Marvel does a fantastic job making Black Widow feel special, despite lacking any real urgency and landing about 10 years too late. They accomplish this by giving us fun interactions between solid characters played by great actors, including Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz.
Finally, after debuting in Iron Man 2 (2010), Marvel’s highly-popular Natasha Romanoff gets her very own film, Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. Cate Shortland‘s film feels like “minor Marvel” when compared to some of the other MCU films, but despite that, Shortland manages to create a fun movie that focuses on character building and emotional closure, with the occasional Marvel action set piece that’s full of explosions and excitement, engaging the senses, but not not reenforced with purpose.
Black Widow follows the character of the Black Widow aka Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, which means she’s on the run from SHIELD and not exactly in close contact with Tony Stark or the rest of the Avengers.
What this means for her is the chance to reunite with her old “family”, including her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), her father Alexei (David Harbour) and her mother Melina (Rachel Weisz). I put family in quotations as you quickly learn that nothing about Natasha’s past is true and that she’s been undercover in one way or another for most of her life.
This is precisely what makes Cate Shortland‘s debut into the MCU an exciting one, because she trades out typical Marvel end-of-the-world stakes for a more intimate (and honestly occasionally hilarious) movie that focuses on strong characters played by fantastic actors.
This may be ScarJo’s movie, but Florence Pugh kind of steals it and David Harbour makes for one of the funniest and most enduring father figures in the MCU.
Admittedly, the film’s main villain Dreykov (played with slimy ambition by Ray Winstone) is mostly an afterthought and the whole idea of finding and freeing the enslaved Widows is almost just a batch of bonus points, because the film focuses so heavily on Natasha and Yelena’s interactions and their family’s complicated backstory, it almost forgets about the concept of destroying the Red Room.
Black Widow feels very late to the game and lacks the urgency of most Marvel films, yet the back-and-forth banter between Natasha’s family feels so refreshing and genuine, making for a fun time watching them argue and then team up to take on whatever threat happens to be in front of them, even though nothing really matters.
The action is typical Marvel set piece stuff, with explosions and bangs making for visual confetti that’s not too dense or purposeful, but enough to show off the budget.
I fear that some are going to have a hard time accepting this movie for what it is and instead will weigh it against their own expectations of what a Black Widow movie in 2021 should be. Having watched the trailers, I prepared myself for something middle-of-the-road or average and ended up walking away pleasantly surprised by how good of a film this managed to be.
Cate Shortland‘s Black Widow isn’t top tier Marvel by any means, but it deserves a lot more credit than what it has been receiving. It’s essentially a globe-trotting spy film, much like Bond, only featuring two strong female leads and a wide assortment of supporting players that help drive the film home and make up for any shortcomings that the film may have. The plot has holes and some of the action becomes repetitive and vanilla without any sort of weight attached to it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not well-made or highly entertaining, if not just occasionally flawed and dare I say, different than what Marvel has been outputting as of late.