Black Widow (2021)
Film: I’ve always been a fan of low powered/ intellectual heroes. Even though I do dig Superman, and Shazam, I do really love the heroes that spend their time saving the day with nothing more that training and skill. It’s why I love characters likes James Bond, Jack Reacher, Alex Cross and I guess I’ve always loved the idea of an ordinary person making a difference, and maybe wishing that perhaps one day I could make a difference to someone’s life in such a heroic way.
To that end I’ve always loved Daredevil, who had a MCU based Netflix series a few years ago, and even though he does have powers with his sonar ‘sight’, a lot of his character comes from his intellect and his agility. It was in Daredevil comics that I first discovered, and fell in love with the character of Black Widow: a strong, non-powered hero who risks everything for her definition of good.
I was extraordinarily happy when Black Widow turned up in the MCU in Iron Man 2, and was even more happy when it was revealed that she was played by Scarlet Johansson, who I loved in things like Ghost World and 8 Legged Freaks.
This movie is the reward that Scarlet Johansson deserved, as her character wasn’t just a hero, but a moral backbone and solid support to the rest of the Avengers, and her appearance in the brilliant spy-thriller Captain America: Winter Soldier turned her into more than that. This film was written by screenwriter Eric Pearson (Godzilla vs Kong and Thor Ragnarok) from a story by Jac Schaeffer (Wandavision) and Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) and was directed by Lore’s Cate Shortland.
Black Widow starts in the mid 90s, with us being introduced to a young Natasha Romanov (Ever Anderson), who lives in Ohio with her ’sister’, Yelena (Violet McGraw) and ‘parents’, Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachael Weisz) who we discover very quickly aren’t a family but instead are Russian sleeper agents. They are discovered and have to quickly escape, and we see that perhaps Alexei is more than he seems, and the family return to their Russian handlers, and are separated.
Flash forward to not-quite-modern day Natasha (Johansson), who is on the run from the American government after the events in the dreaded Captain America sequel Civil War (seriously, that was a Captain America film? Shouldn’t it have been an Avengers movie, or just called Marvel Civil War?) who after receiving some mail from her safe house in Budapest, is attacked by a masked villain who seems to know the Avengers every move, including everything from her own repertoire.
It’s not Natasha that our nemesis is after though, but instead a parcel that is amongst the Budapest mail, that would appear to contain a chemical antidote to a particular form of mind control, and was sent to her by Yelena (Florence Pugh).
Natasha returns to Budapest to find Yelena but very quickly they are attacked by a gang of well-trained women who will seemingly stop and nothing to obtain/ kill them, under the leadership of the aforementioned villain known as the Taskmaster.
This leads the to discover that the training ground that perverts young women, including the both of them, into operatives known as ‘Widows’, the Red Room, is still in operation and so they decide to tear it down once and for all, but they need the help of Alexei and Melina, who may have information to help them find the boss of the Red Room, Dreykov (Ray Winston).
I actually feel sorry for Johansson with the release of this film. Ready to come out just as the global pandemic hit, it was delayed and delayed and then unfortunately dumped onto Disney+, not giving it the opportunity to be the success it perhaps should have been, and garnering a female hero in the Marvel universe the superstardom she may deserve. (yes, I’m aware that Captain Marvel exists but let’s face it, it was shoehorned in so the Avengers actually stood a chance against Thanos).
Johansson continues to play Black Widow as a full-tilt action hero, but with heart and soul. She’s easily the most rounded of all the characters in the Marvel movies and that’s a tribute to her acting ability. She’s probably one of the best cast in the Marvel films.
The addition of Pugh, Weisz and Harbour is refreshing too. These are three actors who have been chosen due to their abilities to act rather than fulfilling a body ideal! He’ll, Harbour even promotes his so-called Dad-bod and can still be a superhero. The best thing about it is that they have been built around Johansson’s character and really feel like a real family, and not a reel family.
There is one problem with this film and that’s cinematic history. Sure, as a Marvel machine movie under the control of The Mouse ™ it was going to have lots of people see it, especially seeing as how the Marvel movies now have a requirement to see everything other wise you’ll miss out on key points to enjoy the total soap opera of it all, but the basic plot line of a Russian school training women to be secret agents has been seen in film before. Before you Marvel Zombies jump on me and say she was around before the other things, yes, I know that (I am a comics fan of 45 years standing), but MCU exclusive fans may not know that and if they don’t know the history they will just see this as a copy of Salt or Red Sparrow, which is a shame.
Thankfully the script is still full of mystery, action and heart, tells a great story about how strong family bonds can be, and that ‘family’ can mean more than who a person can be related to by blood, but can have a greater meaning of support, trust and experience. Shortland’s direction really showcases all this brilliantly, and it’s juxtaposition of some of the very male-gaze shots of the female cast, particularly some Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque low angled butt shots, make for an unusual visual gumbo that works perfectly.
There are finer details of the film though which are are great addition to Black Widow’s legend. Where she got her training, what her and Hawkeye were doing in Budapest, the so-called ‘red in her ledger’ are all touched upon but not so heavily that this film requires too much knowledge of other Marvel films to make sense. Like the Antman film it does sit outside as an action film by itself.
That’s not to say there isn’t some references back to the comics either; Alexei refers to another character as ‘Big Bear’ and his alter-ego, The Red Guardian, had a teammate in a Russian version of the Avengers in the comics who was a ‘big bear’ named Ursa Major.
It’s a great action film, and Harbour plays a great comedy part to the seriousness of the entire situation. It’s not as bombastic as other Marvel films but it has more heart than most of them and the redemption of Black Widow’s past is a solid addition to her legend, and makes her sacrifice in Endgame a worthwhile one.
Extras: As usual, we have a bunch of extras on this disc, but they are all too short. Considering that Widow is FINALLY getting her due after a career supporting the other Marvel heroes, it’s a shame there was a ‘comic to film’ history of the comic character done for the disc. That seems to be something lacking from a lot of the Marvel disc releases as they distance themselves more and more from the source material.
Sisters Gonna Work It Out looks at the chemistry between Johansson and Pugh, and the way the characters worked together on screen.
Go Big If You’re Going Home looks at the story and the locations and set design of the film. It’s a bit of a confused hodge-podge that wants to tell a lot but doesn’t have the time to tell any of it appropriately.
Gag Reel. The Marvel Gag reels stopped being funny at about Ant-Man. They don’t need to be on here anymore as they look more like deliberately acted gags.
Deleted Scenes: there are 9 deleted scenes, some of which have some beautiful cinematography and it’s a shame to see it wasted, but as usual, the film doesn’t suffer with their absence.
WISIA: It’s a Marvel movie, I rewatch Marvel movies, even when they are as bad as Thor Ragnarok, so yeah, it’ll get rewatched.
This review was done with the Australian 4K release, with the extras reviewed off the accompanying Bluray.