(This is a NON-spoiler review)
Since her introduction in Iron Man 2 back in 2010, fans have been clamoring for a solo Black Widow film. Now, almost 11 years later, we finally have one but there’s absolutely nothing special about it. Black Widow takes an interesting character from the MCU and delivers a generic, hasty, and uninspired story that could have easily been so much more. It is reliably entertaining, as most Marvel movies are, and some of the side characters are quite excellent but the sum of its parts is something that will be forgotten by the studio and by fans in the long run.
The film takes place in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War and follows Natasha as she seeks to dismantle the organization known as “The Red Room” who are responsible for training her to be the skilled assassin we know her to be today. Along the way she encounters people from her past that served as her “family” when she was a child who help her on this mission.
Scarlett Johansson is fine in this film, playing the same character in the same way we have seen for the past 11 years. She isn’t doing anything particularly new, nor is her character given a lot of dramatic weight to deal with despite the mission she is embarking on. Those dramatic moments are gifted to other characters in the film, but we never truly feel an emotional attachment to Natasha’s mission despite constantly being told by the film that “it’s personal” for her. The film never demonstrated that it was personal to Natasha, but rather we are just told that repeatedly. The Red Room is responsible for a lot of the psychological trauma that Natasha endured, and while that trauma isn’t properly explored through her character, it does present a darker theme the franchise is trying to embrace. Sadly, the film doesn’t do a great job of allowing the audience to feel the emotional connection to the mission despite us knowing that its definitely one worth fighting for.
Instead most of the attention, intrigue, and character moments come through Florence Pugh’s character Yelena. She is Natasha’s “sister” and the film definitely makes her out to be the more interesting character. Pugh is excellent in the film, allowing Yelena to feel like a broken, traumatized, yet strong and persistent heroine in her own right. When it comes to the themes of trauma and control, Yelena is the character we truly connect with and feel attached to and it was strange that I felt I was rooting for her more than I was Natasha. The scenes between her and Natasha or even her and David Harbour and Rachel Weisz’s characters are easily the strongest in the film. I was far more interested, invested, and captivated by her than I was with Natasha which is both a huge strength but also a detrimental weakness.
We know how Natasha’s story ends because we have seen the events of Avengers: Endgame and so anything that happens to Natasha in this story doesn’t have any weight or interest to it because we know where she has to end up and what she ultimately will be called to do. Black Widow is extremely self-aware of this fact as it focuses a lot more on Florence Pugh as if to set her up to be the next Black Widow in future films. There are scenes in the film that hint that she will be involved with future projects, which is exciting in its own right because again she is the best part of the movie, but it feels as a disservice to Scarlett Johansson’s character that she’s played for the past 11 years. Similar to other lesser Marvel films, it seems more interested in setting up its future stories than it does in focusing on this one.
David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are welcome additions to the MCU and are reliably entertaining in the roles they serve. They help round out the family dynamic and message the film strives to achieve, and for the most part it feels cliche but it gets across what it needs to. Harbour plays well into the hysterical brute while Weisz is certainly a dynamic and warm presence that help build the rest of the family.
The true villain is relegated to the shadows for most of the film up until the third act, and most of the action and tension is relegated through the secondary villain of Taskmaster. From the comics, Taskmaster is a formidable foe able to mimic their enemies attacks and use it against them. In Black Widow, Taskmaster is mainly inserted into the story whenever the film wants to have an action scene. You don’t really even see the full extent of this villain’s powers and there is absolutely no attempt to develop this character beyond being a “super soldier” for action scenes. They will join the stuffed list of underwhelming villains, maybe event be the worst of them.
The action leaves a lot to be desired with a lot of quick edited together scenes and CGI to try and deliver some tension. The film doesn’t truly embrace the Bond/Bourne vibe it tries to establish nor does it give anything truly spectacular like the hand to hand combat portrayed in The Winter Soldier, the action is merely there to pad the run time. It was hard for me to care about what was going on in the scenes, especially given that I didn’t feel an emotional attachment to Natasha’s mission and the fact that I know where her character ends up.
This film really should have been released in between Civil War and Infinity War and the decision not to is baffling. It really just feels like Marvel felt like they had to make a Black Widow movie because fans have been demanding it for years, despite not having a story they really wanted to tell with this character. All of the elements are there for them to use, but sadly the studio doesn’t seem interested in giving Natasha the solo movie she deserves. Like her eventual death and lack of funeral in Endgame, the film feels extremely unceremonious to the legacy of one the six original Avengers.
Disney really should have just released this film on Disney+ during the pandemic instead of delaying it, because there wasn’t much “wow” factor that necessitated a theatrical release. The film’s central conflict is easy to rally behind but lacks the emotional impact for its titular character. Instead, the film focuses on where the franchise will be going through Florence Pugh who saves the film with one of the most interesting characters in the MCU. Why this same story and development couldn’t have been given to Johannsson is confusing, and further fuels the argument that this film should have been made a whole lot sooner. Definitely see the film if you’re a Marvel fan, but I wouldn’t say that it was worth the wait unfortunately.
(C -) Generic