s family has to be David Harbour as Alexei, also known as Red Guardian. Every other utterance from Harbour in this film is candy to the ears. Harbour is perfectly cast and as of right now, I do not think I can imagine anyone else taking this role from him.
I think we are at the point in the MCU where characters who have had less spotlight are getting their chance to put themselves in the driver’s seat. We’re obviously talking about Black Widow in her solo movie, but the Disney+ shows have revealed what happens when you let characters like Wanda Maximoff and Bucky Barnes take the wheel. I have no idea if there will be an end date for the MCU, but I would love to see a Red Guardian solo film at some point. Make it happen, Disney. He is probably my favorite supporting character of the film, and I love David Harbour’s portrayal of said character.
But let’s not take anything away from the star of the show, Scarlett Johansson. I have loved her iteration of Black Widow since I had a first glance in “Iron Man 2.” While we do get elements of Johansson’s past performances as the iconic character, this movie did a really good job at taking a character who I liked, but I also acknowledge has barely been humanized. Part of the reason why I liked Black Widow as a character is that there was a balance between badassery and sensuality provided within what was written for her. But in actuality, I barely knew anything about her. The movies didn’t really need to explain much at the time, but we’ve gotten to a certain point where we know so much about everyone else who had the lens enhanced on them so much, that it was time for Black Widow to take a turn. This movie is a perfect evolution for this character with a backstory that falls in line with her identity and it still has that MCU craziness that people tend to seek nowadays. I contend to this day that Natasha Romanoff as a character is someone who I would want to date. I mean, it’s Scarlett Johansson. Come on. But the point is, the character for a long while is someone who I did not know everything about, but I’ve seen enough of her that would make me ask her questions about… Well, her. Having learned about her now, I might think her family is a little crazy, but nevertheless. I’m glad we got this movie. This gave me the chance to learn more about Natasha herself, and thankfully, even though this movie could have arguably been nothing more than a cash grab, the story feels neither flimsy or slapped together. Everything from start to finish makes sense and has a purpose in the movie. Well, everything except physics.
The MCU over the years has become known for its humor. In a lot of cases it works, but I will also say that movies like “Thor: The Dark World” tries hard to be funnier than it actually is. When it comes to humor, “Black Widow” lands somewhere in the middle, which works for the character at hand because when it comes to the MCU and humor, I have more or less put those two ideas together and linked people like Tony Stark or Peter Parker or Nick Fury. Natasha Romanoff usually came off as stern or serious, and this has honestly been one of her more defining traits as a character. In fact I’d say most of the humor in this movie, as possibly implied, comes from David Harbour in addition to say Florence Pugh. There’s also this fun segment of the film dedicated to Natasha’s signature pose, which I liked partially because it mocks the traditional idea that superheroes don’t just kick-ass, but they have a tendency to show off while doing so. That and maybe it is something for the action figures to show off. Think of the “Deadpool” “superhero landing” scene but it is described for more than just ten seconds of screen time.
Unfortunately however, one of the biggest deterrents of “Black Widow” is a common complaint people have had over the years through a number of MCU films, the antagonistic side in this film is underwhelming. Taskmaster was beyond disappointing! Taskmaster is very much a character with all style and quite frankly, nearly no substance whatsoever. The film seemingly tries to give substance to the character, I could see where they may have been going with it. But I could not even come close to caring about the character to begin with so when the time arrives that the movie tries to persuade me to care, I just shake my head. Taskmaster kind of reminds me of Darth Maul if you sucked all the coolness out of him. Because remember how in the “The Phantom Menace,” Darth Maul had very little dialogue? He barely did anything except wield a kick-ass double lightsaber and some cool tricks? Taskmaster is basically Maul if you went out of your way to make me snooze while I laid my eyes upon the character. Sure, Taskmaster has the Red Room, which sounded like it could have been interesting, but I guess this is why we can’t have nice things. I will say, Maul is not the worst MCU villain. That honor likely goes to Malekith from “Thor: The Dark World,” but wow! Taskmaster was one of the highlights of the film’s marketing and they bricked it!
