The Marvel Cinematic Universe is back on the big screen! As a huge fan of the franchise, the past two years have been tough. The two years of waiting between Spiderman: Far From Home and Black Widow has felt like an eternity. We lucked out that we got a few Disney+ series this year but this is different. On top of that, the long-gestating Black Widow project has been in development for way too long. After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Natasha’s fate has been in question. What will this film be about? Will we get the sendoff that many believe she did not get?
But the day has come…and what kind of film did we get? Black Widow is a globe-trotting spy film in the vein of James Bond. We are swept from place to place by maguffins and new characters. But this is not truly a “solo” outing for Natasha. She brings her WHOLE family long for the ride. The opening moments set up Natasha’s childhood that comes crashing down as they must leave America. Jump ahead 20 years, Natasha is on the run in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War. She is joined on her journey to finally destroy the organization that created her (The Red Room) but with an assist from her “father”, “mother”, and most importantly her “sister.” The film follows some standard spy movie tropes and focuses a lot of time on backstory and future world building. But in the end, this is an action and family filled adventure.
Does Black Widow fall into some of the pitfalls of the franchise in general? Honestly, it hits on most of them. But not enough to knock the film down too much. Villains? Ray Winstone’s Dreykov is a Bond villain more-or-less but right out of one of the bad ones. His lair is big and over-the-top, and he lacks any kind of serious depth of characterization. Taskmaster is cool in battle and has some depth in backstory but has a surprisingly predictable identity reveal. The direction is a bit flat from Cate Shortland and the cinematography is all grey scale like so many MCU entries before it. The music from Lorne Balfe is big and boisterous even if it is mostly generic. The action is exciting and one of the highlights of the film even if it is overly edited with too many cuts at times.
But what really works about the film? This film does rise above those Marvel shortcomings above. Scarlett Johansson might not have as big of a spotlight as she should in the film, but ScarJo certainly makes the most of her time with her presence. Florence Pugh (so hot right now) is amazing. Yelena is a wonderful addition bolstered by Pugh charisma and emotion. Her humor is fantastic, and her emotional depth adds plenty of layers. From the parent side, Rachel Weisz is a fine addition but David Harbour’s Alexei a.k.a. Red Guardian is a BLAST. He is fun, smug, and charming. Like I mentioned before, the action in the film is a real highlight but what is most surprising is the amount of depth the familial drama adds to the proceedings. The emotional core of the film is Natasha realizing that she really did have a family and I will boldly say this…it is so much better than any Fast & Furious film…tenfold.
So…did Marvel kick off Phase Four with a bang? This is not one of the best films in the MCU nor is it one of the lower tier ones. This film is a lot of fun even if it is not the freshest or most unique entry. Scarlett Johansson gets one last time to shine, and she certainly does whenever she gets that spotlight. The film also sets up some great characters who will shine into the future of the MCU. Whether you stream it on Disney+ (for $29.99) or watch it in a theater, this a refreshing return to the cinema for the MCU.