Black Widow (2021)

Hello there, dear readers. Did you miss me!? To be fair, most of you probably won’t have even registered by absence, but after my A Quiet Place Part II review in early June I decided to take a little time off to find my mojo. My heart hadn’t been in the writing for a little bit and I wanted to take a step back to start enjoying movie watching again. Of course, when something as high profile as a new MCU movie drops, you can’t help but get back in the swing of things. So here I am, a month fresher, ready to pick up where I left off. Nothing like the continuation of a 20 plus film franchise to force you out of a funk!

After what feels like an incredibly long time coming (pandemic inclusive), Marvel has finally seen fit to give us Black Widow. Being way too far into the history and development of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) at this point, the film is less of an origin story and more of a gap filler for the time after Captain America: Civil War. After becoming a fugitive for violating the Sokovia Accords, Natasha embarks on a European mission to reconnect with her ‘sister’ Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and confront some of the history of her past, both in terms of the family that she thought she had, and the enemies that she thought she had already defeated.

Any reader of this blog will know that my relationship with the MCU is very much a surface one. I watch the movies, I either enjoy or I don’t at the time, and then I tend to very quickly move on with my life. Measuring things on that scale, I have to say that I had a good time with Black Widow. If you’re looking for a critique of how exactly the narrative fits in with the wider MCU arc, or a discussion of what certain decisions have been made for certain characters, then you have come to the wrong place because I simply don’t know!

What I do know, however, is that Black Widow provides two hours of quite different feeling fun from most of the previous solo Avenger pictures that we have seen before. The female heavy cast is the first thing that stands out, and it’s a fantastic cast at that. Most of my complaints about these Marvel movies in the past have been that they always feel just that little bit too ‘blokey’ for me, but Black Widow is certainly not guilty of that.

I have seen some critics of the film bemoaning the lack of heavy action and fighting and compared to other examples in the MCU, and I do agree with that. But as someone who prefers cool and interesting characters moments over crashes and bangs, perhaps this is why the movie seems to have worked so well for me. At its heart, Black Widow is a comic book movie that is much more about family dynamics and confronting one’s problematic past than it is about explosions and wild set pieces. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of action from start to finish, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the fighting in the film feels secondary to the characters. Thankfully, these are characters that I genuinely enjoyed, and whilst I’m sure I missed one hundred little easter eggs and references to the wider MCU, Black Widow did enough on its own to entertain me for the full runtime.

The biggest selling point here for me is undoubtedly the cast. Compared to how she was presented in her early MCU showings, you can tell that Scarlett Johansson has really had a hand in the transformation of Natasha Romanoff. She’s less shiny, less pampered, less ‘fake’, and the charisma of Johansson’s performance is able to shine rather than a dodgy wig or overly sexualised, overly tight costume. Johansson doesn’t put a foot wrong here, but I’m afraid that can’t save her from being overshadowed in her own movie.

Step forward, Florence Pugh! As Yelena Belova, Pugh has firmly and effortlessly cemented herself as one of Marvel’s prized possessions for the future. She was the star of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and she’s the star here too. Marvel has been very good at putting real, talented dramatic actors in their movies to complement the action with real character depth, and Pugh might just be one of the best they’ve recruited so far. I can’t wait to see where she goes in this universe from here.

The rest of the cast of made up with more stellar names from Rachel Weisz to David Harbour and beyond, I’ll refrain from too many mentions for fear of spoilers! For someone like me who isn’t particularly invested in the lore of the MCU, getting to see faves like Rachel Weisz doing cool shit, being funny and kick ass, makes all the difference. It’s a great cast, probably the best cast for a non ‘supergroup’ Marvel movie since Black Panther.

Overall, Black Widow probably isn’t going to be hailed as one of the all time greatest MCU movies, but I can’t say that I had any complaints. There is no doubt that the delay in release hurt the film, along with Marvel’s clear reluctance to give the character her own movie in the first place. In the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, there’s no denying that Black Widow feels a tiny but inconsequential, but there is enough in the post credits scene to sign post where we are going from here. I had fun, the family dynamics still was cool, most of the humour worked, Florence Pugh is a superstar. That’s about it!

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