Review – Black Widow (2021)
Run Time: 2hrs 14mins
Directed by: Cate Shortland
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Written by: Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer & Ned Benson
Release Date: July 8th 2021
Prduction company: Marvel Studios
So, after countless delays from a certain world-changing event in 2020, (No not the Snap the other one) ‘Black Widow’ was finally released to a fairly positive public reception reportedly making $158 million at the global box office and earning $60 million on Disney Plus worldwide. However, although it has made bank at the box office and broke records, critical success does not always indicate fan praise. So, the real question is, ‘Is this a Good Film?’ Or is it too little too late for everyone’s favourite Russian Super-Spy?
In this review, I am going to break down what I believe to be some of the key points of the film, which means and say it with me now, Spoilers ahead!
Black Widow: Opening
Well, I’ll be completely honest, yes this is a great film. Is it perfect, Well no, very few films are in the eyes of the ravenous Marvel fandom. Now before you go clicking off this review to go back to scrolling through social media, let me tell you why this is one of the best Solo MCU outings in recent years, despite some of its flaws.
‘Black Widow’ starts in 1995 where we see a happy family in a suburban neighbourhood in Ohio. All is not as it seems however as it turns out that the family are a Soviet sleeper cell comprised of The Red Guardian, Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and their surrogate daughters Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson/Ever Gabo Anderson) and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh/Violet McGraw). When their mission to steal S.H.I.E.L.D. intel is complete, the family escapes to Cuba and rendezvous with their boss, General Dreykov (Ray Winston), who has Romanoff and Belova taken to the Red Room for training.
This is where we get a phenomenal opening sequence set to a haunting cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that splices through the events of Natasha life after being taken to the Red Room, showing her involvement in several recent Political events and how prominent Ray Winstons, General Dreykov has been in recent history, being pictured with a bunch of world leaders through the years. This opening sequence allows the viewer to understand how Natasha was manipulated into, committing several war crimes and how many of the other ‘Widows’ were also by extension trafficked and controlled showing a very poignant look at the idea of modern slavery. This is also a great touch by Marvel to acknowledge that Black Widow was a cold-blooded Killer with plenty of Red in her ledger before redeeming herself into a hero, which is one of the key themes in the film.
From this point, we fast forward to 2016, just after the events of Civil War where Natasha finds herself on the run from the US government going into hiding from General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt). Meanwhile, Yelena is currently still a Black Widow, being controlled by Nanites and being forced to hunt down those who are attempting to, Spoiler, Break all the ‘Widows’ free from their programming.
This is one of the first flaws the film has in my opinion as although Yelena has red in her ledger as a ‘Widow’ due to her being controlled with nanites against her will it feels slightly less impactful than Natasha’s ‘earned’ red, that came because of her consciously making the choice to commit murder as a Black Widow. Yelena is then broken out of her programming by her target being sprayed in the face by an antidote to her mind control, leading to a heartbreakingly amazingly acted scene by Florence Pugh shown through her facial expressions and physical acting.
Black Widow: Family Matters
The characters in this film are all honestly endearing and charming, with the idea of them being one big family unit, emphasising a lot of the humorous moments to great effect. The dynamic of Scarlet Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz as a dysfunctional family is fantastic as Pugh and Harbour especially show off their comedic chops to cut through some of the darker subjects in the film. Pugh especially uses her humour to darkly poke fun at how as a ‘Widow’ she cannot have children due to having a forced hysterectomy which is surprisingly dark for an MCU film.
In terms of acting ability, each individual shines through with some convincing Russian accents from Harbour and Weisz with Pugh especially knocking it out of the park with her accent. The only person who fails to nail the voice is Ray Winston who due to his native cockney accent does sound like a cartoonish bond villain, which although not great does actually serve to emphasise his innate cheesiness as this looming figure with over-amplified Russian Traits.
