Natasha Romanoff gets an action-packed origin story that sets up a raft of new MCU characters. Black Widow can best be described as The Americans meets 007 in a James Bond-styled adventure. A fantastic supporting cast adds much more humor and likeability than expected. Black Widow also tackles the serious themes of human trafficking and sexual abuse in a forthright manner. The plot has few surprises. Everything goes exactly as expected, but not a deal-breaker in a highly entertaining film.
Black Widow takes place in the past along two timelines. In the mid-nineties, a seemingly average Ohio “family” makes a drastic decision. Two decades later, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) faces the aftermath of her choices in Captain America: Civil War. She is a fugitive for breaking the Sokovia Accords. A furious Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) wants her caught and imprisoned.
On the run in remote Scandinavia, Natasha receives a package with dangerous implications. The Red Room, the organization that stole her life and trained her to be an elite assassin, still exists in the shadows. Its terrifying leader, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), has dispatched Taskmaster, an enhanced soldier that quickly adapts to any combatant, to kill her. Natasha searches for the “family” she had long forgotten. A little sister (Florence Pugh) who worshipped her, a powerful father (David Harbour), and a brilliant mother (Rachel Weisz) who taught her to survive at all costs.
Black Widow’s action scenes will kick your ass and break a foot doing it. The fighting, gunplay, and visual effects are in the vein of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s bullets, knives, and bloody beatdowns from multiple deadly characters. There are also superb chase scenes and a pulse-pounding, stratospheric climax. Taskmaster is an absolute beast to deal with. The ability to copy and use an opponent’s tactics makes a truly formidable adversary. Natasha Romanoff must outwit, as well as pummel, Dreykov’s legion of fighters.
Florence Pugh steals the show as Yelena Belova. She holds her own and then some with a magnetic screen presence. This was done purposely to set her up as the new Black Widow. That term refers to all of the Red Room’s female assassins. Yelena’s primed to take up the mantle, as she did in the comics. Pugh adds a lot of personality to the character. She’s hilarious mocking her “sister”, but also shows a vulnerable side when confronting the difficult truths behind her upbringing.
Black Widow is the first film in the MCU’s Phase Four. The script by Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok, Godzilla vs. Kong) ticks several boxes for long-term commercial viability. This is not the end for Natasha Romanoff. The story strategically leaves unanswered questions for her; while establishing Yelena Belova, Red Guardian, Taskmaster, and other supporting characters. There’s a lot of fan service milking here. I can picture Kevin Feige and his team churning out ideas for spin-off sequels, particularly in television. I wish the film had a more complex and definitive narrative, but thoroughly enjoyed it regardless. Stick around after the credits. Black Widow is a production of Marvel Studios. It will have a theatrical and Premiere Access Disney+ release on July 9th.
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