Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson
Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachl Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone, Ever Anderson, Violet McGraw, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Olga Kurylenko
After a year-long pandemic hiatus, Disney is finally reviving the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Widow is a strange choice for a bridge film as it takes place prior to the events of the final films in the Infinity Guantlet series. That said, if any film had to reinvigorate the box office for audiences, I’m glad it’s this one, which proves once again to the risk-averse Disney that having a female protagonist can actually succeed.
First introduced to the MCU in 2010’s Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff, who goes by the moniker Black Widow, has been begging for her own individual outing ever since. Having taken a decade to finally happen, the new film starring Scarlett Johansson is just about everything the audience could have wanted with this mixture of spy thriller and superhero hybrid. Johansson is joined by the estimable talents of Oscar nominee Florence Pugh, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, and Emmy nominee David Harbour along with Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko, and Oscar-winner William Hurt in a small role as MCU-recurring character Secretary Ross.
The film is set just after events in Captain America: Civil War in which the Avengers have broken up due to internecine struggles regarding the decision to abide by the terms of the Sakovia Accords, which requires government approval to engage in any superhero activities. Before that, viewers are treated to a bit of an origin story for Rmoanoff as the opening sequences are set in a small Ohio town where young Natasha lives with her Russian-spy “family” comprised of her dad Alexei (Harbour); mom Melina (Weisz); and younger sister Yelena. After escaping with a particularly juicy piece of intel, the family flees to Cuba where they are split up at the behest of the film’s overarching villain Dreykov (Winstone), creator of the tortuous Red Room, a facility designed to take young girls and turn them into brainwashed killing machines.
Fast forward 21 years and Natasha is on the lam from Sec. Ross who wants to bring her in for the bombing that took place at the signing of the Accords. As she attempts to stay hidden, she finds herself pursued by a mysterious assassin called Taskmaster, an event that leads her to adult Yelena (Pugh) and into a tangled web of intrigue that involves Dreykov’s survival and his pursuit of vengeance against his enemies as well as global control of prominent world leaders.
Indie director Cate Shortland takes the helm of Marvel’s latest feature and proves singularly adept at blending action in one of the most gripping and thrilling adventure the MCU has yet produced. It’s a laudable decision to deliver a woman’s story into the hands of a female director, but more importantly it helps establish the necessity of disparate voices in all realms of filmmaking. Shortland defines her place in a broader cinematic landscape, both fitting within Disney’s hyper-controlling production hierarchy and standing on her own. While it’s nice to give Disney credit for finally taking the plunge, it’s also important to call them out for their slowness to take action as well as their tendency to diminish or deemphasize female characters on the whole.
With the triple success of Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, and now Black Widow, it has become clear that the superhero landscape is no longer under the singular purview of male directors. What Patty Jenkins, Cathy Yan, and Shortland have done with their three pictures has not just proven that women can handle a blockbuster franchises, but that they often have better, more inclusive, and more exciting results than their staid male counterparts.
Action films have become increasingly convoluted when putting their exciting set pieces on the big screen. These jarring and chaotic sequences can create confusion in the audience, making it difficult for the viewer to keep on top of what’s going on. Black Widow keeps the action fluid and comprehensive while also being thrilling and inventive. Sometimes, the action tries to upend the film’s narrative momentum, but it ultimately gets itself back on track with a satisfying blend of explosive events and tender moments with a keen appreciation for and execution of the language and structure of spy thrillers.
Black Widow may well be the first film a lot of people see in a movie theater in over a year and it would most certainly be a welcome choice for that distinction. It’s an engrossing and entertaining adventure about the nature of family, the challenges of regret, and embracing the courage of one’s convictions.
Potentials: Visual Effects
July 20, 2021