Black Widow Review
Marvel’s long-overdue solo film for Natasha Romanoff is neither too little nor too late.
This sleek spy thriller operates outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a suave sense of awareness and politically charged storytelling that suggests the ambitious web of action Black Widow spins is more than enough. It is some of Marvel’s best work to date.
The choice to move away from the typical superhero blockbuster in favour of high-octane espionage allows for Natasha to receive a proper spy’s goodbye without slowing down the fast-paced conflict.
Black Widow is sharp-witted female butt-kicking excellence in its strongest form and the superhero blockbuster at its most restrained. One of the only issues starving moviegoers will have with this latest addition to the MCU is that it has to come to an end.
Of any addition to the franchise, Black Widow comes the closest to duplicating the success of one of Marvel’s greatest achievements, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
It echoes notes of the sequel’s darker politically charged premise and fixates on a similar character-driven conflict to anchor the plot. In many ways, The Winter Soldier’s grounded nature was what allowed Natasha to distance herself from her sexualized image enough to form a proper bond with the audience. It always seemed as though Steve and Natasha’s co-piloted journey would lead to a duology of sorts for the two Avengers.
Fans may not have been so lucky, but Black Widow’s ability to mimic the dynamics of The Winter Soldier without losing the unique lens of Natasha’s dark skillset makes it the superior sequel to Captain America: Civil War any day. That is if this film was incapable of standing tall as its own entity.
The red room’s sophisticated lens suggests this is a far superior stand-alone to the convoluted plots previous blockbusters have triumphed with, even when forced to wedge itself between two previously established films.
Much like The Winter Soldier, this action-heavy film leans on hand-to-hand combat sequences to keep the plot in a constant state of fluctuation as it hurtles towards the final stand. Seeing as Black Widow was made for battle, this is a brilliant move.
It’s a skill set few superhero films highlight, but Black Widow uses this roster of deadly assassins to craft masterful fight sequences. Much of the plot hinges on these brutal, bone-snapping, roof-hopping brawls to build to a satisfying climax. The calculated bursts of violence are all incredibly mesmerizing and meticulous in the way thrillers can be when they properly manoeuvre multiple levels of action.
The explosive opening chase between Natasha’s Russian sleeper cell and S.H.I.E.L.D. is not only a great tie-in to the agency she would one day work for but much of this heart-pounding sequence physically divulges information the sly dialogue refuses to. Framing such a heavy setup for the film around a dense battle of exploding vans and airplane shootouts gives substance to what could so easily be mindless violence.
Natasha squaring off against Yelena is the crowning achievement of this action-packed smorgasbord. Not only is a brawl to the death the most exciting way for Natasha to reunite with her sister, but it showcases these widows’ capabilities without restraint. This fight is nasty and confined; ribs are cracked against counters and bodies are slingshotted against doors. It’s violent, chaotic, and resourceful, just like Black Widow herself.
Taskmaster’s larger reveal may be one of this film’s greatest letdowns as this exceptionally deadly counterpart is reduced to a sideshow. However, Taskmaster’s ability to mimic superheroes’ signature moves is mesmerizing, with a particularly lovely homage to Bucky’s signature knife flips. If only this film had given fans less backstory, and more action when it came to this formidable threat of a villain.
That said, this fight choreography holds itself to the same calibre of skill as the female characters it is weaponizing. Not only that but the viewers are privy to the bruises that come after a nasty fight. The result is elegant action with a nasty bite.
Black Widow is at its best when it is exploring the grounded and human nature of its lead female character. It’s in these quieter beats where Natasha not only gets to be human but an actual woman with flaws and emotions.
Marvel Studios spent ten years sexualizing and diminishing Romanoff’s persona for the male gaze. This stand-alone looks to rectify that behaviour by opening on its titular character staring into a bathroom mirror, face clean of makeup. Later, Natasha sports baggy sweatpants as she trudges out into the mud to fix a generator. These details can feel insignificant to the casual moviegoer but for fans of the franchise, it’s the tiny details they’re inclined to come back for.
The only constant about Natasha throughout the films was her impenetrable makeup. Oftentimes her personality and style changed to reflect what was needed of her for each film. It feels like this final version of Natasha written with the female gaze in mind, and believe it or not, that’s important when telling a story about female superheroes.
The return of her arrow necklace and elaboration as to what actually happened in Budapest with Clint are all important character elements fans have been eager to see beyond the gaze.
The poser comment from Yelena is in good fun. However, it also mocks Marvel’s desire to have Natasha be the centre of attention through the sexualization of her skill set. The comment suggests Yelena is going to be a different pathway for the franchise, one with a gaze worthy of a widow. Self-awareness and a promise to do better with these women left to pick up the pieces of Black Widow’s legacy rounds out the film’s greater purpose quite eloquently.