At the same time though, one of the strengths of the MCU, even when the villain is not exactly menacing or compelling, is that the script takes as much time as it can to make you effectively care about the hero. When it comes to Natasha Romanoff, that is no exception. Part of this is established in the first ten to fifteen minutes where we see Black Widow as a kid. I feel like Black Widow as an adult has had this way about her where she always hid what she was thinking and some of, but not all, of her emotions. Seeing her as a kid not only provided a thrilling start to the film, but made me care about the character when we got to see her as an adult.
Although I want to address something that has been bothering me. I love the MCU, but I’ve had a number of concerns regarding it over the past number of years. I feel like one of my biggest concerns culminated with the recent release of all the Disney+ shows. Without going into spoilers, “Black Widow” seems to be starting a trend that I did not exactly expect to see as early as we did, where we apparently have setup in one of the Marvel movies for one of the TV shows. At least that’s the impression I got. I know in the TV shows there also seems to be setup for the movies, but keeping this in mind, it kind of concerns me because it takes me, a Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, and feel more like I am watching all of these films and TV shows as homework as opposed to reasons involving enjoyment. While I have no proof, my biggest concern for Marvel and Disney is that they will force me to watch the movies to understand the TV shows and watch the TV shows to understand the movies. “Black Widow” did not exactly support my concern 100%, but there is a scene in the film that enhanced it. I remember years ago I was talking about how Marvel would crank out two, three movies a year. I thought we would see a breaking point from that, but apparently the majority of them are at least good. Now I’m concerned between all the movies and TV shows we’re getting that we will see some sort of clog entering the MCU in terms of quality. Again, I could be underestimating Kevin Feige. I could be underestimating Marvel. I could be underestimating Disney. I could be underestimating all the directors. I could be underestimating all the writers. But at the same time, I believe I have a reason to be concerned. I will also state that this may be a “me problem.” I just like having one particular medium to follow in order to weave every story and moment together. This is why I like the fact that the DCEU movies have rarely crossed ties with any of DC’s TV shows. They’re two separate things with special identities that only they could associate with. Again, this may be a me problem, but if I were in charge of the MCU, part of me would want to come up with a “me solution.”
On that note, there is an end credit scene in “Black Widow.” This should not come as a surprise to MCU diehards. But nevertheless, if you’re watching this movie, stay for the credits.
In the end, “Black Widow” is a fine welcoming back to the realm of the MCU movies, but it comes with its flaws. Scarlett Johansson once again proves that she is a great pick to portray the Natasha Romanoff character. And speaking of which, I would say that her younger counterpart, Ever Anderson, may have a nice future of talent ahead of her. At the same time though, it feels like it covers many of the MCU’s basics but doesn’t do much of anything special with them. As much as I liked phase 2 in the MCU, it had quite a few villains that I did not fall in love with. Taskmaster feels like they are a villain that belongs in the phase 2 crowd. And again, I love the MCU, but part of me feels that it is becoming increasingly overwhelming and now that there seems to be an emphasis on tying the MCU movies and TV shows together, it is a cause for me to be concerned. Again, this is something that I cannot say is fully concerning me, it is something I’d have to wait and see as we move along. But nevertheless, I’m wondering if the MCU could potentially be hitting an unbreakable ceiling. I’m going to give “Black Widow” a 7/10.
“Black Widow” is now playing in theaters everywhere including IMAX and you can also catch the film on Disney+ with Premier Access for a $29.99 fee on top of your subscription.
Thanks for reading this review! Tomorrow, we venture to the weird waters of world’s end to fetch back witty Jack! Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” the third installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and the conclusion to Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy. I just watched the film on Sunday and I cannot wait to share my thoughts with you in my latest installment of the Scene Before exclusive review series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.”
As for new releases, this Sunday I will be going to watch “Space Jam: A New Legacy” so I will have a review up for the highly anticipated film next week as it releases in theaters and on HBO Max. I will admit, I was not a massive fan of the original “Space Jam.” I did not grow up with it, in fact I just watched it for the first time recently. Here’s hoping this sequel will be better. If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow either with an email or WordPress account! Also, be sure to like the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Black Widow?” What did you think about it? Or, what movie are you looking forward to most in the MCU’s phase 4? For me, it’s gotta be “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” The way things are looking, some serious s*it is probably about to go down. Let me know your pick down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!