Review: Was ‘Black Widow’ worth the wait?

Courtesy of Salon.com

Emily Ford, Correspondent

The new Black Widow movie marked a return to the big screen for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film has been long anticipated by Marvel fans even prior to the break from theaters. The question we’re tackling is: was it worth the wait?

I will start by stating the obvious; a Black Widow movie was long overdue. Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson, made her first appearance as Black Widow back in 2010 in Iron Man 2. 

Her dark past was hinted at in the movie and on several occasions throughout other MCU movies. She was, after all, one of the few heroes within the Avengers’ ensemble not to possess superpowers or exceptional technological might. This made her character all the more intriguing to fans. It was clear she had a few skeletons in the closet and unfinished business when she came to the United States to work for Nick Fury. 

The film takes place between the events of Captain America: Civil War and before the events of Avengers Infinity War. Being that the movie was released after her character’s death in Avengers End Game, the timing of the release also dampens the impact and even feels like an afterthought at times. I think the movie would have been more thrilling if it had been released during Marvel Phase 2 after her debut in Iron Man 2. The movie was better late than never, but would have been better earlier than later.

Director Cate Shortland, who was handpicked for the job by Johansson herself, went a different route with the timeline than many had anticipated. Rather than a full fledged origin story, it felt like a pocket piece and a send-off combined into one. 

The film follows Natasha Romanoff and introduces us to her planted family including her “sister” Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), her father, Alexei “Red Guardian” Shostakov (David Harbour), and her mother, Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).

Things kick off in the 1990’s in rural Ohio, an unremarkable and surprising starting point for a movie of this caliber. Natasha is seen playing in the backyard with her younger sister and living a seemingly normal American childhood. However, we quickly learn all is not what it seems. Natasha’s estranged father begins urgently ushering the family out of their home and fleeing to an airfield as they are chased by the authorities. 

After escaping from the authorities, Natasha and her “sister” are forcibly enrolled into a 

program called Red Room, directed by villainous Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone.) The program brainwashes children and turns them into assassins. Natasha eventually escapes to the west. She is on the run in the aftermath of the Avenger feud as seen in Captain America: Civil War. 

After fleeing to a safe house in Budapest, she is contacted by her “sister,” Yelena who reached out to her after her chemically-induced obedience was mysteriously negated. The two had not been in contact with each other for two decades as Yelena was unable to escape from the program. Together, they plan a direct assault on the Red Room, but such a daunting task will require the assistance of their fake parents. Reuniting with her parents after the trauma she endured during her childhood is frightening for Natasha, but she is done running from her past.

Overall, the film delivers standard-issue action in that first act, but it peaks in the middle when it establishes an emotional core. It does a good job of tackling difficult issues such as dysfunctional families and recovering from abuse. As a film in the action genre, it does well at straying away from the surface level plot associated with the genre. The movie is filled with layers and character building scenes. There is an excellent balance of striking action sequences and character development. 

Black Widow’s real engine, though, is the seamless rapport between Natasha and Yelena. Their sisterly bond is believable on screen and the chemistry between them is compelling. On the topic of Yelena, I want to point out that Florence Pugh took on her role perfectly.  Her character brought comedic relief  where it was needed and she made a lasting impression right out of the gates. Her character was tough as nails, but vulnerable. 

I hope to see her more in the future.

Another character introduced in the film was Taskmaster, a super villain who has studied the fighting techniques of the avengers in order to mimic them in fights. It is easily one of the coolest premises for a supervillain. However, Taskmaster’s backstory was hardly explained as a new character. Although it was given impressive action scenes throughout the movie, I felt that the character was not used enough in the movie. I ended the movie feeling underwhelmed by its portrayal and I hope it will be incorporated more in future Marvel movies and shows. 

All in all, I would give Black Widow 3/5 stars. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the film and casting. However, the timing of the release made it feel forced in many ways, and I feel there was some wasted potential for the Taskmaster aspect. The movie was enjoyable, but not thirty dollars on Disney+ enjoyable.

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