Thursday 8 July 2021

Black Widow (Movie Review)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe finally returns to the big screen after being forced to take a more-than-year-long break. Within that time though, we've gotten not one, but three excellent MCU shows, with Loki still ongoing as we speak. All that is to say that fans of the MCU have still been getting their MCU fix these last couple of months. So with Black Widow, what many of us are no doubt hoping for is a reminder of what sets these MCU movies apart from everything else. But does it mark a triumphant return, or is it just a simple case of too little too late?

Set following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the movie finds Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) on the run following her reluctance to sign the Sokovia Accords. It also traces her origins as a former KGB agent, most of which plays out over an opening montage set to a remix version of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. She is soon forced out of hiding and back into the spy game though when an old acquaintance reaches out to her out of the blue. Now she must confront the demons of her past while being hunted by a deadly assassin that seems to know her every move.

I confess that I was never really that keen on a solo Black Widow movie, especially coming this late into the overall MCU. And my skepticism didn't exactly wane in the intervening time we had to wait following the film's delays. So you can take everything I am about to say with a grain of salt, and believe me when I say that your mileage may very well vary. But I honestly believe that this is one of the weaker movies we've gotten in the MCU thus far. This is not to say that it was a bad movie, just that it doesn't quite reach the same heights as the movies that came before it.

My main issue with the movie then stems from the very nature of its narrative. The fact that the film is a prequel immediately removes any sense of tension or urgency. We already know what happens with Natasha Romanoff in Avengers: Endgame, as well as the role she had to play in Avengers: Infinity War. So any threat she goes up against in this film gets instantly diffused by that knowledge. And the events of the movie itself ultimately adds nothing new to the MCU or any of these characters.

All that said, the film still delivers what the MCU does best, some truly jaw-dropping spectacle. The setpieces are some of the very best I've seen in a while, even though the action was of the leave-your-brain-at-the-door variety. Because we've got to remember that these aren't superheroes in the true sense of the word, at least save for one character. So watching them perform superhuman feats can feel a bit jarring and over-the-top. But if that is precisely what you came for, then rejoice, because that is precisely what you'll get.

Another highlight of the film was its stellar ensemble. Scarlett Johansson throws all her heart and soul into the role, but she is easily outshined by both David Harbor and Florence Pugh, both of whom provide much of the comic relief in the film. It is a shame we can't offer the same praise to the two villains though, both of which felt weak and terribly underdeveloped in comparison. And for anyone wondering, the film does have a post-credits scene, but it didn't feel like much more than an ad for one of their upcoming Disney+ shows.

Black Widow is not the epic swansong fans of Natasha Romanoff might be hoping for. Neither is it that great of an origin story. What it does do well though is remind fans of the MCU why they love this character. The film attempts to marry the spy thriller thrills of Captain America: Winter Soldier with the kind of family drama and hijinx you'd expect to find in a Fantastic Four. And while the two don't always gel well together, the film still manages to do just enough to justify its existence.