Let me say this right off the bat, Black Widow is a good film. There is so much to like about many sequences that take place and those involved definitely care about making sure that the film is a final fitting tribute for Scarlett Johansson in the role. What is a bit surprising, is that the Black Widow character seems to be upstaged in her own film. Considering that many people feel that the character should have been the one to be Marvel’s first female led film, that they don’t go out of their way to make sure that she is the most interesting character is bit surprising, but then again, so is the decision to have this film lead off the movie events of Phase 4 in the MCU, since (spoiler alert) her character is dead in the current timeline.
I loved the opening sequence. We see a young Natasha Romanoff and her fake family escape Ohio in an airfield chase that is well edited, choreographed and shot. What I loved most about the action in this film is that it never felt rapidly edited (à la Michael Bay), causing the sequences to be coherent and much more engaging as a viewer. The opening credits kick-in and I have to give credit to the song they selected, which is Malia J doing a very haunting cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Marvel films tend to pay tribute to films that inspire them and since Black Widow is a master of espionage, James Bond and Mission: Impossible tributes are noticeable throughout. Some are easily identifiable such as when Romanoff is watching James Bond films on her laptop, others are a bit more subtle, as I felt the climatic battle took an idea from the opening sequence of Goldeneye and cranked it up to 11. There is even an actor who has been in a James Bond film before.
There are two villains in the film, one is General Dreykov (played by the always amazing Ray Winstone) and the other is the one that is shown in the marketing of the film named Taskmaster, who is able to mimic the moves of any combatant, making Taskmaster a difficult opponent to defeat. The first encounter between Black Widow and Taskmaster is excellent and the one thing I will say about the violence in the film is that every punch and every violent throw sounds like it hurt. This may have been enhanced by seeing the film in IMAX, as the sound in these sequences is fantastic, but the punishment being dished out looked painful. In fact, I don’t think there is a bad action sequence in this film. From the chase on the streets of Budapest, to the prison breakout and the final battle, all of the action sequences were entertaining.
As the film progresses, we begin to be introduced to the fake family Natasha grew up with. First we meet Yelena Belova (played by Florence Pugh), who is on the run from the Black Widow program after being exposed to a chemical that causes the mind control she was under to dissipate. Once her and Natasha meet (and fight in another great moment of the film), they plan to break out their fake father from prison, Alexei Shostakov, otherwise known as Red Guardian (played by David Harbour). From there, they go to meet their fake mom/wife Melina Vostokoff (played by Rachel Weisz) and begin to hatch their plan to take down the Black Widow program.
I mentioned before that Natasha Romanoff is not the most interesting character in her own film. I would say that two other performances knock it out of the park and you are more drawn to them. Pugh’s character of Yelena is a lot of fun to watch as she gets to experience life without being under some form of mind control for the first time since being a young child and she has a fun exchange making fun of her fake sister’s fighting poses. By far the biggest highlight of the film is David Harbour playing Red Guardian. Being a soviet super-soldier who keeps recollecting moments of his past against Captain America (that I’m pretty sure he makes up as it makes no sense in the timeline of the films and he gets called out on it from a prisoner) or wanting to deliver a big speech to make things right, but never getting that perfect moment, he just brings a spark to the film. We know for sure that Yelena is part of the MCU’s plans going forward based on her appearance in the post-credit sequence, but hopefully Red Guardian is as well, at least for short bursts of comic relief.
Not a major complaint, but what did not work for me were the quiet moments such as when the fake family has their first meal together after being reunited as the humour seemed forced (and a bit cringe-inducing if I’m being honest), especially when Yelena confides in them that to her, they were a real family, as well as having the villain explain his plan in magnificent detail to the hero, which is cliché at this point. I also would have ended the film one scene earlier, but that is minor. Another small criticism I have is that I wish Marvel did not list the name of an actor in the opening credits, because when the actor had not appeared on the screen after an hour, I was able to put a plot point together. I wish more films that have surprises use the Se7en tactic of only putting the name of that actor in the end credits, to not spoil the surprise.
Overall, Black Widow is another solid entry in the MCU. I’m happy that Scarlett Johansson got to have her own film for her character after having played the role since 2010, although I just wish she did not get upstaged in her own film. Having said that, the action sequences are excellent and are definitely some of the best in the entire MCU.
Farewell Natasha Romanoff. You will be missed.