It feels like rubbing salt in the wound by bringing Scarlett Johansson back into the MCU after her dramatic and devastating departure in Avengers: Endgame (2019). But seeing her return as Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow, the role an entire generation will pin her to, in her own solo outing seems long overdue.
Director Cate Shortland’s Black Widow fills in the gap between Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Romanoff is on the run from the authorities after the pact is broken between the Avengers. Her life of temporary solitude is interrupted when she is reunited with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), whom she hasn’t been in contact with for some years.
Yelena comes to Natasha to help dig up their past and track down someone Natasha was sure she killed some years ago. Dreykov (Ray Winstone) is the one responsible for Natasha and Yelena’s dark background and he has since brought himself back into the picture. The sisters with the help of their super soldier father Alexei/Red Guardian (David Harbour) and mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) seek for Dreykov and hope to put an end to his endangering experiments.
Within its opening title sequence you felt a different aura to Black Widow that you hadn’t with any prior MCU title. Partly due to the fact that whatever was to come, there was still no bringing Romanoff back. But its gritty and surprisingly dark opening sequence that depicted war and the recruitment of child soldiers, playing over a somber rendition of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, certainly felt like a huge step away from the fluffy, charming approach that has become tradition in the MCU.
Don’t get me wrong Black Widow is still very much in keeping with the MCU formula. Similar story beats, classic superhero set-pieces and the occasional perfectly timed quip. But much deeper than that is this Bourne/Mission Impossible-esque spy thriller packed with car chases, explosive action sequences and enough twists and turns to keep you invested in its story (even if some of them you could see coming from a mile away).
If nothing else Black Widow is ambitious, and with the release of the WandaVision and Loki series on Disney+ it seems that Kevin Feige (Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment) is steering towards something far different than what we’ve been served up for the past ten years. Those shows combined with this grittier take on the superhero caper put a refreshing spin on the proverbial superhero story.
Having Scarlett Johansson back in her role is a welcoming treat. Especially given that this has been sat in the ready to release room for over a year thanks to a certain global pandemic. She comes back with that alluring charm and badassery like she never even left to begin with. With her being front and centre for the first time pays off in a big way for her character and ultimately her send off.
With the inclusion of Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Little Woman) and David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy) in particular, the future of the MCU looks to be going into safe hands as the baton drastically changes hands going into Phase 4 of the franchise.
When it isn’t digging deeper into the darker areas of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow still unapologetically radiates goofy comic stereotypical energy when it wants to, especially in the final third of the movie. Harbour in particular looks like he’s enjoying himself which is something I’ve always valued from the actor and his turn as the Red Guardian is the breath of fresh air this film otherwise lacks.
It surprised me how imperfect many of the effects are given how long they’ve had to fix them. This isn’t something uncommon when so much of what we see in these movie’s are done in front of a green screen, but with the budgets being thrown at them I expect cleaner looking results.
Black Widow falls somewhere in the middle for me in terms of how I see the rest of the franchise. It offers some spark of originality, but is let down by the overly clichéd similarities not only in the superhero genre, by the spy genre as well. We have great talent in front of screen unfortunately donning some unintentionally terrible Russian accents (with ironically not a single Russian in sight). Two villains that never fully reached their potential, one of which seems unsubstantial given what our hero’s have been going up against over the years.
If you are a fan of the franchise thus far and are keen to get back into the swing of things with this latest phase, then Black Widow is worth investing your time into. I would highly recommend getting to the cinema to watch for the full experience as apposed to its Disney+ Premier Access release, which comes with a hefty price tag. Black Widow may not have completely been worth its year long wait, but it’s still a rewarding entry that allows its lead star to finally reach her full potential in the franchise.