‘Black Widow’ Review: An Exciting Espionage Thriller
After over a years delay, it’s finally here, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Spider-Man: Far From Home, which was released way back in July 2019.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, Disney has given the option to viewers to either see the film in cinemas or watch it in the comfort of their own home on Disney+ (for an additional charge). I’ve been mostly critical of this additional fee since we are already being charged a subscription to use the service, and while my mind remains the same, Black Widow is worth that extra fee. Although, I wish I could watch it on a big screen because this is very much a cinema film.
Black Widow sends us back to 2016, where after aiding the escape of Captain America and The Winter Soldier in Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff is on the run and keeping a low profile in Europe. But after an assassin tracks her down, Natasha is forced to revisit her past and reunite with the only family she had before the Avengers.
To avoid spoilers, that’s as much of the plot I’m going to talk about.
Scarlett Johansson reprises her role of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, where she has taken the wheel from her Avengers co-stars and steers ahead in what is her best performance in the franchise to date. Joining Johansson are franchise newcomers Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz, who each portray members of the surrogate family from her past. Some may disagree with me, but I found them far more entertaining than Natasha, especially when they come together and share family banter.
Florence Pugh plays Yelena Belova, Natasha’s surrogate sister whom she hasn’t seen in years. She’s intelligent, tactically efficient, and has a smart mouth that will make you laugh at Natasha’s expense. Not only does Pugh bring to life a new character, but she has helped create a new Black Widow that can stand apart from Natasha rather than being an extension of her. If Marvel chooses to promote Pugh to Johansson’s former Avengers position, and they should, she will be able to fit right in without being labelled as a simple copy of Natasha, but as a brand new character with the same codename.
David Harbour’s Alexei/The Red Guardian is Russia’s answer to Captain America. He is one of the closest characters this film has to a “traditional superhero” since he has super-serum enhanced abilities. Alexei raised Natasha and Yelena, he still sees himself as their father, and the screenwriters and Harbour have played on this by having him act as the comedy relief for most of the film – and it totally works. Harbour’s is also the only leading male character for most of the movie, and this makes for a great change of pace when you consider that Johansson was the token female Avenger in the earlier years of the MCU and flipping the switch to have a token male character in a film filled with women was a wonderful decision.
As a big fan of Rachel Weisz, I knew I would probably love her in this and lo and behold, I did. Weisz plays Melina Vostokoff, a seasoned Black Widow and Natasha’s surrogate mother. Melina is a strictly no-nonsense character and is cold in appearance but warm once you scratch the surface. These traits make her the perfect opposite to Harbour’s Alexei, and when paired together, they’ll make you wish that you too grew up with Russian spies for parents. Weisz hasn’t been in any major franchise films since The Mummy, but you would believe she’s been doing nothing but because she has slotted herself right into the action, and you can see that she had a lot of fun doing it. I’m really hopeful that this isn’t the last we see of her.
Black Widow will surprise many by the u-turn it takes because a lot of the time, it doesn’t even feel like a Marvel film. I would even go as far as to say that it doesn’t even feel like a superhero movie a lot of the time. By taking dashes of Bourne, a splash of Bond, a pinch of Hanna, with a sprinkle of their classic flair, Marvel has created a great film that can stand apart from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and if you enjoyed that then you will love Black Widow.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the closest comparison Black Widow has within the MCU, and it could be said that it was Marvel’s first step beyond the confines of a standard superhero flick. Where Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller, Black Widow is an espionage thriller through and through. This was such a welcome change that I’m hoping Marvel continues to make more non-conventional superhero films like this one.
You may also notice that this is the first film in the MCU (that I can think of) with opening titles. Set to a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the opening titles help envoke that espionage feel, which is clearly inspired by the traditional opening titles featured in James Bond and the US series, The Americans, which also follows Russian spies. In the future, I don’t think Marvel should continue with opening credits for every one of their films, but it certainly feels best suited for their spy characters.
This opening title comes straight after the epic prologue that features younger versions of our main characters. It was easily my favourite part of the movie because it set the film’s tone and plot up perfectly. Although the film may have kept my undivided attention for the first half, I did find that the second half strayed closer to the standard Marvel affair. I also didn’t like how things were becoming a little too convenient for Natasha and her family, but I still enjoyed it.
The film falters when it comes to the villain. As we know, the main villain is The Taskmaster, but advertising is a tad misleading because there is a whole host of villains, and The Taskmaster only makes fleeting appearances throughout the film. The main issue I had with the villains is that Marvel has returned to their standard formula of having the villains be equally matched with the heroes. They often do this by having them share the same abilities. The villains in Black Widow may not have the same abilities, but they’re close enough.
Adding on to the issue with the villains, The Taskmaster’s costume is just… not good, especially when you compare it to the versions the character has worn in the comics. And yes, comic accurate costumes aren’t always the best way to go, but this live-action version of The Taskmaster is essentially wearing a high-tech bikers suit.
There is also a scene in which Yelena speaks of her hysterectomy, a procedure done on all Black Widows against their will. I was surprised to see that Marvel would continue with this considering the controversy it caused in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and don’t be shocked if there is an uproar again because, in Black Widow, the procedure is mentioned as a way to embarrass the Red Guardian as well as get a laugh from the audience. But the scene comes across as awkward and insulting to women.
Watching this film, it’s easy to imagine what it could have been like if Disney just allowed Marvel to make an R-Rated film because with all the fantastic stunt work, plus the Russian spy aesthetic, this could have been their John Wick. Although, in doing so, they would obviously alienate a huge part of their fanbase. Maybe Twitter should get #ReleasetheRRatedBlackWidowCut trending?
After a nearly two-year absence, Marvel Studios has delivered another hit with Black Widow, a film that, thanks to the risks taken, both superhero and non-superhero fans will be able to enjoy together.