Directed by: Cate Shortland
After waiting years for a Black Widow solo film, and even longer due to the COVID-19-delayed release, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally delivered what the fans have wanted, and wow, was it worth the wait. Starring Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson, the standalone film explores the woman behind the façade, Natasha Romanoff: a lethally trained assassin, an Avenger, and most significantly as we learn in this film, a sister.
The plot begins with a flashback introduction as most MCU films do, giving the audience a glimpse into who Natasha was at a young age, as she and her “family” attempt to live a normal domestic life in Ohio. By the way, “family” will remain in quotations for the duration of this review in order to avoid spoilers at all costs! As the film jumps into its general narrative, and I use general lightly, since no MCU narrative is ever general or much less simple, we discover that Natasha and her younger sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh) were forced into a dangerous Widow program where young girls are brainwashed into being assassins and spies with little to no control of their own minds. Later, in the “present-day” realm of the story, “sisters” Natasha and Yelena, who are now estranged acquaintances to say the very least, reunite and team up with their also disconnected “parents,” Alexei aka “Red Guardian” (David Harbour) and Melina aka “Iron Maiden” (Rachel Weisz) to take down Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the Russian sociopath and mastermind behind the Widow program.
In terms of time periods, this film supposedly takes place right after the Avengers’ “rough patch” as Tony Stark would call it, following the final face-off in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). Now, I cannot stress this enough: You have to watch these films in order. However, if you are not a Marvel fan but want to become one, or are perhaps starting your journey through the films from the beginning, then I personally suggest watching everything in order until “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: End Game.” Before you watch these two final installments of the Avengers era of the franchise, watch “Black Widow,” then watch these. Again, I cannot spoil anything for this film, but if you are not caught up with the installments, this film is going to go way over your head.
The cast of this film delivers performances beyond expectations, which are obviously high since it is a Marvel film. Johansson, who is always extremely talented, especially in this fan-beloved role, gives an emotionally charged performance that is both powerful and defenseless at the same time. Audiences get to see her guard let down throughout, giving a more than deserved purpose to this character who has been a mystery throughout the franchise prior to now. There is, of course, the usual Marvel wit that is delivered by total little sister character played by Florence Pugh, who first appeared on Hollywood’s radar last year with her Oscar-nominated performance as Amy March in “Little Women” (2019). The sisterhood theme is by far the most prominent one in the movie, so the dissimilarity between the two sisters keeps their important relationship balanced. Another instant fan-favorite is the audacious Alexei, or “Red Guardian” who is almost as big a parody superhero as Deadpool. David Harbour is known for these kinds of emblematic Dad roles like his beloved one as Hopper in “Stranger Things” (2016-present). But, audiences see an even lighter side of the actor in this film and Harbour makes the audience both love and hate the character, which most of the time, is the best kind. Between the humor throughout the film carried by Pugh and Harbour and the sometimes-somber urgency carried by Johansson and veteran powerhouse actress, Rachel Weiss, the actors create the perfect combination of emotions to propel the film from start to finish without losing its audience for even a minute.
I knew from the start that this film would be different from other Marvel installments seeing that most stand-alone ones are anyways. “Black Widow” 100% has to be the darkest Marvel film to date and although it is PG-13, the overall tone is eerie. What also sets it apart from its franchise is that it is primarily focused on Natasha Romanov instead of the superhero Black Widow. But wait, don’t write it off just yet: it still feels like a superhero film. Every MCU film, and every film in the superhero genre for that matter, tends to focus on humanizing the hero, stripping the characters down to what’s underneath the super suits. However, what I absolutely loved about “Black Widow” was how there was never really a superhero to humanize in the first place. Yes, she is a superhero and an Avenger, but Black Widow has been Natasha — a powerful, complex woman — all along.
The momentous familial theme is exactly what humanizes this film in the first place. Although there is a big mission in the storyline, as there always will be in the genre, “Black Widow” ultimately gives its audiences a story of two sisters involuntary trained to never accept an opportunity to be vulnerable, leading them through a life of stubborn loneliness until they can push aside their pride and learn how to be a real family.
All in all, the most important thing you can do before seeing this film is making sure you are refreshed and caught up with every storyline and timeline of the MCU. The franchise moves fast and is so complex that it makes one want to scream sometimes, but the complexity of its films and characters is what makes it such a special fandom to be a part of. Which reminds me, do not forget to stay for the post-credit scene for, they are always the most important part and this scene is no exception for a Marvel fan. “Black Widow” was well worth the wait and although it is different from your normal Blockbuster “Avengers” film, it is still an energetic superhero film with a beautiful storyline underneath all of the action. You won’t regret seeing this on a big screen, so go to your local theater instead of getting ripped off by a steep streaming price on Disney+. I give it a 9 out of 10 — it’s about time that we give Black Widow the screen time she deserves.