As we go forward into Phase 4 of the MCU one big thing has been saying goodbye to some of the friends we made along the way while resetting our relationships with the ones who are continuing on. Into the former category now goes Natasha Romanov the Black Widow. As you probably know Natasha died in Avengers Endgame so what we’re getting here is a formal send off for both the character and Scarlet Johansson, who has played her since 2010 in Iron Man 2.
Of all the original six movie Avengers, no one’s profile as a character was raised higher through the movies than hers. She and Hawkeye were the least known of the group and by the time she died helping retrieve the soul stone that had done a complete 180. Black Widow has her own unique back story from the others and as the only woman in the original group she stood out in more ways than one.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room – why do this now? The simple answer is that it was supposed to happen sooner but it got delayed because Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter didn’t want it to happen. Ike is of the mindset that movies featuring women or people of color in the lead just won’t do the business that one led by a white man can. That thinking also delayed Captain Marvel and Black Panther , for the record. Black Widow the character deserved her own solo outing given her role in the Infinity Saga so one executive’s backward thinking shouldn’t cancel that.
For a rundown on all the havoc Perlmutter wreaked on the MCU, here’s a quick thread:
The film takes places after Captain America: Civil War, and before Infinity War, and introduces us to Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) while delving in the shared origin the she, Natasha, Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Iron Maiden (Rachel Weisz) have as a pretend family turned tragedy when Nat and Yelena are taken to the ominous Red Room by Dreykov, the man who controls and deploys all the Widows. The big mission is to take down Dreykov after reuniting some 20 years later. We also get the MCU debut of noted villain Taskmaster.
The opening scene pulls right at your heartstrings as what was her family, although it was a guise for Red Guardian’s undercover work, is pulled apart by Dreykov as Nat and Yelena are taken away after a daring escape and hauled off to the Red Room to be trained as assassins. Fast forward 20 years and Yelena is in the run from her former teammates while Nat is fleeing the authorities after going on the run for helping Steve Rogers escape in Civil War. After meeting up unexpectedly in a safe house the two ladies move on together to go after Dreykov. And from there fun and hijinks ensue.
So how was it?
The story was good. Natasha reuniting with her lost family to destroy the Red Room is a good, straightforward, plot that fits what is essentially a one off film. The cast all did great, too. There were lots of cool action scenes that worthy of the big screen experience. As for the ‘isn’t it too late to do all this?’ question the movie answered that with a resounding no. And to be honest that questioning seems in a lot of instances to be more of a swipe at Johansson given some of her choices in non MCU roles than a real question.
The Widow family are a joy when they are all together again. The best thing I can say is that they all came off like a legit family onscreen. Harbour plays Red Guardian as a cheery former star jock type reliving the glory days as he keeps fighting the good fight today. And Yelena as the younger sister mocking Nat’s signature fighting poses and checking her on becoming a role model on the back of killing people adds some humanity to Romanov’s character. While things are definitely set for Yelena to continue on I’d like to see some more from both Red Guardian and Iron Maiden.
We also got the backstory on Natasha’s defection from Soviet assassin to Shield agent and the details on the infamous Budapest story involving Nat and Hawkeye. The ending and post credit scene were just what they needed to be as well. We got the segue to Infinity War, a proper send off to Natasha, and an entry point for Yelena to continue on as a character in the MCU. We got enough from the movie to establish her as a character as well, so things are all lined up for the next chapter should there be one.
As for the bad, well……there’s the elephant in the room in the form of Taksmaster. SPOILER ALERT!!! When the villain was introduced as the Taskmaster Protocol, I immediately thought oh boy, this is not gonna go over well. Without going into detail I’ll just say that what we got is an entirely different concept than the comics, and how you accept that will go a long way into how you take this movie.
I wasn’t personally offended by it but at the same time I found it to be a bit of a letdown. For better or worse the MCU has not been set up to be a villain showcase outside a handful of choices. I don’t buy into the ‘MCU has crappy villains’ narrative but they’re usually not the focus and most of the time they’re not trying to make the villains cooler than the heroes. Starting with Jack Nicholson’s Joker there was a run of films where the villains were more interesting and better written than the heroes. While that has made for some great acting performances it also goes against centuries of storytelling practices. Given a choice between one or the other I do think making the heroes the cooler characters is the way to go.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Overall quality: 4/6 (good), Enjoyabily: 4/4
Would I put it in the upper echelon of MCU films? No. But it’s good start to finish, often very good. Johansson doesn’t command the screen the way her Avenger teammates Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr do and while that gives her cast mates a greater chance to shine it does keep the movie from that hitting that next level of greatness. But it’s definitely worth your time and money, whichever method you choose to watch it.