Director: Cate Shortland
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, William Hurt
Written by: Eric Pearson, (story) Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson
Running Time: 133 mins
Release date: 7th July 2021
It has been a long time coming, and I’m not talking about the original release of May 2020, but since Black Widow hit our screens in Iron Man 2 back in 2010. The character of Natasha Romanoff has been an intricate part of the Avengers, and since she stole the weakest of the Iron Man movies, fans have been screaming out for a solo film of the Russian super spy. Now, after the delayed-release, Black Widow is finally here. The question is: was it worth the wait?
Secretary Ross is hunting down Natasha Romanoff after ignoring the Sokovia Accords. While on the run, she receives a package containing test tubes of a red substance. These have been sent by her half-sister, Yelena Belova, herself a former Black Widow, a group of highly trained super spies who stop at nothing to achieve their aims. Needing help from their father, Alexei and their mother, Melina, they have to try and halt Russian Dreykov, the man behind the Black Widow programme, who uses the girls for his means.
Marvel always try different styles and genres, and Black Widow is no exception. This is a spy movie through and through, looking like a female version of Bourne. Director Cate Shortland, famous for more petite, intimate films like Somersault and The Berlin Syndrome, tackles the action sequences with great aplomb, whether they be house-bound fight sequences or big, blockbuster set pieces. It has the feel and looks of a Bourne film or even a Daniel Craig Bond, with a finale that plays out like old-school Connery Bond. All of which works exceptionally well to keep the pace and tension growing.
Where she achieves extraordinary things are in the smaller character scenes. The bickering between Natasha and Yelena bring well-needed comic relief during the fast-paced action scenes, while the film is even more impressive when the family get together. She handles these character-driven scenes with the skills of a director coming from independent cinema, which she where she feels more comfortable with. It is unusual for a film like this to have dialogue sequences that never slows down the proceedings, instead of longing for more of these moments.
Where the film isn’t as successful is where Natasha’s story sits. We already know the outcome of her story. Yet, the decision of putting this story between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War means that there is very little peril for Natasha. The set pieces are exciting, no doubt about it, yet you know that everything will turn out fine because you know Natasha will appear in Infinite War.
It also seems to rush ideas and thoughts. An unstoppable fighting machine called Taskmaster, trying to stop Natasha and her clan from using the red liquid in the test tubes, can mimic any fighting style. This villain looks like a robot but is, in fact, human and part of Natasha’s past. Yet this is all brought out in a very matter-of-fact manner that seems far more critical than shown. We never get to fully understand what happened to Taskmaster for them to work under Dreykov. It also, according to real fans, fights like other Avengers. Sadly, the fight scenes are so fast that only the true fan can appreciate these moments.
While this is a Black Widow movie, it also becomes apparent that it’s just as much about Yelena as it is about Natasha. Not a bad thing as she is the perfect foil for her sister, with the scenes between the two women helping move the film along as they bicker and bounce off each other.
Scarlett Johansson, who has played Natasha from the very start, seems to be enjoying every moment of leading this film. She has become Black Widow physically, to the point of a running gag about her landing styles when going into battle. She gives the role real depth, far more than just a 2D comic book character. Here she is supported by really great actors. Rachel Weisz is fine as Melina, and David Harbour is hilarious as Alexei, a hulk of a man who dreams of being as famous as Captain America, with his creation of Red Guardian. Ray Winstone lets the side down with a Cockney Russian accent. As Dreykov, he never seems evil enough as the movie villain, and you do wonder if there wasn’t another actor who could have played this part.
Then there is Florence Pugh as Yelena. This is Marvel’s crowning glory in this movie. A performance that is both physically perfect and with added comic bite. She lifts every scene she appears in with her witty one-liners and her fighting skills, which equals Johansson’s. You can see that Marvel is moving forward with her character as a future MCU star (see the post-credit sequence), and it is a character that I cannot wait to see grow.
Black Widow will not disappoint any Marvel fan, or, for that matter, Johansson fans. It is a mixed bag and is not one of the best MCU films. It does entertain, and it does open up for Phase 4 of the Marvel programme. It’s just a shame it has taken so long to get here, and if he had been produced between Civil War and Infinite War, it would have been outstanding.
4 out of 5
Black Widow is in cinemas and available on Disney+ at £19.99 on Premier Access.