PG-13, 135 mins.
2019, PG-13, 135 mins.
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow / Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova / Crimson Widow / David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian / Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff / Iron Maiden / O.T. Fagbenle as Mason / William Hurt as Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross / Ray Winstone as Dreykov / The HandlerDirected by Cate Shortland / Written by Eric Pearson .
There's a single
scene in BLACK WIDOW - the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and
the first of its fourth phase of films - that unfortunately sums up
everything that's frustratingly wrong with it.
During it a family member (so to speak, more on that in a bit) relays to her sort-of father (again, more on that in a bit) about how a particularly brutal part of her time as a brainwashed agent involved having her reproductive organs removed, rendering her completely incapable of ever having children in her life. This is an undeniably horrific admission on her part and would be enough to indefinitely traumatize any woman. But because BLACK WIDOW exists in the greater MCU, the character delivers such shocking information in a light hearted and quippy fashion.
This might be the
only film in history to use a case of a forced hysterectomy
to elicit a cheap laugh.
too late for its own good BLACK WIDOW is a film that wages war within
indeed most welcoming in terms of granting us another on a very short list
of female driven solo MCU efforts (of the two dozen of them, many male
characters have already had multiple solo installments, so the fact that
it has taken this long for Natasha Romanoff to get her own film
after debuting in 2010's IRON MAN 2 a
decade ago is telling, to say the least).
That, and Scarlett Johansson is in top form again as this complex
character and is flanked by some solid supporting performers giving some
level of new flavor to the proceedings.
Regretably, though, BLACK WIDOW is so reticent in embracing the
inherent and aforementioned darkness of the this hero's origins and the
underlining universe that she occupies.
Instead of daring to be a decidedly different type of MCU venture,
BLACK WIDOW devolves into embracing increasingly stale MCU troupes, and
the whimsical handling of the material is really counterproductive here.
This is a film about (checks notes) child
abandonment and endangerment, the brainwashing of women, the removal of
reproductive rights of said women, the macabre underbelly of the spy game,
and so forth...and itís played with the frivolity of a SPIDER-MAN
That's unendingly disappointing.
WIDOW has an utterly sensationally realized opening sequence that hints at
a far better and more intriguing film to come than what we're not
We're whisked back to 1995 Ohio and are introduced to young teenage
Natasha (played in adult form by Johansson) and her little sister in
Yelena (played in adult form by Florence Pugh) living what appears to be
normal and happy lives in an tight knit American family with their mother
Melina (a de-aged Rachel Weisz) and father Alexei (David Harbour, also
Something is not right, though, as soon as dear ol' dad gets home
for supper, and within minutes the entire family is grabbing what
belongings they can and immediately flee their home.
It appears that Alexei and Melina are no ordinary parents, but are
rather Russian spies that have stolen S.H.E.I.L.D. intel.
After making it to a makeshift airport and engaging in multiple
fire fights with their pursuers, the family daringly escapes via a small
plane and journeys to Cuba.
When they arrive the real horror show for these poor girls begins,
as mother and father relinquish their daughters to General Dreykov (Ray
Winstone), who takes them under his wing to begin their soul crushing
training to become top secret operatives, all but robbing them of their
individuality, freedom, and childhoods.
Heavy stuff for an intro, to be sure.
a few decades and we hook back up with the post-CAPTAIN
AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Natasha, who's now on the run from the
government, as is many of her fellow Avengers (safe to say that if you've
never seen any of the MCU films then wading through the mythology here may
prove next to impossible).
While trying to stay off the grid and hidden, Natasha receives a
secret package from her estranged sister in Yelena, who has discovered a
secret cure for herself and other fellow black widows to release
themselves from the forced mental subjugation of their handlers.
The package contains, yup, vials of the cure that Yelena hopes will
be in safe hands with Natasha.
Unfortunately, they soon realize that they might be in hopelessly
over their heads with Dreykov hot on their heels, so they decide to seek
out the assistance of their former fake parents, with Melina long been in
hiding away from Yelena and Natasha, whereas Alexei "The Red
Guardian" needs to be sprung from a Russian prison. Now, why
these two women would ever want to reunite with the very people that
destroyed their upbringings is something the screenplay never really
explains or even properly acknowledges.
