Our final journey with Original Avenger Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) weaves plushly between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. With most of her super-suited pals either locked up, indisposed or AWOL, Black Widow goes to ground with the help of her affable fixer Mason (O-T Fagbenle). Naturally, things don’t go to plan, and our doomed heroine must turn to a most dark and painful place – her family.
The writing team of Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok), Jac Schaeffer (WandaVision), and Ned Benson stick fat with the MCU stencil. Stakes, real and emotional, are established and raised, and then swiftly resolved, just in time for the Big Post-Credit Scene.
With potential angles of hurt and distrust simmering, the Romanov family reunion is a lumpy slog of forced dynamics between barely established characters. What would be a sober unpacking of established grievances shared instead becomes a sitcom-esque retort-fest that feels out of place against their ashen, blood soaked history, and mostly diffuses the tension required for the audience to invest heavily in these new characters. Awkwardness and angst are replaced with deadpan banter, particularly between Natasha’s parents, who are oddly familiar despite decades of estrangement.
Still, David Harbour (Alexei) and Rachel Weisz (Milena) attack their roles in a playful spirit and Harbour just nails it as a character who the movie cares way less about than it should. The big story here though is Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova. Charming, gutsy, resourceful and unpretentious, Pugh steals the film as the younger Widow, exuding a bad-ass homegirl vibe that becomes the best thing about Black Widow the longer it goes. The great Ray Winstone, seeking to ham it up somewhat as the dastardly and devious Dracov, is unfortunately an underutilised and forgettable villain.
As for Black Widow herself? Executive Producer Scarlett Johansson is a fine, complex actress and scripts like this one don’t exactly push her to the heartwrenching extent we’ve seen displayed so superbly in films like Marriage Story and Lost In Translation. Nonetheless, Johannson hits all her beats exhibiting a lived-in rhythm tonally consistent in storyline with this established marquee character.
The action scenes are just there, holding an aesthetic more suited to the current Marvel Disney+ shows than a big budget MCU blockbuster, with the exception of the typically grandiose final act. Black Widow, the first major MCU film since Avengers: Endgame, was always going to suffer in comparison as the waves of Marvel hype receded and the COVID-bite rendered audiences weary and cynical. However, its final release date was not uncoincidental as it turns out, and those who are interested may want to continue the trend of watching Marvel offerings in order of their release, in particular The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
Ultimately, Black Widow is a frustratingly mediocre addition to the burgeoning MCU canon, despite its superb cast and ever-reliable production quality. Director Cate Shortland’s 133 minute prequel/backstory/side story neither fails or succeeds spectacularly. Instead, a fairly simple story of retribution is stretched over layers of new character dynamics that don’t always pop with the intended sizzle.