Black Widow (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 134 Minutes
Director: Cate Shortland
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone
As of writing this review, it’s been a little over two years since the last film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was released with Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. Given that 2020 was a bit of a mandatory hiatus from the MCU given the COVID situation, it was refreshing to take a break from it all since Endgame concluded the main overarching story that took over 10 years to build. Because of that, when 2021 rolled around with new shows on Disney+, it was good fun returning to this exciting world again and reuniting with some familiar faces. But one character that most would have never expected to see come back for one last hurrah given her death in Endgame is none other than Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow. The iconic Avenger and former SHIELD agent has become quite the fan favourite for many moviegoers and a solo movie featuring her has been in high demand for many years long after her debut in Iron Man 2. But given we know the fate of this character following her sacrifice, Black Widow in many ways feels like a film unfortunately made at least 4 years too late. On the surface, what’s here is a solid enough action spy movie that works at its best when focused on it’s character’s complicated past. But the moment it tries to be something more with a dodgily written at best espionage plot, what’s here is unfortunately a bit of a convoluted mess of a movie with little of value to add to this universe.
Black Widow is a film sandwiched in the MCU timeline between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, and as such follows Natasha in 2016 on the run from the law after violating the Sokovia Accords like many other Avengers. During this time in isolation, she is forced to confront her troublesome past as a Black Widow when she reunites with her surrogate family from her childhood in order to uncover a global conspiracy related to the Red Room she was forcibly trained in during her youth.
This movie from start to finish kind of feels like it's riding across a double edged sword: on one hand, when the film is focused on more introspective ideas in relation to Natasha’s past, Black Widow can be mildly investing as a film with some solid heart. But on the other hand, when the film is focused primarily on the themes of espionage, the film is either boring or sometimes downright laughable. The film starts off amazingly, giving the audience a nostalgic feeling glimpse into Nat’s childhood being raised by her super-soldier surrogate family who are posing as a normal family before things turn for the worst and they have to evacuate from the law. It’s a terrific opening sequence that opens the film on an exhilarating note but also gives us some very interesting backstory for this character. But once this sequence ends after an also amazing montage of opening credits, the film takes quite the sudden nosedive in quality and from here on out, Black Widow is only ever an interesting film in portions. Easily the best aspect to this whole movie is when the film is just squarely focused on Nat‘s family because when they are all interacting together on screen, that’s when the film has the most personality and also where the story finds most of its heart. A lot of this especially comes from the cast, with Florence Pugh as Natasha’s sister being the true highlight of the film. It’s amazing seeing how far she’s come as an actress over the years to seeing her become one of the most exciting new faces of the Marvel universe. Her character having also been through similar traumas to Natasha being trained as a Black Widow not only makes her easily sympathetic, but Pugh also gives her a likeable charm that makes her more than a standard Black Widow. She has a lot of enjoyable aspects to her and this is only seen to a further extent with David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. Harbour is quite funny in this movie, playing up the role as a fun loving dad with a lack of real parental skill while Weisz works as a solid companion to him by keeping everyone else grounded in a familial sense of reality. The film is at its best when we are learning new things about Nat as a character and that is best shown in the film through her family and her rough relationship with them that feels kind of disappointingly short lived knowing we won’t see much of them again following Endgame’s events. Because while half of Black Widow can be quite enjoyable and compelling, the other half of it is just a complete mess.
Following the opening as aforementioned, Black Widow’s pace slows to a complete crawl and for the first hour of the film, aside from some solid familial moments with Florence Pugh, it’s just a completely boring slog. The film’s main story is about Natasha freeing the Black Widow’s from the Red Room that brainwashed and plagued their lives for many years and from the outset, there is plenty of solid potential for this kind of plot to work. But the way the film goes about it is unbearably slow for the first half making a lot of it very boring to watch, and when it isn’t boring, it’s simply too ridiculous to get that invested in. The Taskmaster, while not the main antagonist of this film, plays a hugely villainous role in this movie and without going into spoilers in regards to how this anonymous violent machine links to Nat’s past, what’s revealed here is borderline stupid and it all links to a globe trotting spy conspiracy that’s more contrived than anything else seen in the MCU. The action sequences at least during these scenes are quite enjoyable to watch. The CGI sometimes is a bit too excessive to be fully believable but a lot of the spectacle is quite impressive and demands this be seen on a big screen aside from the Premier Access option on Disney+. It’s generally speaking quite tensionless with a lack of stakes inevitably because of the audience’s prior knowledge of Nat’s death in Endgame, but that aside it’s still visually stimulating stuff that the filmmaking and VFX team deserve a nice pat on the back for. They are the ones who took a mostly weak and silly script and gave it a lot of life through their technical wizardry that’s also complimented nicely by Lorne Barfe’s solid music score.
Black Widow is a middlingly average movie that feels like a weird step down from other MCU films not necessarily for what it tries to do but what purpose it serves for this universe. It’s a film that feels around 4 years too late from its original date because so much of the story simply could have had more weight to it if we didn’t already know enough about Natasha that might have influenced how we react to this side story. But even when the film gets too dull at times, what keeps it afloat and memorable enough is just how great the family dynamic between Nat and her old folks is, with Florence Pugh being the easy great highlight. But if you are marathoning these films for the first time, Black Widow feels weirdly inconsequential compared to everything else and only serves to give small hints for what’s to come later in the MCU, so it wouldn’t hurt to skip this one. But there is a decent amount of spectacle and likeability for this character that there might be enough here for some audience members to enjoy this spy romp despite its flaws. With that said, go give this a look and form your own opinion for yourselves.
FINAL RATING:- 5/10 (AVERAGE)