BLACK WIDOW is directed by Cate Shortland. It stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz. The film releases on July 9, 2021, with both a theatrical release and a Disney+ Premier Access release.
Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, a former Russian agent turned Avenger, is now on the run from the government following the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, being branded a fugitive for violating the Sokovia Accords. On the run and being pursued by mysterious and dangerous entities from her past, she must reunite with the family she was once estranged from, taking on a new threat while trying to stay hidden from her former allies.
BLACK WIDOW’s theatrical release was delayed. A whole lot. It was one of many movies that was a victim of theatrical release disarray during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s now over a year since the movie’s original projected May 2020 release. Not to mention that as a result it’s the first MCU movie to hit theaters in two years since SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME. Making the move an interquel was a strange decision, but the always reliable Ms. Johansson delivers with a solid performance, helped by fantastic action scenes, character development, and one of the best supporting casts of any MCU film, even if it does come up slightly short in some departments.
The casting of BLACK WIDOW is top notch; a decade plus later, it’s safe to say this is the role Scarlett Johansson was born to play (who knows if we’ll see her play the part again due to her character’s eventual in-universe fate). I don’t know that we needed this interquel story, but it’s pretty damn entertaining, and she proves herself more than worthy of this part.
And I’m happy to say the supporting cast is just as good. Florence Pugh plays Nat’s estranged sister, and the chemistry and story between these two helps to elevate BLACK WIDOW to more than just another big dumb action movie (not to say it doesn’t deliver in the action department, though). But for me, the highlight of the movie is David Harbour’s portrayal of the girls’ adoptive father, Alexei AKA the Red Guardian. A Russian Super Soldier who’s a bit more inept and slow-witted than Cap despite his obvious strength, he proves to be the movie’s primary source of comic relief, stealing every scene he’s in. Here’s hoping we see these characters in future MCU projects; a post-credits scene with a familiar face from a recent Disney+ Marvel TV series seems to imply we’ll be seeing Pugh again.
One promising aspect of BLACK WIDOW is that it tends to be a “smaller” story, not on the massive scale of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR or the AVENGERS epics. Can you still make a good MCU action blockbuster without humanoid gods, giant robots, arc reactors, living planets, talking raccoons, plant monsters, and homicidal aliens? I’m pleased to say the answer here is YES. The “smallness” of BLACK WIDOW keeps the movie from feeling overblown or going over-the-top at any point. Yes, it ends with a big action-packed battle with a megalomaniac and plenty of deadly henchmen. All Marvel movies do. But BLACK WIDOW mostly manages to find the balance between action and drama, and the results on the big screen speak for themselves, even if these events may not necessarily amount to much in the grand scheme of things in the overall whole of the MCU; we already know Natasha’s eventual fate.
As much as I liked BLACK WIDOW, some aspects of the movie do leave something to be desired. The biggest issue I had with the movie was the decision to make this as an interquel rather than a prequel to Nat joining the Avengers. The movie begins with a 90s-set prequel scene with Nat and her sis as little girls while their dad is doing undercover work for Mother Russia. It’s a fantastic action-packed sequence, and they we get a full opening credits sequence showing our heroine over the years, falling into the place we have her in the film. My question is, why couldn’t we get THAT story instead? The opening sequence with young Nat and sis is easily my favorite in the film, and fleshing out what happens in that credits sequence could’ve made for a great prequel film, seeing how she got to be an Avenger in the first place. Not that I don’t like the film we ended up with, though.
The film also continues the MCU’s “villain problem” in that it’s unable to create a truly compelling villain. The evil mastermind here looks like the love child of Danny DeVito and Robert De Niro, talking in a Russian accent. He just never seems that threatening. Even another potential threat under his control is underused and never quite comes across as effective. The best moments of BLACK WIDOW are the “family” sequences; seeing those actors and actresses play off of each other is this one’s greatest strength.
BLACK WIDOW stands as another triumph for the MCU, and at this point it’s not likely they’ll ever release an outright dud. ScarJo is still at the top of her game, and the addition of “familial” characters for her to play off of brings some interesting drama to the table, but it doesn’t skimp on the action either. It ranks a solid three out of four stars, and MCU fans won’t want to miss it, though whether you’ll want to pay the $30 for Disney+ Premier Access is debatable. That said, those who watch shouldn’t be disappointed.