This Black Widow review should have been written a very long time ago, and I’m not talking about the pandemic-delayed release of the film. The character and Scarlett Johansson deserved this film long ago.
Whatever Marvel Studios’ reasons were for waiting until Captain Marvel for a female-fronted superhero film, it was the wrong decision. We all know what happened to Natasha Romanov in Avengers: Endgame and it takes away from not only the decision to do this film, but from the overall story of the character.
I’ll jump into the film, which I really did love, in a second, but it’s important to get this out. Johansson has played this role to perfection. This character is beloved. So beloved, in fact, that droves of fans were up in arms (myself among them) when her toys didn’t appear in stores, going so far as to use the hashtag #WheresNatasha to make sure Marvel noticed.
The fact that this film didn’t appear for so many years, and not until after the death of the character is disgraceful. This film in its current form (obligatory after-credits scene notwithstanding) could have come out at any time, with very few tweaks, so there was no reason at all to wait.
I’ve climbed off my soapbox now. Let’s get into the review. As I said, I loved the film. Black Widow gives us so much more in terms of Natasha’s background. We knew a lot, including the Red Room facility where she was forced to learn the craft of assassination and violence. We knew it scarred her.
Here though, we get to see exactly how she was manipulated. It wasn’t just Natasha, of course, and from the opening scene, we see exactly how long she’s been undercover.
Natasha was raised (sort of) by two people; Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei, aka The Red Guardian (David Harbour), and has a younger “sister,” Yelena (Florence Fugh). We learn how young she was when she was indoctrinated, and how she’s already a spy as a child.
It’s heartbreaking, but it’s what we expect. Seeing it on screen though, is more of a gut punch than one might expect.
After the events of Civil War, however, Natasha is on the run. The film, as you may know, takes place during the period when many of the Avengers are on the run, and Natasha is having a rough time being separated from her new family.
I won’t spoil why she heads out to see her sister, but it involves a character named Mason (O-T Fagbenle), a man who supplies her with planes and places to stay. If we don’t see more of Mason in the future, it will be a crime.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know about the big fight scene between Natasha and Yelena in a safehouse, and it’s the perfect intro. For these two women who’ve been brought up as spies who kill, there is no other way to get reacquainted.
Yelena has found something that might help the others from the Red Room, and Natasha has to get the family back together to accomplish that.
The scene encapsulates everything we need to know about their relationship. They fight and they tease each other. They generally give each other crap in the way only siblings who have been through something together can.
Not only is Scarlett Johansson at her best here, but Florence Pugh brings out a side of her that we haven’t seen as consistently. This woman knows everything Natasha has been through – all of it. Natasha can relax with her in a way she can’t, even with the other Avengers.
The chemistry between these two fantastic actors is stunning, and Pugh is a perfect addition to the MCU. From her badass fight scenes to the way she makes fun of the iconic “Black Widow pose,” to her vulnerability when revealing how excited she is to have bought herself a vest with a lot of pockets (you don’t exactly shop at the mall when you’re in the Red Room), she gives us a look at what Natasha might have been if she hadn’t escaped until much later in her life.
We don’t just see the trauma though. We also get to see a different surrogate family, particularly in the dinner scene with Natasha, Yelena, Melina and Alexei that you’ve seen parts of in the trailers. Melina has (as Weisz put it in the press conference) no sense of humor and has cut off her heart. She actually says to Natasha, “How have you kept your heart?” later in the film.
That played opposite Alexei’s bombastic and ridiculous (in the very best way) bravado is an absolute joy to watch. I mean, I’d honestly just watch the four of them have a series of dinners together, just for the dialogue. (Frankly, I’d watch a show about the Red Room as well.)
Couple Alexei’s attempts to put on a costume he no longer fits in and his issues with Captain America being more popular than he is will give you the warm fuzzies. (Warm fuzzies was not a phrase I expected to write in a Black Widow review.)
We finally get to see Natasha confronting the people who hurt her and the way she hurt other people, which we should have seen so long ago. It’s so satisfying, despite the melancholy that accompanies the entire film. Not only that, but we’re seeing her in a film full of women. Sorry, I mean freaking badass women and it’s wonderful.
I don’t want to say much about the villains here, because all of it is spoiler-y, so I will content myself with this; I didn’t see it coming and that’s a good thing. Maybe I should have, and maybe you will, but it was not where I was expecting this to go.
The finale of the film is so heartbreaking, because Natasha deserved to have more time. At least, she deserved to go through this journey in the real timeline, and we deserved to watch it that way.
Finally, there is an after-credits scene. Of course there is. I’m still digesting how I feel about it, but it’s there and it does give us a look at the future.
BLACK WIDOW REVIEW SCORE: 7.5/10
Marvel Studios‘ Black Widow launches simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets on July 9, 2021.