'Black Widow' Movie Review: A Worthy Farewell
After living in limbo for over a year as a result of the pandemic, Marvel Studios’ Black Widow has made its way to theaters and Disney+. Serving as Scarlett Johansson‘s swan song in the Marvel universe and the introduction of Florence Pugh as the new “Black Widow,” is director Cate Shortland’s film a good way to welcome fans of comic book movies back to the cinemas?
Due to the nature of being a prequel, as well as the character’s fate in Avengers: Endgame, many fans will surely feel this story to be unnecessary and much of the positive buzz surrounding it will fall on deaf ears, which is a shame considering the movie is actually quite good. While it doesn’t stand atop the theoretical podium of Marvel flicks, it perfects the formula of the standalone origin story; complete with some of the most brutal action in the MCU to date. To be frank, the biggest surprise in the film is the writing. While the story is certainly flawed (more on that later), the dialogue is witty, intriguing, and almost never comes off as expository vomit. Furthermore, Black Widow is funnier than it has any right to be. In more than one instance my theater erupted in laughter, particularly in response to Red Guardian’s unfiltered obscenities; hilariously delivered by David Harbour. Both leads, Natasha and Yelena, have great chemistry and sell their bond as siblings in an instant.
The opening of the film is dark and gritty, featuring the sisters as children, which lends itself well to laying a foundation for their later conversations. The scene ran on just a tad too long and eventually stopped developing the family dynamic in favor of playing out of the film’s weaker action scenes. The title credits, while creepy, also seem a bit out of place.
Another area of excellence is in the movie's ability to balance conversation and action, something that many other similar properties struggle to achieve. The story feels almost game-like in its progression in the best of ways, as each fight scene unlocks a new piece of the overall puzzle, allowing the characters to move to the next act. In other words, the pacing is excellent and never loses its focus. Additionally, the movie hits the ground running with the most polished one-on-one combat scene to date in the MCU featuring Natasha and the villain, Taskmaster. The fight scenes are (for the most part) consistently impressive and brutal to the point of gasping from some audience members.
Comic fans may be disappointed with Black Widow’s handling of the character “Taskmaster.” In their short time on-screen, their key ability (to analyze any fighting technique and replicate it), is used very sparingly, resulting in generic battle sequences in the third act. Luckily the film does a great job of advancing the character in other ways, which I can’t get into without delving into spoilers.
On the subject of Natasha, Johansson gives a strong performance worthy of sending off the iconic character. The very premise of the film forces Nat to face her demons and learn that she has to live with her decisions. The audience is reminded that even the strongest are vulnerable; a theme Marvel has enjoyed exploring recently, as seen in the recently concluded The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The major set pieces were all shot with IMAX cameras, and create a sense of scope for all the locations that were shot on-site. This works against the movie in its final act, much of which was clearly shot on a green screen. This larger format only accentuates the use of the overall poor CGI, which was luckily kept to a minimum.
Although a love letter to the character, what undeniably stands out as the weakest aspect of Black Widow is the sloppy story; particularly with the third act. The movie’s MacGuffin is a complete cop-out, serving to push the story in the weakest way possible. Many other narrative beats can only be explained as “plot convenience,“ and asks the audience to temporarily suspend their disbelief. These issues are glaring and signal the film’s devolution into a bland action flick. With some extra polish, Marvel would have a film on their hands with quality rivaling the lighting-in-a-bottle they captured with The Winter Soldier, but as it stands, they’re left with a fun summer outing that’s definitely worth a watch for any fan of the franchise.