Black Widow (2021)
Director: Cate Shortland
Writers: Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, and Ned Benson
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz
Plot: While on the run after the events of Civil War, Natasha is contacted by members of her former spy family to finish a job she thought was in her past.
Review: First of all, let me say how fantastic it felt to be back in a crowded theater for the big screen premiere of the newest MCU movie. It’s been two years since that happened and I didn’t realize exactly how much I missed it. Second, I’d like to admit that I was wrong. While I was, of course, intrigued by Black Widow as a massive MCU fan, my hype level honestly wasn’t that high. With her already out of the picture and it looking relatively low stakes, I thought it was just another filler Marvel movie. Or worse, a mandatory one. Like, it almost felt they didn’t really want to make a Black Widow movie but thought they had to. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because this is an important, fun, action packed entry that I feel ranks right up there with Marvel’s best.
In fact, my only real complaint about this movie is that we are getting it now. Natasha has deserved a movie for years. She’s been an established core member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a decade now. Also, there were several times where I thought about how much more impactful everything would’ve been had this movie come out where it’s set in the timeline. I think this movie would’ve benefited. There’s inherently less drama involved with a prequel. But, I also think Natasha’s arc in Endgame would’ve been richer had we known this happened to her a few years prior. Her already devastating arc could’ve been upgraded to one of the more emotional moments in a movie packed full of them. Not to mention that the average moviegoer doesn’t keep track of timelines and/or canon. Even though Black Widow goes out of it’s way to explain where it fits, you know people are still going to be confused.
But, the logic of the release date aside, this is a damn near perfect showing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While she’s always been a fan favorite in her supporting role in other people’s movies, this is really Scarlett Johansson’s time to shine as Black Widow. At this point, she’s got the character down so well. She’s this tough as nails, broken woman with a tragic past that also manages to be the heart and soul of every team she’s on. And the story is one that could only be told with her as the central character. Through getting to know her over this past decade, we’ve learned about her past and it was nice to sort of see the gaps filled in, while also attempting to provide herself with closure. It’s truly a terrific character and one that will be missed going forward. Even if it’s a tad late, I’m glad Marvel gave Scarlett this last chance to shine in this role.
I do have to say though. As good as she was, Scarlett was dangerously close to having losing the headliner spot to her co-stars. Because, as is Marvel tradition with a new franchise, we’re introduced to a whole new batch of characters. Here that takes the form of Natasha’s family… or at least the closest thing she has to it. And, oh my god, these are all such amazing additions to the lore. First off, there’s Melina, the mother figure who is also one of the more elite, strict spies in Russia but also has a bit of a soft spot for her “girls.” Rachel Weisz kills it here with her deadpan sense of humor. Nothing she says is inherently funny, but she got quite a few laughs out of me with her delivery. Then, there’s the always terrific David Harbour as Red Guardian. Though he’s often quick to compare himself to Captain America, he’s more like the Russian version of Mr. Incredible. He’s a very rude, self centered man, but also very emotional, caring man. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. But, the absolute scene stealer had to be Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, aka the other Black Widow. This is absolutely an instant classic MCU character. She’s so good here. Yelena is Natasha’s “sister,” who went through all of the same hardships as her sibling but never got the opportunity to leave. So, not only is she a damaged, tortured killing machine, but she’s also got to live in her sister’s shadow. As you can imagine, this leads to a very resentful, sarcastic person. She’s insanely badass. She fights just as well, if not better than Natasha. She’s always making incredibly inappropriate dark jokes about sensitive topics. But, she is also incredibly fragile. She’s not afraid to get a bit emotional. Honestly, I’d say she has some of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the entire MCU without having to rely on your connections to the previous movies. This could be your first Marvel movie and you’d fall just in love with her as someone who’s seen all 24. Actually, I’d almost say that about this entire group. They’re so good. They alone make this top tier Marvel.
And, of course, this movie has all of the staples of the Marvel Cinematic Universe you’ve come to know and love. There are huge set pieces (though obviously don’t expect anything like 30 main characters fighting over a gauntlet). The action is fantastically choreographed. It didn’t feel like they were just going to the legs wrapped around the head thing that Black Widow seems to do in every movie. More screen time gave her more of a chance to change it up. Likewise, Taskmaster’s ability to mimic any fighting style was cool to see represented on screen. I very much enjoyed noticing all of the little details that they’ve stolen from our previously established heroes. In fact, I’d say these are some of the best fight scenes in Marvel. It definitely felt more brutal. There are some bodily injuries here that definitely push the boundaries of that PG-13. It’s also incredibly funny. I laughed just as much at this movie as I did something like Ant-Man, which is surprising. And, of course, it wouldn’t be the MCU without winks and nods to other projects both already past and upcoming, which I obviously won’t give away here. Let’s just say that the end credit scene has me PUMPED.
Overall, I was really surprised by Black Widow. As I said, I wasn’t expecting much and I walked away with it being one of my favorite entries. I can’t wait to experience it over and over again in the coming years. Because these characters are worth spending time with and this is the perfect swan song for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. She’ll for sure be missed, but I hope we see a lot more of these new characters in the future. But, yeah, go see Black Widow. It’s a lot of fun. It’s funny. And, perhaps most surprisingly, it’s very, very touching.
TL;DR: Black Widow is one of Marvel’s best with a perfect combination of action, comedy and heart.
Score: 10/10 (Masterpiece)