Natasha’s face has always been her greatest asset to the franchise, it seems. So how glorious it is for the final stand between Natasha and her life-long abuser to demonstrate why that is no longer the case. By hindering the mission’s success on her severing the nerve in her nose, this film orchestrates the ultimate power move. Natasha gloriously spends an entire fight sequence with a crooked nose and blood seeping down her chin.
The heart of this film’s success is its family. The idea that the Avenger with no family of her own could come away from this film with two found families is a beautiful sentiment. One that never seems to lose itself to explosive Russian conspiracies and elaborate spy antics — even when it should.
In actuality, Natasha’s fake Russian family is an incredibly messy concept, and that chaos brilliantly lends itself to the super-charged plot.
This film cleverly uses the widows’ bizarre upbringing to produce lighter moments of comedy and play to the All-American family dynamic that exists only in Melina and Alexei’s minds. These spies are the perfect mix of deadly, loving, and delusional.
David Harbour balances his character well in the opening act, swerving between the father he has to portray and the cold-blooded super soldier he yearns to be for his country. He then throws it all away to play a raving lunatic driven mad by his own superiority complex and grounded in his reluctance to admit he loved the three girls that pulled him away from fame and glory. Alexie is a rollercoaster ride of emotions that never ceases to entertain.
His chaos is reigned in strategically by Rachel Weisz’s Melina, who is the anchor of this film and consequently, its heart. The film’s choice to shine a light on her intelligence peels back a layer of the Red Room program, and that unflinching knowledge leads to some truly epic showdowns. The way Melina deadpans incredibly chaotic lines such as, “I completely demolished one of our engines and we are going into a controlled crash,” without breaking an octave deserves to be highlighted as one of this film’s best offerings.
Florence Pugh’s Yelena is no doubt Marvel’s next holy grail. She will lead this franchise to greatness with her killer arsenal and gleeful child-like persona.
The trained assassin’s blunt humour and recklessness is a winning combination as she tears previous remarks about the widows’ lack of baby-making anatomy to shreds rather effortlessly. Her in-depth retort to a period joke is so incredibly savage, one fears Alexei can still feel the burn. She is an absolute delight as she puts Natasha at ease with their loveable discussions about dogs, fake families, and vests with so many pockets.
It’s difficult to find anything to dislike about these characters as they elevate what would be a mediocre story without such stubborn personas clashing at every turn. Fans may lose Scarlett Johansson’s dependable Natasha, but this new family proves the Black Widow legacy couldn’t be in better hands.
In many ways, the sentiment that Black Widow is ten years too late is true as this stand-alone film struggles to stick the landing between two clashing blockbusters. Yet, if this film were to be attempted in The Avengers era it would never have accomplished such a sophisticated female-lead spy thriller. Natasha would never have received the story she or the young girls watching deserved. It would seem Black Widow’s late arrival came when the industry was finally capable of embracing her.
This film may not give the in-depth character study of Natasha one expects, on account of having to use her screen time to shine a light on the characters that didn’t dive off a cliff for an Infinity Stone. However, Black Widow finds creative excuses to explore the widow’s past through the world she inhabits. Her essence is felt in every punch, every gorgeous shot of a gun laser sweeping a room, and every soldier present in that Red Room.
For once Natasha Romanoff isn’t reduced to quippy one-liners and sexy gun poses. Nothing steps on her moment as this film amplifies the parts of her that need to be heard. The result is an immersive and thriller tale of Black Widow’s own making.
This exploration of Natasha’s legacy is victorious, but one can’t help mourning what could have been Marvel’s next great film franchise.
The Post-Credit Scene:
The Marvel Disney+ series have provided some worthy end-credit entertainment, but it’s been a while since this franchise had fans bolting upright in their seats, mouths open in shock. Black Widow’s post-credit scene promises a worthwhile wait as Yelena visits Natasha’s grave. It’s an emotional gut-punch that pulls the audience in just to swing again with the entrance of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Val.
Even when her presence is expected, it’s still shocking to see the legendary actress standing firmly in the MCU.
Valentina then slowly and agonizingly chews the scenery as she asks Yelena if she wants a look at the man responsible for her sister’s death. That final shot of Clint Barton is enough to propel the casual moviegoer out of their seat in outrage. It is a hair-pulling realization that this phase isn’t just going through the motions with these stories.
This may be one of the cruellest ways Marvel has parted ways with its audience (minus Ant-Man and the Wasp). So, of course, this savage setup for Hawkeye makes it one of the best post-credit scenes yet.