It feels like we’ve been waiting a lifetime for Black Widow. Originally scheduled for release in May 2020, like many films it suffered countless pushbacks due to the pandemic. Now over a year later it finally sees a simultaneous cinematic and Disney+ premier access release, and boy was it worth the wait.
Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow starts in Ohio in 1995, where Natasha Romanoff is living with her sister Yelena, mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) and father Alexei (David Harbour). Despite a seemingly idyllic family life, the family flee their home late at night on an “adventure” with a floppy disk containing unknown information stolen by Alexei. Pursued by police and with Melina injured, they manage to escape the USA by plane and arrive in Cuba where they’re greeted by Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Alexei hands over the disk and reveals the family have been undercover as a sleeper cell in Ohio for 3 years, and watches as the girls are taken away by soldiers to return to the Red Room.
Through clips over the opening credits, we’re shown how the girls came together with Melina and Alexei as the fake American family and how Nat became the assassin and Avenger we’ve come to know. Then it’s 21 years later, with Nat on the run from Secretary Ross (William Hurt) following on from the events of Captain America: Civil War and the Sekovia accords. She heads to Norway, where she’s helped out by fixer and private contractor Mason (O-T Fagbenle). As well as bringing her a new life in the form of fake passports, a trailer and weaponry, he also brings a box of mail and packages for her from a Budapest safe house.
These packages include a case full of mysterious red vialswhich were sent to Nat by Yelena (Florence Pugh), after a mission for Dreykov revealed that the widows are under a form of mind control and the mysterious red substance released Yelena from his control. After coming under attack from a shadowy assailant, Nat finds Yelena in Hungary where the pair decide to take down Dreykov for good. Unable to do this on their own, they enlist the help of the pair they used to call their parents to bring an end to the Red Room and Dreykov’s network.
Standalone Marvel films have been improving a great deal over recent years, with Black Panther and Captain Marvelbeing particular highlights, so Black Widow had some huge shoes to fill. Nat has always been an Avenger who has been side lined in favour of her male counterparts and has never really been given a chance to shine, but she definitely gets the chance to here. This is without a doubt the best standalone Marvel film released to date and not only is it a tremendous start to phase 4 of the MCU, it’s an incredibly heart-warming and kickass send-off for the first female Avenger.
There have been hints at Natasha’s backstory in previous films, but here we’re finally given the full story and it’s a hugely interesting one. This isn’t your usual Marvel film and instead feels more like a Bond or Bourne style espionage thriller, with a little added flair and spectacle. The action scenes are gritty, impressively well-choreographed and are a lot more adult and physical than you’d expect from Marvel. Aside from a limited amount of blood and gore, they wouldn’t feel out of place in a John Wick film. The CGI is good and is exactly what you’d expect from the MCU, although does become a little overused later in the film.
What makes Black Widow such an engaging watch though is the family dynamic and relationships between Nat and her “family”. Watching Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh on screen as the two sparring sisters, you can’t take your eyes off them. Their dynamic feels incredibly real and Pugh steals the show as Yelena. Her sardonic, witty quips are delivered with incredible timing and she brings the majority of laughs – indeed one scene where Nat and Yelena are discussing the Avengers and Nat’s ‘posing’ stances had me in stitches. David Harbour too brings a lot of humour as the oblivious Red Guardian Alexei, and while Rachel Weisz isn’t given as much to do as the rest of her family counterparts, she too shines whenever she’s on screen. This dysfunctional family make every scene a delight to watch, even those that are dialogue heavy and would otherwise be seen as filler inbetween each action set. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a film with a runtime of over 2 hours that felt like it flew by. It has such a perfectly flowing story full of the just right amount of action, laughs and seriousness, I didn’t want it to end. The only real negative I could comment on was Ray Winstone’s slightly Cockney Russian accent, but even this wasn’t a major impediment.
Black Widow has it all. It’s a gripping, tense action thriller that’s full of heart and humour and is a phenomenal send-off for Natasha Romanoff. While Black Widow is no more, I just hope that if the end credits scene is anything to go by, that we haven’t seen the last of her dysfunctional yet lovable family.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!