This solo Scarlett Johansson MCU feature sells itself short.
The turning point regarding Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow character sacrificing herself for the Soul Stone in “Avengers: Endgame” has disappointed Marvel fans worldwide. But, of course, coming on the success of the late Chadwick Boseman portraying the title character in “Black Panther,” she had to get a spin-off movie of her own, entitled “Black Widow.” What else? And, of course, because of COVID-19, the movie got pushed back and back and back, until it finally found a release date in July 2021, simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+.
Before the screening began, some new faces I was meeting asked me what my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie was. They understood it was a tough question since they made a lot of them. I did tell them “Guardians of the Galaxy” made my list of the best films of the past decade, but my other favorites include “Iron Man,” “Black Panther,” “The Avengers,” and “Avengers: Endgame,” and there are a lot of others I’ve enjoyed highly or mildly.
To clarify, “Black Widow” has some entertaining performances, a few genuinely funny gags, and thrilling action sequences, but it’s neither “Iron Man” nor “Black Panther.” This mixed review is either gonna disappoint you or agree with me, depending on how you view the MCU these days, and I can tell you why. It doesn’t have a fun villain or the narrative the main heroine deserves.
This solo spy thriller takes place between “Captain America: Civil War,” when Iron Man and Captain America had a falling out, and “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame,” when Thanos wiped off half the galaxy and the survivors traveling back in time to save everyone. Black Widow, whose real identity is Natasha Romanoff (as you all know), must dodge the feds for violating the Sokovia Accords as seen in “Civil War,” and hides out in Norway.
The story also involves Natasha being separated from her family as a child. Well, actually, they were her fake family, since she was taken from her real family as an infant. 20 years later, she reunites with her fake little sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), who was brainwashed into a fighting machine by the sinister Dreykov (Ray Winstone), and managed to break free from his control. His beef with the two young women are Yelena has vials that cure his brainwashed minions, known as Black Widows, while Natasha killed his daughter as part of a mission.
They also break their fake father-a Russian Captain America named Red Guardian (David Harbour)-from a maximum security prison, and they seek Dreykov’s lab, known as the Red Room. And they also reunite with their fake mother Melina (Rachel Weisz), who is the lead scientist in the lab.
Among the performances I’ve admired, Johansson continues to commit to her role with her tone and style, Pugh expands her horizons (“Midsommar,” “Little Women,” etc.) by playing the young action star with a certain kind of spark, Harbour serves as a comic relief character who has some empathy, and Weisz has some wise moments. As usual, MCU picks a fair amount of professional actors, who know or at least try to understand the source material, but somehow this time, “Black Widow” didn’t really speak to me as a whole movie.
The story about the mind control and the fake family doesn’t make much sense, so I had to rely on some one-liners to understand. And it’s also the main antagonist who doesn’t rank with the studio’s best-probably the weakest since Christopher Eccelston’s Malekith in “Thor: The Dark World.” I mean Winstone’s acting is good and his character does have a fighting machine on his team, but he doesn’t have the kind of weight I’ve seen in the other villains.
Given the studio’s filmography, this is one of those See What You Think deals. There are some well-choreographed fights, Johansson is the best actress to portray Black Widow, and the escape sequences are fun. Director Cate Shortland, whose credits include independent films like “Lore,” “Somersault,” and “Berlin Syndrome,” makes her blockbuster debut with the right female superhero. I wouldn’t mind seeing “Black Widow” again, but the story wasn’t really for me to relate to. So, I’m in the middle of it.
In Theaters and Streaming on Disney+