We’re so deep into this thing that I shouldn’t have to explain much of this to you, so let’s just get to it.
Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) storyline may have come to a close in Avengers: Endgame, but talk of her own film has been rumored for quite some time. Ike Perlmutter (the dinosaur that used to be in charge of Marvel’s creative decisions) didn’t think a film led by a woman or a person of color would put butts in seats, but when Feige took over he began working toward getting more diversity out there for our non-CIS peers. Somehow the character of Black Widow was left out until just recently, but she’s finally come forward to grace the silver screen and lead her own action movie.
How is it? Well, it would have been one of the more entertaining films you saw in the theatre if it had come out around 2016. As it sits, this is a fun film that is unfortunately too little, too late. I liked it, but unfortunately this time it’s not required viewing.
Black Widow’s history is explored here, seeing her team up with former Russian sleeper agents Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), also known as Red Guardian, and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). Joining the team is her sister, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), and together they will try to stop sadistic Russian general Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and his henchman, Taskmaster (Olga Kuylenko).
Look, I love me some Florence Pugh. She’s one of the best performers of her generation, and quite honestly steals the show from Scarlett Johansson. The two have excellent chemistry, and Pugh was reportedly requesting changes of dialogue and behavior to allow for more depth and less of the Marvel humor. The problem is that it just wasn’t enough to save this thing.
All involved are doing their best with the material, a script that contains a compelling story and is completely gutted by the excessive use of items from the “Marvel Formula.” No moment is allowed weight, and it gets particularly glaring when Florence Pugh is discussing the violent hysterectomy that was forced on her and it is cut with a joke. Instances like these take away from so many moments that could do wonders for the characters, but instead keep them from anything truly special.
And I like most of these characters! Johansson is doing her thing, nailed down over several other films now, and Pugh is an ace in the hole for any film. Perhaps the biggest surprise is David Harbour, who leapt into the hive-mind consciousness via Stranger Things and has now made a career out of being a “dad.” He rocks that same energy in Black Widow, finding enough ham to make a sandwich, and it’s absolutely charming. It’s particularly glorious when you contrast it to Weisz’s performance, which feels like it’s only being put on for a paycheck. I love Weisz (I believe I’ve called her an international treasure before), but her time with Marvel seems to have been merely a paycheck and nothing more.
It’s unfortunate that composer Lorne Balfe has also turned in a bland piece of work for this. Marvel’s music has never been its strong suit (nor has any of its components outside of willing itself into an all-encompassing existence), but this time it’s truly disappointing. Balfe came onto my radar with Ghost in the Shell (composed with Clint Mansell) and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (a score that absolutely rips), fresh out of the Hans Zimmer camp and ready to make his own name, and here he has a hogtied audience that has to see every single film that Marvel releases. It’s frustrating to see such a letdown from such an exciting composer.
I enjoyed Black Widow overall, from its action sequences to its attempt to be a darker Marvel story. That said…this one isn’t the thrill I’d hoped for from Natasha Romanoff’s solo outing. In a world that’s burnt out on superhero flicks, releasing a midquel for a character we all know is dead really takes the piss out of this whole thing for me. To those that can still get excited for it I’m thrilled, because this will keep you entertained from start to finish, but for me it was just too little, too late.
Black Widow is currently playing in theatres and streaming on Disney+ Premier Access.