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Review: Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow (2021)

Directed by: Cate Shortland

Premise: A solo story for the Avengers character Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Natasha/Black Widow reunites with her adoptive family of Russian agents to expose an assassin program.

What Works: Black Widow is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but most of the movie plays less like a superhero film and more like a spy thriller. There’s an echo of James Bond and especially Jason Bourne throughout this movie. The tone is appropriate for the title character and it gives Black Widow a feel that is distinct from the other entries in the MCU. This film is the final piece of Natasha Romanoff’s story and it’s an effective capstone. As originally introduced in Iron Man 2, Natasha was a one-dimensional figure and a sidekick to the main Avengers lineup. As the series progressed, Natasha came forward and emerged as a full character. Black Widow explores issues that have been hinted at throughout the other films, namely Natasha’s search for home and family and deriving from that meaning and identity. Those themes are handled well in Black Widow. It’s revealed that as a child she was planted in America alongside other Russian agents posing as a middleclass family and when their operation was over the family broke up. This story is about that family getting back together. Florence Pugh plays Yelena Belova, Natasha’s sister and a super assassin in her own right. Natasha and Yelena have an authentic sisterly rapport. David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are cast as parental figures Alexei and Melina and together they form a dysfunctional family. The domestic portions of Black Widow are consistently the film’s best moments. The movie is also a feminist statement about the plight of women and girls. The filmmakers don’t contort the story to shoehorn a political agenda into the movie; the point is woven organically into the drama and enhances the storytelling by lending the film additional gravitas.

What Doesn’t: The villain of Black Widow is Russian spymaster Dreykov, played by Ray Winstone. He’s a potentially interesting character but the film doesn’t do anything with him. Dreykov doesn’t come into direct conflict with Natasha and her family until the end. He’s offscreen for much of the movie and the filmmakers don’t work up to his reveal. The way Dreykov’s operation fits into the overall Avengers story world is unclear. It’s uncertain if he is sponsored by a state government or if Dreykov is running an independent operation that is the Russian equivalent of the Avengers. The action of Black Widow is generally exciting but it is also mostly average, especially the climax which plays as a familiar, digital effects heavy set piece. The choreography of the fight scenes is occasionally hard to follow, as the punches and tosses become a flurry of action.

Bottom Line: Black Widow is one of the better Marvel Avengers films. The action of the movie is mostly average but it has a level of characterization and human warmth beyond what we usually find in this kind of movie. It’s a fitting send off for the title character and sets up promising new stories.

Episode: #860 (July 18, 2021)