After 11 years and eight films starring as Natasha Romanoff, Scarlett Johansson finally headlines her own solo film. Black Widow (2021) follows immediately after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) where the Avengers have broken up. Romanoff is on her own running from the law when she gets pulled back into her past life as a Black Widow.
Before you continue since this film does take place before the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019) there will be minor spoilers in this review.
As the twenty-fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow doesn’t offer that much in the way of insight for the future of MCU’s Phase 4, but it does give fans a better look at Romanoff’s backstory. We even get to know what happened in Budapest. Ultimately, the film does justice to that character.
As a standalone spy thriller, it excels in the action department. From the beginning to the end, the action rarely takes a break. The fight scenes keep getting bigger, flashier, and over the top right up until the climax of the third act. It was amazing to be able to sit in a movie theater again and watch all the explosions, high speed chases, and the intricate hand to hand fighting on the big screen. If you’re able to view it that way, I highly recommend it.
Having said that, when the action does break, there are moments where character development and the theme of family take center stage. To accomplish her mission of putting an end to the Red Room, where she was trained as a Black Widow, she must reconnect with the family before she was an Avenger. She shares a past with Yelena (played by Florence Pugh), Melina (Rachel Weisz), and Russia’s very own super soldier Alexei (David Harbour). These four characters share a familial bond that is tested throughout the film. For Natasha, this comes at a significant point since her prior family, the Avengers, are now shattered and broken.
While Johansson is great, it’s really Pugh and Harbour that shine in this film. Alexei, the Red Guardian, has been incarcerated for years by the very government he loves. Yelena was also equally incarcerated by that government, albeit in a different manner, but she hated the government. Both realize what it means to be truly free in this film and it’s both heart touching and funny at the same time. As the fourth member of the team, Melina is the mother of the group but also has a cold, calculating nature to her. Weisz pulls that off admirably.
With any great team there must be a great villain. Unfortunately, that’s where Black Widow suffers. Opposing them is Taskmaster, a dude that wears a suit and helmet. Oh, Taskmaster can also analyze the fighting patterns of anyone and mirror them. On paper that’s great. It definitely makes for cool fight scenes. Taskmaster throws a shield like Captain America, has claws like Black Panther, shoots arrows about as cool as Hawkeye, and can fight exactly like Natasha. Unfortunately, that’s about all Taskmaster does. You won’t get any banter from Taskmaster nor will you get any real character development. Taskmaster is Taskmaster. Even when you realize who Taskmaster is, it really isn’t much of a shock. There is a more sinister villain controlling Taskmaster, but I don’t want to give anything away. Even then, that villain is basically a standard James Bond villain.
Another drawback, ultimately the biggest one, is that it takes place between Civil War and Infinity War. Since the audience knows that Natasha is in the later films, we know she’s in no real danger. And while the other cast is great, there’s no real concern for their safety either. Throughout the movie, Natasha is running from explosions, getting hit by weapons, getting punched in the face, and even falling out of buildings. There’s no real concern for her safety. The audience knows she’s going to survive. There’s no risk to it. That’s the problem with prequel films. They stage these crazy scenarios where the title character risks their lives, but it doesn’t matter because we know they live to star in a canonically future film.
It’s almost a little too late in my opinion. Marvel had their chance to impact viewers with a Black Widow standalone long before the events of Endgame. Now, the expect us to cheer them on.
Having said that, I thought Black Widow was a solid film with great acting, family themes, and that was jammed packed with action. The end credit, make sure to stay in your seats, also does a good job of setting up for future MCU content. Overall, it’s great to see Johansson take up the role one last time.
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