Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ is too small, too late
Scarlett Johansson’s too late solo MCU superhero movie is both too much of a glorified backdoor pilot for his co-star and not up to the spy flicks and spy thrillers he wants to emulate .
Cate shortland Black Widow is about half a decade too late. I’m not just talking about its place in the larger MCU continuity. Although, yes, the post-Civil war/pre-Infinity war the actor would indeed have had more impact in 2017 both in his narrative place and before his main character cooled down to save the universe in Avengers: Endgame. Even as we examine the notion of “female-led spy action”, this subgenre has recently seen a mini-resurgence, with Charlize Theron Atomic blonde, that of Jennifer Lawrence Black sparrow, Sasha Luss’ Anne. It’s less of a problem, except thanks to a convoluted, episodic storyline and surprisingly muffled and unsatisfying action, Black Widow is profoundly inferior to the genuine articles it attempts to imitate.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Johansson has said grimly for the past year and a half. Black Widow trailers. While I don’t think this line appears in the movie, there’s almost nothing revealed in this 2016 thriller that we didn’t already know. On the bright side, we don’t spend much of her runtime fleshing out brief flashbacks to Joss Whedon’s Natasha “Red Room” days. Avengers: Age of Ultron. However, we get a good deal of history and exposure to the past regarding his childhood and his original “family”. You will notice that A) it does not do much and B) it does not play any role in his choices during the last two Avengers movies.
The film, skillfully directed by Shortland as if she knows she is the last line of defense, gets off to a good start with a 1995 prequel showing how Natasha’s original family of spies fell apart and how she came to be. found in the post -The secret assassination programs of the USSR. The film kicks off the “present” (hours after the events of Civil war), with Nat trying to adjust to his new nomadic normal. This stuff is excellent, delivering a truly grounded and authentic survival drama “Homeless Ronin” that is more like “it’s a Bourne movie, but in the MCU “than did the Captain America the sequels look like “real” Tom Clancy actors. But once the plot is launched, well, give up all hope.
The current plot in the present tense is just that Natasha tells us that she did “one thing”, others tell her that she failed to do “the thing”, then Nat and her “family” ( including a campy David Harbor and an overqualified Rachel Weisz) teaming up to “do the thing” amid forced, generic platitudes about family. It’s not entirely rooted in retroactive continuity and narrative feedbacks like, say, F9, but it’s in the same sandbox and even pays a baffling tribute to the same underrated James Bond film. The film also tries to have its Bourne cake and eat that too, offering a story to the past of collateral damage, but then offering a moral so that no one is less our hero in the end.
Yes, Nat ends up meeting his estranged sister, who herself remains a loyal Russian super killer. Florence Pugh both gives the film a boost with a stage spin, though the film then falls into the trap of becoming a backdoor pilot for Yelena’s future MCU adventures. However, this is also where the action becomes strangely dysfunctional and self-defeating. Slight spoilers in the first act, but Yelena is one of many young black widow-type assassins who have been brainwashed to side with the bad guys. Never mind that it offers a lazy moral clean slate to its army of various female slayers (literally). We’re also almost always opposed to action as Natasha and Yelena battle brainwashed victims.
The good news is that the movie finally allows Johansson (relishing not being the only lady in a group of guys) and Pugh (reminding you of her breakout year in 2019) to relax and bond as sisters. This is the only part of the movie that stands out, both in terms of the subgenre (it’s not the Luc Besson movies that give their murderous girlfriends) and in terms of the MCU (even Captain Marvel spent more of her spending time with Nick Fury). Pugh’s pure star presence does what it can to cover up what isn’t working elsewhere. Johansson is excellent here, which is not surprising. She, like Anthony Hopkins, has always been fairly comfortable in shameless pulp fiction.
There are a few stunts of choice vehicles and brief lightning bolts of melee combat. Much, however, against traumatized and brainwashed torture victims (or relatively innocent prison guards), and there is little that will rock the Black Widow MCU climax. The film briefly comes to life at the end, courtesy of Ray Winstone (not a spoiler, he’s highly regarded in the opening credits) as the film’s proverbial Ego / Pierce. It makes a nice gold leaf for Johansson, but it’s yet another case of an otherwise smaller-scale MCU movie arbitrarily offering world-threatening stakes to retroactively justify this endless explosion-filled climax. They haven’t fallen into this trap since Guardians 2, so I guess this 2016 movie would have to repeat an old MCU trope.
Speaking of tropes, most MCU movies don’t exist as a glorified setup for the Next Chapter. They function as singular standalone films or, where appropriate, sequelae of their immediate predecessors. Black Widow Can’t help but feel like a feature-length prequel to a story that will likely continue on Disney +. It’s not just in the film’s incredibly misguided post-credit streak, but in the film’s near-centering on Yelena during what was supposed to be Black Widow’s big solo movie. Fans have wanted a Natasha solo movie for a decade. That they get one who’s a backdoor pilot for a TV series is an insult to the hurt of having to wait until Nat is already dead in a story in the past inconsequential to the present.
The film’s brief reflections on how society views girls and women as disposable will shock anyone who has never seen female spy films. This is Black Widow in a word. One of the reasons the Marvel / DC movies took over Hollywood, in terms of big-budget fantasy action franchises, was that some of their movies were better than the genuine genre-specific items they did. appropriated. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was better than Jack Ryan: The Shadow Recruit. Aquaman was better than King Arthur and the legend of the sword. Even ‘less than’ gender appropriations (such as Spider-Man: Homecoming) had popular acclaimed characters in a long and engaging story. Black Widow is, in a vacuum, a mediocre example of its subgenre, which relies on a rating on an MCU curve.