|Worth seeing:||for a bit of oestrogen-fuelled action that probably sits better outside the MCU than within|
|Featuring:||Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, William Hurt|
|Released:||7th July 2021|
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanssen) grew up as the daughter of a pair of Russian spies in the US, with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) – or so they were led to believe.
They later realise they were just part of the cover story, as they were both trained, in what’s known as the Red Room, to become Russian spies themselves – part of a force of female assassins known as Widows, under the command of the ruthless Dreykov (Ray Winstone).
Natasha has long since defected to the US, where she’s served as a member of the Avengers, under her superhero moniker Black Widow, but she’s now on the run, after the events of Captain America: Civil War.
But Yelena lures her out of her exile and the pair set out close down the Red Room and end Dreykov’s reign of terror.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has her own Avengers spin-off film, but it’s not an origins story. There’s a bit of origins backstory in there, but the bulk of the narrative is sandwiched in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, so many viewers won’t actually know – or perhaps even care – why she’s on the run in the first place, while others will know what fate befalls her in later films, making her headlining outing feel a little hollow. A year or so Covid-delay only serves to push the chronology even further out of whack.
The female-directed and female-led film centres on the emancipation and vengeance of abused women, which isn’t the most user-friendly motivation for a 12A certificate superhero film, but that’s another thing – it might be a Marvel Avengers spin-off, but this isn’t really a superhero film at all. It’s closer to Bond and Bourne than it is to Batman, with trained assassins trying to bring down megalomaniacs, without a superpower in sight. Yes, she’s a highly trained operative – but so are all the widows.
With not so much as a cameo from any of the other Avengers, you could almost forget Black Widow’s place in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, so it relies on the likeability of the characters, the believability of its narrative and the presentation of its action sequences.
Natasha herself is likeable enough, but not – in truth – especially interesting. Or at least, we’re not told the interesting bits – how did a Russian spy end up defecting to the Avengers? Maybe that’s been revealed in one of her earlier MCU appearances, but not every viewer has seen every film. Florence Pugh’s Yelena seems to have more to her, launching her firmly into the future of the MCU. Rachel Weisz as the original Black Widow is effective enough, with David Harbour as Russia’s version of Captain America – the Red Guardian – the most interesting and entertaining character in every scene in which he appears.
The same can’t be said of Ray Winstone’s Dreykov – he’s perfectly good at what he does, he just doesn’t have much to do, apart from scowl, lecture, patronise and scowl a bit more. He does a lot of talking – and that’s a big factor with Black Widow – a lot of talking, as Natasha reunites with Yelena, as the pair reunite with the closest people they’ve ever had to parents. The dialogue is as densely written as the action is tightly choreographed.
While the chat slows down the pace – sometimes to the extent that you feel the film could be trimmed to the right side of two hours without losing much – it helps with a little character development, although often to the extent that it feels expositional – “In case you haven’t seen the last twenty MCU films, this fact might be useful…” Perhaps the best way to trim Black Widow would have been to cut the gratuitous links to earlier films and make it more of a standalone adventure.
The talky bits link together the kind of well choreographed action sequences you’d expect from a Marvel film, with chases on bikes, in cars, along rooftops, down walls, all over the world – all as impressive as they are predictable.
But with the whole film comprising almost exclusively all-out action or sedentary pontification, it makes for a rather uneven pace – it’s all a bit fast, fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, fast, slow.
The editing is a little underhand, with the rug being pulled from under the viewer a number of times, as a couple of scenes are explained with flashbacks, conveniently inserted to enlighten us. And the resolution comes a little too easily, as something acquired by Yelena at the start of the film, shared with Natasha throughout and used by the pair at the end, basically does all their work for them.
Interestingly, post-Covid, this is one of those films that Disney has decided to release, just days apart, on the big screen and on its Disney+ premium service – which means subscribers will have to pay extra.
Fans of the MCU will get much more from this than people who’ve dipped in and out and don’t have as much invested in the universe. But anyone can enjoy a good chase or a well-planned fight, so if you’re going to invest time and money in seeing it, given that the big screen is finally an option again, the shared experience of the cinema is a far better option than watching it on your phone on your own.