Black Widow: A Family Affair That Packs a Punch
Chris Kavan - wrote on 07/26/21
While Disney+ helped me get through the MCU drought, I admit I was looking forward to seeing another entry on the big screen. As far as I'm concerned, Scarlett Johansson was long overdue for her own film and though this takes place between Civil War and Infinity War - it stands on its own as a testament to both Black Widow and the actress who turned her from eye-candy into a force to be reckoned with.
In terms of tone and action, Black Widow can favorably be compared to Winter Solider. It's story line is pretty dark - and it opens with what seems to be a quintessential family in suburban Ohio circa 1995, but we soon find out the young girls are surrogate siblings only, and likewise their "mother" (Rachel Weisz) and "father" (David Harbour) are similarly plants - undercover Russian agents Melina Vostokoff and Alexei Shostakov. What's more, Vostokoff is a highly-trained Black Widow while Alexei is essentially Russia's version of Captain America, the Red Guardian. Despite successfully concluding their mission (after a tense chase from S.H.I.E.L.D. agents), the girls are separated and to be trained in the Red Room - and one of them is our future Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff while the other is Yelena Belova,
Flash forward to shortly after the events of Civil War, where Natasha is on the run after refusing to side with the supposed "good" side. She doesn't stick around and instead high-tails it to Russia where an old friend, Mason (O-T Fagbenle) who helps her settle in - but the peace won't last long. Her long-lost "sister", Yelena (Florence Pugh) is still a pawn of the Red Room, but after coming into contact with a mysterious red dust on a mission, she manages to break free from the mind control over her and sends the rest of dust to a safe house she trusts - right to Natasha. Not knowing what she even has - she is attacked by the Red Room's most dangerous agents - Taskmaster - and manages a harrowing escape, with the mysterious substance in tow.
Realizing she's going to need some help, she tracks down Yelena - and has a sisterly throw-down, and realizes they're going to need to get the family back together. This means breaking Alexie out of a Siberian prison and tracking down Melina on a lonely farm. Meanwhile, the Red Room is never far behind and the unrelenting and seemingly heartless Dreykov (Ray Winstone) will stop at nothing to ensure his Black Widows continue to flourish and help shape the world through the shadows.
Black Widow has plenty of action - even through she is has not super powers aside from her rigorous training. Alexei is really the only "super" hero while Taskmaster's schtick is to learn any fighting style via a computer uplink directly to the brain. Most of the fights, therefore, are of the punch, kick, parkour variety - yes, there's some outlandish scenes (like the end fight on a crumbling sky base falling from the sky) and some head-scratching moments (how did a little byplane manage to fly from Ohio to Cuba and NOT get shot down?) but, for the most part, it's highly entertaining. There is even levity amongst all the child abuse and mind control - with Harbour providing the meat as the washed-up Red Guardian, who still wants to be Russia's premiere hero - even if he has to stretch the truth (and suck in his gut) to do so. The messed-up family dynamic is what really drives this film and, for all its flaws, it truly makes it worth your while.
While one may think Winstone makes for a weak villain, his absolute cold and downright sadistic nature also makes for one of the most chilling villains in the MCU. Sure, he also has no super powers but his willingness to do anything to get what he wants - no matter the cost - makes him a cross between Montgomery Burns and Hannibal Lector. And while the film seems to end on a good note - we all know what happens to Black Widow - but make sure you stay for the post-credits scene, it sets up a pretty good showdown for the future.
Black Widow is one of the more grounded MCU films - surely outlandish at times, but with more emotional heft than a typical MCU film in my opinion. It's a great way to send-off this character - but with this multi-verse thing, who knows, maybe it won't be the last time - I just wish we would have gotten this sooner.