WIDOW does a fairly decent job of establishing the villainous presence of
Dreykov early on (we witness in the film's nifty opening credit montage -
set to a low key cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -
just how demoralizing the raising of Natasha and Yelena was under this
madman, who trained them to be obedient and mind controlled super agents).
Dreykov's Red Room program stole young girls away from their homes
and families for the purposes of churning them out to be state sanctioned
assassins, which is pretty haunting as far as MCU story arcs go.
In many ways, the emotional epicenter of BLACK WIDOW revolves
around the renewed faux family dynamic between Natasha and her baby step
sibling, and the two of them have multiple crosses to bare for the wrongs
they both did under the Red Room program while both having to face their
troubled pasts with Alexei and Melina, who were once the only form of
family they knew.
Johansson and Pugh are quite wonderful together here as two lost
souls that awkwardly cling together based on a shared past of pure misery.
Even though their sisterhood is a phony one, they bond like real
sisters, mostly because they have no other options.
Pugh in particular is BLACK WIDOW's ace up its sleeve, who plays
her battle hardened Yelena with a no nonsense toughness and bravery
alongside a tender vulnerability that she tries to keep bottled up inside.
characters, regrettably, fare worse in BLACK WIDOW, such as Weisz'
enigmatic Melina, who appears so little in the film that she simply fails
to leave much of a tangible footprint in the proceedings.
Coming off better is Harbour as the pudgy Ruskie Captain America
wanna-be in Alexei, who's best days are long since behind him as a super
solider serum induced spy (that, and he has a hard time zipping up his
costume's pants over his girth).
It has been said that the heroes in most action/super hero films
are only as good as their villains, and BLACK WIDOW serves up a lackluster
one in the form of Dreykov, who's played with commendable masochistic
menace by Winstone, but this antagonist on the page is nothing more than a
second tier Bond baddie set on world domination (oh, and he's also able to
completely control his army of female assassins because of a special
pheromone he gives off that makes it impossible for any of his spy slaves
to harm him...not kidding).
He's assisted by a Terminator-like henchperson dubbed Taskmaster,
whose able to mimic any attacker's moves.
To say that the final reveal of the real identity of this
unstoppable killing machine is a letdown of IRON
MAN 3 Mandarin levels would be an understatement.
When it comes to introduced villains, BLACK WINDOW might be the
weakest of the MCU.
as I alluded to at the beginning of this review, why is BLACK WIDOW so
hopelessly overwhelmed with tonally incongruent gags?
This film had such rich potential to be a fully absorbing espionage
thriller on the level of, say, a RED SPARROW
that went well against the the sanitized MCU blueprint.
The possibilities of having a more grounded, edgier, and
dramatically deeper tale that delves into the titular character's
nightmare inducing history are kind of endless.
This is what makes BLACK WIDOW a maddening what-if watch at times.
That, and it builds towards yet another MCU-ified climax on pure
autopilot, one involving a lot of VFX, a lot of action and explosions, and
a lot of mayhem that seems to take away from the very type of insular
espionage tale that I think it secretly wants to be.
One truly damning trait that sticks out like a sore thumb is that
it becomes truly hard to really care about Natasha, her surrogate family,
or their fates here, mostly because the film is a victim of its own
COVID releasing rescheduling notwithstanding (it was supposed to
hit cinemas last summer), bringing out this long wanted and awaited solo
BLACK WIDOW entry so long after her heroic death in AVENGERS:
ENDGAME has rendered the stakes here all but null and void.
Plus, Natasha also seems absurdly and sometimes hilariously
impervious to death throughout the story despite being the victim of
multiple vehicle crashes, multiple beatings, and multiple injuries that
would have killed other AVENGERS with powers mightier than her.
Natasha Romanoff - and her legion of fans - deserved a finer swan song than this, and after the letdown of the mostly forgettable CAPTAIN MARVEL and now BLACK WIDOW it has become clear that the MCU has some course correcting to do in order to do justice to their female heroes, especially when compared to the competition. And better late than never here doesn't lead to a better film.