Black Widow: The Villains
As the film progresses, we are slowly introduced to more characters in Natasha’s life as well as events in her past including the infamous Budapest event mentioned by Nathasha and Hawkeye all the way back in the first Avengers film. This event plays a key part in this film as well, as it turns out to defect to S.H.I.E.L.D Natasha had to assassinate General Dreykov, however, she caught Dreykov’s Daughter as Collateral Damage in the crossfire, an act that haunts her through the film.
It turns out however neither Dreykov nor his daughter were killed and in turn are the main antagonists for the film with Dreykov planning on releasing thousands of Nanite brainwashed ‘Widows’ onto the planet tapping into what he describes as “A natural resource the world has too much of.” Girls. Although this feels like a slightly heavy-handed metaphor for ‘Girl Power’ and female empowerment, this illustrates a juxtaposition of the ideas of Women being treated like garbage for hundreds of years meaning they are underestimated by a patriarchal society and thus the perfect weapons.
However, this idea of female empowerment does not excuse one of the weakest parts of the film, (aside from Ray Winston’s dodgy Russian Accent that is) the character of Taskmaster. Originally the character of Tony Masters in the Comics, ‘Black Widow’s’ Villain is General Dreykov’s daughter, Antonia who has been turned into a super assassin who uses a microchip in her neck and a visor that helps her mimic the fighting styles of several of the MCU’s most iconic characters including Black Panther, Captain America, and Hawkeye.
My issue with this character is that she is underutilized through the film as actress Olga Kurylenko steals every scene she is in as an imposing figure who looks like she could easily kill any one of our main characters. When she is eventually broken out of her programming by the end of the film the few lines, she has are very impactful and convey the idea of a character who has been broken by years of brainwashing.
Black Widow: Action Sequences
Okay so of course there are several high-octane action sequences in the film including several very well-choreographed fight sequences for Scarlet Johansen and Florence Pugh that show how deadly in close combat the ‘Widows’ actually are. David Harbour also has his moment to shine as Red Guardian having a climactic fight to stall time against Taskmaster that feels like a brutish and impactful fight, which makes a change from the CGI Lazer snooze fests associated with certain MCU properties.
However, with all these well-choreographed fight scenes there comes the as above-mentioned CGI-heavy sequences. These sequences are high octane and fast-paced with explosions galore including the decimation of a Siberian Prison and the destruction of the ‘cloud city’ style floating Red Room at the film’s climax. These scenes are fairly decent affairs where most of the time it feels like there are stakes to the fate of the main protagonists of the film. You will see I said most of the time as within the action sequences lies one major problem. Natasha Romanoff. Because this film is a prequel to the Events of Infinite War and Endgame, we know that she won’t die thus taking out any sort of tension to any of her ‘near death’ scenes. Overall, however, the action scenes in this film are great and emphasise the fighting prowess of the ‘Widows’ and their brutality.
Overall, I think that ‘Black Widow’ is a smashing success of a film. Not the perfect MCU film by any stretch of the Imagination or for that matter the perfect Cold War Spy film in the MCU for that matter (In my opinion that belongs to ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’). The action sequences are varied in their impact, with the boots on the ground fight scenes being much more impactful than the collapsing buildings and explosions we are used to seeing in most Marvel outings.
It’s a great film that does a great job of expanding the Black Widow Mythos and giving the character the solo film, she has deserved after all this time. In turn, this also serves as a great send-off for Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff and a great introduction to what looks like Pugh’s rendition of the character as teased by the post-credit stinger.
The scene features Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, offering Yelena a chance to kill the man who murdered her sister, Clint Barton. This matches up with recent reports that Pugh will be appearing in the upcoming Hawkeye series, set to debut later this year. The Post credit stinger in my opinion serves as icing on the cake for the entire film emphasising how important Yelena will be in the MCU going forward.
All photo credits belong to Marvel Studios.
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If you want a different take on ‘Black Widow’ check out Michael Lenox’s review of Black Widow HERE