Main cast: Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Florence Pugh (Yelena Belova), David Harbour (Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian), O-T Fagbenle (Rick Mason), Olga Kurylenko (Antonia Dreykov/Taskmaster), William Hurt (Thaddeus Ross), Ray Winstone (General Dreykov), and Rachel Weisz (Melina Vostokoff)
Director: Cate Shortland
Ah, now that I have watched Black Widow, it kind of makes sense why they only put the movie out now, long after Natasha Romanoff sacrificed her life. Yes, the movie is about her… sort of. Just like every drug dealer that makes to keep their customer hooked on repeat business, the people behind the MCU also makes this movie a springboard for the character that is likely to take up the mantle of Black Widow now that they are pensioning off the cast of the original batch of Avengers; what do you know, turns out that Natasha has a sister of sorts that is also trained in the same thing! Of course, they are hoping that folks will be so enamored of this character that they will keep watching more MCU movies.
Set in the time frame between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, this one attempts to show what Natasha did and how she would eventually make plans to reunite with the other Avengers that fell on the wrong side of the Sokovia Accords during that time frame. Turns out that her past catches up with her, as she is reunited with Yelena Belova, the “sister” that was adopted along with her by undercover Russian spies Alexei Shostakov and Melina Vostokoff as those two infiltrated Ohio as a “normal family” in order to steal stuff from SHIELD. Really, that’s a long and convoluted story best left ignored because by this point, the MCU is so convoluted and made even more so by retcons, it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Anyway, Natasha and Yelena were soon recruited by the Red Room, Russia’s super secret agency that trains orphaned and unwanted girls into obedient killers, and eventually Natasha managed to break free of them and defected to SHIELD along with Hawkeye, in the process supposedly killing the Red Room leader General Dreykov. Well, he’s not dead, and in fact, after Natasha’s defection, he devised ways to actually mind-rape the Black Widows, as his killers are called, forcing them to do things he orders them to using a chip implanted in these women. Yelena is accidentally freed from Dreykov’s control when her target uses a vial of red dust on her.
Grabbing the vials and not sure what to do with them, Yelena mails them to Natasha, reasoning that an Avenger will know what to do with them. Of course, she doesn’t write a note to explain or anything, because that will be too easy, so Natasha ends up carrying them around, not knowing that she is even having with her those vials… that is, until Dreykov’s personal T-1000, the Taskmaster, shows up to retrieve those vials from her by hook or by crook.
If anything, Black Widow actually contradicts Natasha’s thought processes that led her to sacrifice herself in Avengers: Endgame, because by the end of this movie, she does find a family of sorts again with what she believes to be a fake make-believe one constructed solely for the purpose of completing a mission. Hence, her claims in that movie about how she had no one to live for now rings absolutely hollow in hindsight, and in fact, sort of cheapens the poignant resonance of the character’s sacrifice. Also, why didn’t the Black Widows play a bigger role in that movie? Thanos is a literal world-ending crisis; one would think every Avenger will rally every ally they have to the cause. This is the problem with retcons in the MCU: nothing can top Thanos, so it makes zero sense why Natasha wouldn’t call up the allies she made here for help. The Eternals, I bet, will have this same issue.
On the other hand, I am glad that Natasha finally revisits her past and finds closure here. Her past, if anything, becomes even more poignant when I realize that she and her “sister” were nothing more than pawns, and all the horrific scars on their bodies and soul are just nothing to monsters such as Dreykov. The topic—the abuse and rape of a woman’s agency and free will—is pretty horrific and dark for an MCU movie, but it is dealt here just enough to make those old enough to get the unspoken implications of the things these women have to go through, well, those folks may just shudder a bit. The movie has some levity though, as this is still an MCU film, and that is how, upon reuniting again, Natasha’s family eventually realize that the feelings that develop between them may just be real after all. The family, despite an artificial construct generated for a covert mission, touched them all in ways that break them down just enough to force them to open their hearts and, perhaps, heal again.
The feels are very well done here, I feel, so much so that I start to wish that the lead character here isn’t Natasha Romanoff, because I know every growth and epiphany in a MCU character’s individual movie is wiped out completely in the next ensemble feature, the character’s prior development negated completely as they are reduced into a one-liner generator. The character here deserves far more than that, and I have seen the regression of that character’s powerful growth here in Avengers: Endgame. That really hurts. If this had been a standalone movie, oh, it would be great, so great.
No, wait, it won’t be so great, because honestly, I find the action scenes in this movie some of the worst I’d seen in a MCU movie, and heaven knows, the bar is set pretty low where fight scenes are concerned in that line of films. Because nobody here shoots CGI out from their fists and eyes, the movie has to rely on stunt people beating the crap out of one another, and good lord, these scenes are at best fake and lame and, at worst, riddled with incoherent quick cuts to the point that I can’t follow what is happening. What happened? Did they run out of money and food for people that can actually choreograph decent fight scenes? When the CGI shows up, I don’t know, everything just looks fake—too shiny, too bright, too exaggerated in a movie that, up to that point, has been all about the relatively more down-to-earth fists and kicks and flying leaps.
Worse, the movie completely falls apart in the last half an hour, when the villain starts being an idiot, Natasha herself doing inexplicably dumb things for the sake of plot, and implausible twists that requires people to plan and carry out their plan all in the matter of seconds in order to work. Seriously, the best thing about this movie are the more emotional scenes; the action scenes drag the movie down considerably, and this is not a good thing considering the kind of movie it is.
Oh, and I guess I should mention the very likely Black Widow 2.0: Florence Pugh acquits herself adequately, although her build and composure make it very hard for me to take her seriously as a physical killer. She resembles more like a bratty teenager than someone supposed to be acrobatic, flexible, and trained to do super kung-fu stuff. Can’t they at least add some CGI muscularity to her arms and legs so that I can be convinced that this is one lady that can take down men twice her size? Worse, the script saddles her with the usual “Yas, kween! I am a strong woman so watch me sass and make quips at all the most inopportune moments because girl boss, woo! Weakness? What weakness?” nonsense that makes the likes of Suri and Captain Marvel so insufferable.
Also, why are these people speaking in English and not Russian? They are Russians, it’s their native language! It feels so unnatural to have them speak English among themselves, only to lapse into weirdly-accented Russian now and then to remind me that they are supposedly from that country.
In the end, Black Widow is a mixed bag. It has the makings of a good emotional superhero movie, but at the same time, it is a very average action movie if I were to rate it by the virtue of those action scenes. The lead character experiences a poignant and touching character arc that has powerful moments of resonance with me, but just like with other characters in the MCU, such growth is a one-movie glory, to be forgotten in the next appearance by the character.
Sigh, I really wish this had been the script of a superhero movie with, say, Scarlett Johansson and Charlize Theron, helmed by folks that can properly design a good fight scene.