My first foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was almost ten years ago when I was dragged to see the first Avengers movie. Boy did I love it. Everyone loved it, save for my grandmother who was dragged along, and who is used to movies in the era when she was my age and not ones full of gleeful violence and how-did-they-do-that millions-to-create special effects. And Black Widow was the first superhero in said universe I was introduced to when she appeared on screen. Now, after so many delays, we have one of the very first films that went along with No Time To Die and Peter Rabbit 2 in delaying due to COVID, and it’s one with Nat headlining the title.
To be honest, I did not know what time Black Widow was supposed to take place in within the universe, and I got my answer pretty quickly, an answer I didn’t expect. After Natasha Romanoff decided to defy the Sokovia accords introduced in Captain America: Civil War, which is by far my favourite MCU film to date, because she let Steve and Bucky escape from the other Avengers that turned against the accords, for the longest time I always thought she just stayed away. Tony told her that after what she did, people could be coming their way. Her response? “I’m not the one who has to watch their back.” Well, she had to watch her back apparently, because she didn’t just sit back until Infinity War. She had to go on the run and depart from her already torn up family.
But she knows all about torn up families. When a strong helmeted figure attacks her, going after a briefcase a friend of hers brought, she’s lead back to her long lost sister Yelena (Florence Pugh). Well, sister figure. Their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei (David Harbour) were surrogate parents. Who allowed them to be split up when their boss Dreykov (Ray Winstone) forced them apart after an escape from their hometown of Ohio and S.H.I.E.L.D agents to Cuba. Turns out there are people around the world under control of Dreykov, someone Nat thought she successfully killed. And the only antidote is this red serum where there’s a limited supply and Dreykov was supposed to have all of it. For this mission, she’ll have to get her old parents back, Alexei now being known as the outdated Red Guardian, and she and Yelena will have to stand a little bit of bickering between one another.
The opening song in Black Widow, a new rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (of all things) is one of the best sequences I’ve ever seen to kick off a movie and say farewell to the young versions of the heroes. It has a brutal honesty about child trafficking, betrayal, farewells, torture, and deep swallowing of the acceptance of loss. Plus Ever Gabo Anderson (who played the Red Queen in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter alongside her mother Milla Jovovich) was brilliant in her short time on screen as the young Natasha, just as much as Florence Pugh, who I never pictured as a big superhero after Little Women, but shoots out my expectations like a heat-seeking bazooka. Back to the opening, which is in my opinion the best part of the film. It makes us realize behind the mysterious and always likeable Black Widow, most renowned female superhero of the MCU by far, there was an origin story that’s perhaps the most haunting out of all of them, because there are a lot of kids in real life who go through horrors like this, and even if only one in history went through that, that’s way too many.
I liked the Russian representation. Even if they could’ve gone for more Russian actors, perhaps unknowns, to star in this film, the ones who do a bit of voice acting here are convincing. If there’s one thing brand new that this film brings to the world, it’s Hollywood representing Russians as the heroes. The action scenes here are fun as always, only this time they are a little more hands-on with the punches, kicks and house smashes rather than robots and tanks. I had fun hearing all the crunches and thrashes and wondering how hurt everyone really was. Especially since I knew they weren’t really too hurt. It’s not that kind of movie.
The final battle also twists itself up a little bit. First there’s one thing we don’t expect, and then it flips that twist on its head with an Easter Egg to something Natasha used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Then after that there’s a different turn on how we expect a final fight to go down.
Here are some criticisms. The movie doesn’t hit as hard as it thinks it does on family and abandonment. More time with the four of them would have benefited. I also feel the movie had room to take more risks. More characters could’ve died. I say that because in an age after Infinity War and Endgame brought the final punch down on so many beloved superheroes, and Spider-Man: Far From Home left us the best cliffhanger in Marvel movie history, Black Widow is a bit of a step down in the deviation department. And I just have to say this. The Red Room is the name of the place where Widows are trained and hypnotized, and as someone who hasn’t followed this story in comic form, I had to look a few things up and found that’s the name that was used too. Good to be faithful, I guess. But it was really distracting considering another series of films that emphasized the phrase “red room”. I guess the filmmakers couldn’t really win here, either coming up with a new name and angering the devoted, or keeping it and leaving handcuffs and whips in the back of everyone’s minds.
Anyhow, Natasha Romanoff was a superhero who always needed her origins eventually explained, and I am satisfied with the result. I remember, when Spider-Man was to no longer appear in the MCU over that contract dispute, leaving him in a fugitive cliffhanger, I stated on social media it would be hard to support the Black Widow film or any further Marvel productions if that happened. I ended up not disappointed with Marvel for getting Spidey back in, and I was not really disappointed with Black Widow either. I’m just not going to be swooning over it. It’s not an entry I’m going to ask everyone to see as soon as possible. But it’s better than Wonder Woman 1984 and it’s much better than the new Space Jam. I just hope Marvel’s next entries get more edgy in their resolutions.