Black Widow (2021)
Black Widow (2021)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.

Release Date: July 9th, 2021 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Cate Shortland Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, William Hurt, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko

 


 

A

s young children, both Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) are indoctrinated into the Black Widow program under the cruel tutelage of the heartless Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Despite being trained as a loyal spy and assassin for the maniacal Soviet officer, Natasha eventually liberates herself and joins the Avengers in an attempt to make amends for her days of ruthless killing. When the superhero group disbands after the tragic revelations in Siberia, Natasha flees to a remote Norwegian countryside. But her past catches up to her even there, in the form of a mysterious vial and a message from her long-lost sister. Following clues leads her to Budapest and a reunion with Yelena, who also managed to escape the sinister outfit. When her sister informs her that Dreykov is not only still alive, but also his “Red Room” training fortress flourishes with hundreds of new “Black Widows,” the siblings determine to put an end to the madman’s tyrannical rule once and for all.

A happy family dinner is suddenly disrupted, leading to a harrowing escape and violent uprooting; such are the origins of Romanoff, who has always had tumult coursing through her veins. She has not, however, had any actual super powers, making her something of a weak link amid the Avengers and their otherworldly characteristics that give them literal unstoppability. She may be mentally indefatigable, but she’s a mere mortal, even if she’s been surrounded by extraterrestrial levels of super-ness all the way back to her youth. Curiously, in the context of a standalone adventure, that wimpy humanness is what gives her tale a bit of life.

Though it begins with dark, somber notes to counter the inherent silliness of physics-defying agility, powers of flight, or extraordinary strength, that tone doesn’t stay consistent. The film wants to be based in reality – where it plays out most engagingly – but seems to be stuck in Marvel’s unmanageable realm of staggering unreality. Despite an initial vibe along the lines of Jason Bourne or James Bond, where disguises and aliases, tracking devices and eccentric gadgetry (including the latest brainwashing trick of chemical subjugation), and limitless modes of transportation and globetrotting await, it’s not long before the supernatural elements rear their ugly heads. Romanoff may be a grounded, secret-agent-type of adventurer, but she can’t seem to elude outrageously advanced technology and paranormal entities, none of which jibe with her relative ordinariness (if any of this were sensible, she’d be dead from the very first scuffle).

This of course carries over into the action sequences, which start with believable yet tragically brief hand-to-hand combat, before segueing into computer-enhanced movements, firepower, and explosions. It definitely doesn’t help that her main nemesis is an android soldier built like an evil counterpart to Iron Man (boasting a special shield like Captain America’s). Why can’t Romanoff find an everyday human combatant to duel? Even when aliens aren’t directly involved, their influence is persistent, making it difficult to invest in the missions and conflicts. “I doubt the god from space has to take an ibuprofen after a fight.”

In the first half of the picture, the action arrives so frequently (allowing audiences to become numb to the visual salvo) that there isn’t much opportunity for storytelling. Thankfully, that changes midway, making room for sisterly bonding – chiefly through teasing and quarreling – and pseudo-family interactions, which is where “Black Widow” finally hints at a more sincere, emotional level of character relatability. The down-to-earth, human conversations (arranged in a road-movie fashion) are the high points.

As it shifts away from a take on “La Femme Nikita” to the dystopian sci-fi routines of “Equilibrium,” ultimately betraying a distillation as a simple revenge flick, “Black Widow” proceeds to remind viewers that all of this could have been so much more powerful and riveting without the over-the-top tech or superheroes of any kind. Meanwhile, commentary on the contemporary Russian and U.S. geopolitical climate are lost to clumsy flashbacks and a drawn-out conclusion. But even with all of its faults and missed opportunities to overcome its entrenchment in comic book lore, it’s difficult to entirely overlook the winning entertainment value of its female leads, especially with Johansson pulling off a big-budget, self-contained actioner without the aid of major Marvel properties, as well as the grandiose designs (and visual overload) of the massively high-octane climax.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10