BLACK WIDOW review – Worth the Wait

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Title: Black Widow
DirectorCate Shortland
StarringScarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz
Movie length: 2 hours 14 minutes

Ever since she appeared in Iron Man 2, I have wondered when Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow would get her own movie. In what seemed like the worst timing ever, Black Widow was announced after the character died in Endgame. Marvel has consistently defied my expectations, particularly with casting choices that seemed odd but totally worked, but this challenge seemed too big for even Marvel to overcome. Speaking of Endgame, I’ve also been wondering what Marvel can possibly do coming off of the mind blowing spectacle that was Endgame, which capped off years of intertwined storytelling. Then, due to COVID, Marvel had to adjust its release schedule.

It turns out Black Widow is a nice little film that is well worth the wait. I say little because it marks the return to the pre-Avengers movies that focused on a main character instead of a team. As can be expected after the sheer scope of the battle in Endgame, Black Widow is a much narrower film. It has some standout fight scenes with excellent choreography and cinematography, but it lacks the huge set piece action sequences of other Marvel films. Aside from the final battle, it feels more like a Bourne movie than a comic book movie. It is well done, but I think it will help to go in with the right expectation.

Photo Credit: Jay Maidment

Reducing the scope also sidesteps a problem with superhero teams once they are formed – later individual films have to concoct explanations for where the rest of the team is when a major threat arises (They are all off on other missions only goes so far). This is where the genius of Marvel comes into play. Rather than resurrecting Black Widow and telling a story post Endgame, this film is set after Civil War, which provides an excellent reason why she can’t just call in backup.

Normally I don’t dig prequels and movies set earlier in the timeline for the simple reason that you know the character doesn’t die in the film. In this case, the movie capitalizes on the other movies (the longing for family and the tortured past) in a way that wouldn’t work if you’d seen the film in chronological order. My feelings may also be influenced by the fact that I quickly became invested in the fate of the other characters.

While Black Widow is a fitting vehicle for a great character played by an accomplished actress, oddly, the best part of the film is Florence Pugh’s Yelena, another product of the Red Room (the Russian sleeper cell/assassin training program that created Black Widow. She has the best lines in the movie by far, continuing Marvel’s ability to combine both humor and drama that is often copied but never quite as well. David Harbour also steals every scene he is in as another lesser known comic character, Red Guardian.

Another thing I love about the Marvel movies is how they take core concepts and characters from the comics, but give them their own take. This movie’s primary example is the Taskmaster. If you are familiar with the comics, Black Widow takes Taskmaster’s defining characteristics and reinterprets them (if you have no idea who Taskmaster is, you will be confused for a bit, but they work in an explanation after a while).

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

I have to give the movie an A. Black Widow is a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It fails to achieve the mind melting heights of some of the bigger spectacle movies, but it slides right in with some of the middle tier installments – I liked it better than Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange, and it easily surpasses the first two Thor movies and Age of Ultron. As is the case with most Marvel movies, there is an end credits scene.

Black Widow is now playing in the UK, and opens in the US on July 9th, 2021.


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