by @holocronGeorge for @mar_tesseract
11 years and 8 movies later, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow finally gets a much deserved solo outing as Phase Four finally kicks off. It’s unfortunate, however, that the film, while bolstered by great supporting performances, falls short of delivering a journey worthy of the long-standing MCU character. Set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widows follows Natasha Romanoff on the run from authorities after her violation of the Sokovia Accords. Natasha’s attempts to remain in the shadows, however, are thwarted when she has to team up with her sister to defeat an enemy from the past.
From beginning to end, Black Widow struggles to justify its existence beyond righting the wrong that was sidelining Johansson’s character for so long. This isn’t to say that every project in the MCU needs to have great relevance and implications for subsequent stories, but Black Widow feels more like a filler installment of a long-running TV series than anything the MCU has done to date. But, how inconsequential the film is could be ignored if it was an enthralling and self-sufficient tale on its own, which, for the most part, it is not.
Black Widow felt like the perfect opportunity to give Scarlett Johansson’s character the attention and recognition she deserves after playing significant, yet largely understated, roles in previous MCU films. Johansson herself has spoken negatively of the over-sexualized version of the character in Iron Man 2 and attempts to really grow her character (i.e. the possible romance between Nat and Bruce) often fell short. But. fans eager to immerse themselves in a deep and profound examination of Natasha will likely leave this film disappointed. Black Widow provides somewhat interesting details about Nat’s upbringing, her family, and the infamous mission in Budapest, but falls short in offering much else to her character. Despite the personal stakes for Nat, her involvement in the film’s central plot feels rather passive. The film is called Black Widow and yet it’s more a film about the secret organization of Black Widows rather than the character herself.
Black Widow excels when it focuses on the family dynamics of Nat and her mother, father, and sister figures. The film is immediately captivating as it opens up like an episode of The Americans with surprising emotional depth and a terrific action sequence on a runway. After an incredibly choppy first act largely devoid of any family focus, Black Widow eventually shifts its focus back to its most interesting elements. Florence Pugh’s Yelena makes her debut and virtually steals the show from there on out. After impressive performances in Midsommar, Fighting with my Family, and Little Women, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Pugh is such an exciting addition to the MCU. Also superb here is David Harbour, masterfully taking on the role of Red Guardian. The Soviet Union’s counterpart to Captain America has some of the film’s best one-liners and, with Pugh, easily delivers the film’s most touching moments. It’s with these touching moments that Black Widow impresses – it’s just unfortunate that more of them do not focus on Nat. Rachel Weisz’s character Milena, on the other hand, feels rushed and out of place. Very little information is provided about her motives and backstory, making it difficult to really care about her journey at all.
Black Widow’s antagonists also leave much to be desired. A miscast Ray Winstone plays General Dreykov, the leader of the Red Room and a villain that is absent for almost the entire duration of the film. This leaves much of the villainous work to Taskmaster, whose introduction is haunting and superb. However, over the course of the film, Taskmaster’s intrigue and threat diminishes and the third act reveals simply don’t pay off.
Black Widow is extremely watchable, entertaining, and humorous, but Scarlett Johansson’s character deserved more in her first and only solo outing. While the film’s spy elements work and the performances of Harbour and Pugh were captivating, Black Widow tells a choppily paced and low-stakes story lacking the emotional impact we wanted to see.
Images courtesy of Disney+ and Marvel Studios