It took all these years to finally see a standalone Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) movie following her screen debut in Iron Man 2 back in 2010! Not only did it take eleven long years but Black Widow was delayed three times due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The trailers kept us on edge and fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were anxiously eager to witness her solo outing. With the long delay, the film is finally out and the question that is on everyone’s mind is…has the wait been worth it? Well, it depends if you’re a Marvel super-fan or a casual observer.
Black Widow takes places after the events of Civil War where some of the Avengers are being hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D for violating the Sokovia Accords. Romanoff flees and finds safe haven in Norway. Prior to all this happening, the movie opens in Ohio in 1995. Natasha was a teenager then living with her parents and younger sister. Her father is Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) and her mother is Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). Both are Russian agents and their “children” are only a means of keeping their cover authentic to outsiders. We learn that Natasha had a younger sister named Yelena (Florence Pugh). They were close, but not sisters by blood. In fact, both Natasha and Yelena were taken or sold to the Russians and used in the program to be soldiers. It’s here that they both remember their time in the “Red Room,” a facility created by the Russians in order to train young girls to become the perfect killing machine.
Now, back to the present. Natasha is one the run meanwhile Yelena is an active agent. Following a failed operation, she comes into contact with a substance that alters her mindset. These young girls are trained all their lives but are manipulated from afar to commit murders and acts of terrorism. When coming into contact with this red substance, it blocks the control from the Red Room and essentially frees the agent. Think of it like a curtain being pulled back. Once the agent comes into contact with the substance, they no longer are at the will of whoever is controlling them. For the first time, they are able to make their own decision and decide what is best for them.
Natasha and Yelena meet after not seeing each since they abruptly left Ohio when their mission was completed. They were separated and never saw each other again. Same with their “parents.” Everyone went their separate ways. After a couple of action sequences, we learn that Natasha was under the impression that she killed the man responsible for the Red Room operation. Yelena knows the truth and together they decide to kill the real man who stole their childhoods and their lives in order to control them.
The movie itself does feature an intriguing plot, some expertly staged action sequences and some comedy here and there; but ultimately, Black Widow does feel quite different from the other MCU films. For one thing, the film is very lengthy and it takes time to get the story rolling. Both Natasha and Yelena meet up with their “parents” and reunite in order to fulfill their mission. We get this back-and-forth estranged family melodrama that tries to be entertaining, but drags on for much too long.
I do appreciate the story and what the movie is going for, but the tedium of its pacing and writing prevents full engagement. I never could get invested in the characters, especially the surrogate parents, and the main villain in the movie is entirely underdeveloped. Ray Winstone plays General Dreykov, who is the head of the Red Room and there’s nothing that the movie does to forecast this character as an evil diabolical mastermind who has all these agents in the palm of his hand. While viewing the film, its plot structure called up similarities to Salt (2010), which in comparison had better execution. It is a clever action thriller, whereas Black Widow lacked bite.
Also, the action isn’t scattered randomly about the film, but considering this is a partial origin story, you would think we would’ve seen more scenes involving the training of these young girls so that we can truly understand why they are angry instead of just talking about it. It’s a frustrating fact, and it hurts the progression of the film.
Even though Natasha is the lead here, I have to give immense credit to Florence Pugh as Yelena. She proves to be the most interesting character that is fully developed and someone that I was rooting for. Pugh is terrific in her performance and is a standout amongst the cast. Johansson is good as usual in her title role, as she has now been playing this character for over a decade.
Score 1 out of 5
As a superhero film, this newest outing from Marvel left a lot to be desired. Die-hard fans of this particular genre will enjoy this movie as it fleshes out one of Marvel’s major players, but others will have plenty of lingering questions that make this movie seem questionable in its inability to provide a more entertaining experience. The action is formulaic at this point, the comedy lands flat, and the execution is fine due to the direction of Cate Shortland, but the script isn’t fully focused on creating an exciting summer flick.
We always count on these superhero movies to be enthralling and have us leaving the theater excited, but in this case the film sometimes fails to entice, excite or even get us energetic. This film tends towards the sleep-inducing side, that’s not good for any summer flick.