DaVette “Sees” Movies | “Black Widow”: MCU-Lite, But I’ll Take It

Like many Marvel fans, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Black Widow, the long-overdue film starring Scarlett Johannsen as Avenger Natasha Romanoff.  Saying Marvel’s Black Widow is long overdue is like saying Loki tells the occasional fib.  Fans of the character have been begging for a Nat solo film for years.  There is no good reason why, during the MCU’s Phases One through Three, that Nat couldn’t get a film of her own.  Not when there were three Ironman, three Captain America, three Spiderman, three Thor, and even two Ant-Man films during the same period.

So, the excitement was real when it was announced that Black Widow would finally get her own movie.  Then its release date was delayed, like so many other films, due to the pandemic.  But on July 9th, fans will finally get to sit back and enjoy a Marvel film with a popular character in a real theater.  And thank goodness, because no one really wanted the first MCU film since Spider-Man: Far From Home to be released only on Disney+.

The press screening of Black Widow was the first time I’ve been back in a theater in a year and a half, and it felt great.  Popcorn and soda in hand, I was ready to immerse myself into Nat’s world. But what I was hoping for and what I got didn’t quite mesh.

For one thing, the action takes place after Captain America: Civil War, when Natasha is at loose ends.  Her Avengers family is broken up and she is on her own.  But Nat finds that she has swapped one family for another as her past catches up to her and the details of her life before the Avengers are revealed.  We only had hints about her past from her true-confessions-style conversations with other Avengers in previous films, but now we get (nearly) the full story.

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

But did we need it?  Sure, there were some interesting reveals and entertaining familial interactions.  Had the same film come out during the MCU’s Phase Two or Three when we got to see the backstories of the other Marvel heroes, these reveals might have had more impact.  Given Nat’s close relationship with her Avengers family, and her dramatic and heartbreaking exit in Avengers: Endgame, much of this story seemed almost anti-climactic.

The film had some decent visuals, but it’s unfortunate that the overall look and feel lacked the MCU magic.  Say what you will about that formula, it worked. Black Widow was most MCU-ish during the quieter moments between the characters and in its humor.  But we watch these films for more than that, and the action sequences were frenetic, hard to follow, and didn’t have nearly the elegance of, say, those in Captain America: Winter Soldier or Black Panther.

Speaking of the action sequences, wasn’t there anyone on this production that could have reminded the creative team that Natasha Romanoff is not an enhanced individual?  That she isn’t Captain Marvel or the Scarlett Witch?  She doesn’t have superpowers, her friends do, which is the only reason she survived some of those battles.  I liked how, in those other films, Nat’s “super” powers were her brains, speed, and agility in battle, and the script rarely pushed the envelope of how much punishment she could physically take.  In this film, they tore up the envelope and burned it.  During certain sequences, she was like “Super Nat”.  When a movie is making you laugh at the wrong moment or say “Oh, come on” out loud in the theater, that’s not a good sign.

Still, what the film lacked in certain areas, it made up for in talent and performances. Johansson has lived with Nat now for many years and wears her like a second skin, yet she managed to bring new levels of insecurity and vulnerability that were both unexpected and welcome.  We never got to see Nat like this for more than a few minutes at a time in the other MCU films.  So it takes a bit to settle into this Nat, but it is refreshing once you do.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh as Yelena in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Florence Pugh as Nat’s sister, Yelena, was one of the standouts in the supporting cast.  Her Yelena reminded me of earlier versions of Natasha, tougher and more cynical than the current version. She also provided a couple of the best laugh-out-loud moments in the film.  Yelena is definitely one of the characters I’d love to see in another MCU film/TV show down the line.

(L-R): Melina (Rachel Weisz), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Rachel Weisz as Melina managed to add a great deal of complexity to a character that could have used more fleshing out. It was frustrating that the writers/producers rushed our time with this fascinating and complex character, denying(?) additional screen time so they could move on to something less interesting.

Hands-down the best performance in the film came from David Harbour, who stole every scene he was in.  There is a fearless quality to his portrayal of Alexei that you don’t see that often and it was a joy to watch. Alexei is another character that deserves to be seen in future films.

The one thing this movie has that is all MCU is a great end credit scene, so stick around for a very cool moment.

Now, in answer to the question, “Is Black Widow a good movie?”, I’d have to say that it is a fun popcorn movie.  But MCU films tend to be more than that, and this didn’t feel like an MCU film, and that’s a shame because right now, Marvel fans could use a great big screen escape.  I really hope that in the future the MCU team will give as much attention to its female-led films as it does with the others.

3/5 stars

Black Widow is open in theaters and on Disney+ July 9th.

 

BLACK WIDOW

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Simultaneous Theatrical & Disney+ with Premier Access Release Date:


In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller “Black Widow,” Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha/Black Widow, Florence Pugh stars as Yelena, David Harbour portrays Alexei/The Red Guardian, and Rachel Weisz is Melina. Directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Kevin Feige, “Black Widow”—the first film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe— will launch simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets on July 9, 2021.

ONE-LINER:
In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller “Black Widow,” Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises


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