Black Widow (2021)—Review

The thing about the theatrical experience I’ve missed most, is the electric excitement in the air amongst an auditorium packed full of fans. This feeling of overwhelming fellowship is a huge reason why I love going to see films on opening night, and after two long years Marvel films, the movies that exude this excitement most, are finally back! After multiple pandemic-related delays, Black Widow is finally releasing both in theaters (the way you should see this film) and as premier access on Disney+.

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow (2021). Via Marvel Studios and Disney

Black Widow follows Natasha (played by Scarlett Johansson) in-between the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) where she is on the run from General Ross (played by William Hurt) after she broke the Sokovia Accords by helping Captain America escape in Civil War. While in hiding, she has to confront the darkest parts of her ledger and embrace her broken, Soviet-spy family in order to put a stop to the program that turned her into an assassin.

Hollywood blockbuster action is finally back—the set pieces in this film are fantastic and this is probably some of the most brutal action in the Marvel films to date. On top of the incredible action, Marvel does what Marvel does best and infuses another genre in with their superhero formula. This film felt very Bourne-adjacent and the globetrotting spy genre fit seamlessly into the Marvel tonality. Speaking of tonality, this film has some really dark parts, particularly in the opening scene, that work really well with the origin of Black Widow and set the stage for the type of film this was going to be. I very much welcomed the darker aspects when they were introduced, but they were unfortunately, yet probably better for marketability to the Marvel family audience, glossed over after introduction and barely touched on again.

David Harbour in Black Widow (2021). Via Marvel Studios and Disney

By far the biggest highlight of this film is the family dynamic aspect. Being a Soviet spy, it would make sense that Black Widow would be in an assigned family, and the film’s exploration of the psychological aspects to that and the relationships between the family members is phenomenal. It’s even more elevated by the fantastic performances of the family members. Of course Scarlett Johansson does an incredible job returning as the titular hero and performs to the great success that Marvel fans have fallen in love with ever since her introduction in Iron Man 2 (2010). Oscar winning actress, Rachel Weisz, makes her MCU introduction as Melina/Iron Maiden who is Natasha’s “mother” and she plays the role with subtlety and it makes for an incredible dynamic between her Johansson, Florence Pugh and David Harbour. Pugh and Harbour were the standout stars in this film. Florence Pugh’s Yelena is a fantastic addition to the MCU as the Oscar nominated actress brings incredible heart and humor throughout the film and is the real heartbeat to the film’s emotional moments. On David Harbour, give me an Alexei/Red Guardian spin-off film immediately. Harbour’s Red Guardian steals every single scene he is in, and it’s one hundred percent due to Harbour’s incredible performance of the bloodthirsty, goofy Soviet knockoff of Captain America.

Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow (2021). Via Marvel Studios and Disney

It feels so good to be back to the Marvel film season, which is why I’m not completely sure if I enjoyed this film as much as I did because of its quality or because I was just happy to be back in a packed audience. Black Widow is very good, but with Marvel films, that’s the expectation, and Black Widow just met expectations, didn’t exceed them. The film has fantastic performances and pure blockbuster action set pieces, but what it was lacking was the depth that the top echelon of Marvel films have. On top of that, with this being a prequel and knowing Natasha’s fate in Avengers: Endgame (2019), the stakes were not there, particularly since the villains in this film are lackluster. Ray Winstone’s General Dreykov was very one-dimensional and, while he acted it amazingly, had some overly comic-booky dialogue that made him feel less of a threat and more of an afterthought. Then there is Taskmaster (the comic book villain that was advertised in the marketing). This film’s take on Taskmaster was a complete butchering of the character. The Taskmaster is one of the most recognizable, formidable, and beloved rogues in Marvel comics, and they took the character and added a twist (that wasn’t that surprising and was borderline predictable) that left the character feeling like a complete waste and an even bigger letdown than the Mandarin debacle in Iron Man 3 (2013).

Overall, I would rank Black Widow around the same tier as Ant-Man (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)—it is incredibly entertaining and a great time at the movies, but the lackluster villains and the shallow, straightforward plot failed to stack up against the complexity and depth of the Marvel fare we got pre-pandemic or even on Disney+. This did act as a great tribute/sendoff to the Black Widow character, who didn’t really get a good one after her death in Avengers: Endgame, and a great setup to the rest of the Black Widow family to continue on her legacy. If you haven’t been back to the movies yet, and you are vaccinated and safe to go, this is definitely a great popcorn, action flick to return for. The Marvel movies are back!!!

P.S.—Stay for the credits scene (and watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ if you haven’t already)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

7/10

Black Widow is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material.

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