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Black Widow

Black Widow

Movie
Director(s): 
In Theatres: 
Jul 09, 2021
Grade:
C
Running Time: 
134 minutes

It’s wild to think that it’s been two entire years since we’ve had a new film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s even wilder that it’s taken this long for Marvel Studios to make a standalone Black Widow film after being introduced to her over 11 years ago in Iron Man 2. With most Avengers already getting their own film right out of the gate, it’s been long overdue for Black Widow (let’s not talk about Hawkeye). At long last we finally have a central story revolving around assassin turned Avenger Natasha Romanoff, but following her death in Avengers: Endgame it all feels too little, too late. Despite your standard Marvel action set piece and a colorful cast of characters, Black Widow feels of little consequence, delivering a story that has written itself into a corner with nowhere to go.

 

Taking place immediately following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff is on the run from General Ross (William Hurt) after violating the Sokovia Accords. While in hiding, she is contacted by her estranged sister and fellow assassin Yelena (Florence Pugh), who reveals to her that the Black Widow program is still very much active and that she did not in fact kill Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the man in charge who is now running a new Red Room to produce an army of mind-controlled Black Widows to do his bidding around the globe. Determined to finish her original mission once and for all, Natasha reluctantly returns to those from her past life to learn the location of the Red Room and kill Dreykov for good, all the while being pursued by the relentless Taskmaster, a soldier with the ability to mimic the fighting style of anyone they see.

 

The main problem with Black Widow stems from the fact that Marvel Studios has already delivered a completed arch for the character. That’s not to say there aren’t more of her stories to be told, it just makes telling them all the more difficult because they need to serve her character in a way that brings clarity to her past because her sacrifice in Endgame is a definite ending point. There’s only so much character development you can do when audiences have already seen how it all ends. And that is why Natasha is more of a driving force for the other characters around her, despite this being her standalone film. Even with her name in the title, the spotlight is constantly on someone else.

 

The good news is that those other characters are quite enjoyable to watch. Black Widow is as much a family drama as it is an action thriller. Before she joined the Avengers, Natasha was part of a Russian sleeper unit living in the United States along with Yelena. Their surrogate father was Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) aka the Red Guardian, the Russian counterpart to Captain America. He’s a super soldier with immense strength who fought for the Soviet Union back in his glory days, although prison has turned him into a shell of his former self. Then there’s her mother figure, Melina (Rachel Weisz), a Black Widow spy who’s intelligence and scientific findings helped Dreykov utilize the Red Room program to its full potential. Suffice to say their family is about as dysfunctional as they come.

 

Natasha has a disdain for everything from her past and what they did to her, while Alexei looks back at it with pride. David Harbour delivers a hilarious performance, capturing the whole father figure quite well. His intentions are innocent, despite being oblivious to the damage he’s done on both Natasha and Yelena. Florence Pugh is fantastic as well and is actually the best thing about Black Widow. Yelena is smart, strong, and quick with the quips. Most of the best scenes of the film involve her. And that’s not without good reason, too.

 

For better and for worse, the MCU is all about the connections, whether it’s bringing back characters we’ve seen before or setting up new characters for future films or now series thanks to Disney+. No MCU film truly stands alone, and Black Widow is no exception. The problem with Black Widow is that it does the bare minimum to deliver a cohesive and entertaining story with little payoff, other than the fact that yes, there will still be some things that factor into upcoming stories. Rather than tell an exciting and thrilling story about one of the best spies and assassins in the world, Black Widow is merely a stepping stone film that fills in a few blanks that weren’t really there to begin with.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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