Mandatory Movies: Was Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ Worth the Wait (Anything With Scarlett Johansson Feels Like a Hell Yeah)
In a moment improvised by Florence Pugh, her character, Yelena Belova, gets on the ground, whips her hair back, and mocks her surrogate sister’s signature superhero landing—something Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow first did in 2010’s Iron Man 2 after taking people down with her thighs. It’s the perfect joke. Why? Because after seven films and over a decade later (exacerbated by COVID-19 delays), Scarlett Johannsson’s “sexy Avenger” finally has a solo film unconcerned with being sexy…even though it kind of still is. So, was it worth the wait?
Cover Photo: Marvel Studios
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First, why the wait?
Cate Shortland’s Black Widow takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe between the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Natasha is on the run due to violating the Sokovia Accords and, despite being a public figure, doesn’t change her appearance until the end of her latest adventure. Why the midquel? Well, because Natasha died in Avengers: Endgame and, following the success of films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (Black Widow is definitely better than the latter), it took this long for the studio to be confident in a female-led superhero movie. And that’s the tea. Regardless, better late than never is a timeless excuse.
Black Widow acts as a swan song for Johannsson, opening with a flashback to Natasha's life in Ohio circa 1995 and, if that wasn’t bad enough, she and Yelena were trafficked as part of the Red Room’s Widow program. The is also how we are introduced to the rest of Natasha’s Russian “family” in Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and the USSR’s version of Captain America, Red Guardian (David Harbour). The rest of the film takes place seven years before Endgame (mostly) as this rag-tag group aims to take down the Red Room and its leader, Dreykov (Ray Winstone). The quirky and sentimental dynamic works but is sometimes sidelined in favor of scenes where Black Widow thinks she can fly.
Get this woman a pair of Js.
If you’re an avid MCU fan, it’s hard to really invest in Black Widow’s story with all of Loki’s multiversal madness happening on Disney+; setting up Phase Four and beyond. Black Widow feels like a byproduct of 2016, following Marvel Studios’ winning formula to a T and offering only one real surprise—which deals with Taskmaster and the internet already seems pretty annoyed with. Plus, you know Natasha’s ultimate fate and that of the overall MCU so it’s hard to establish urgency. Still, hearkening back to her scene with Loki in The Avengers (2012), “[she’s] got red on [her] ledger, [and she wipes] it out” in Black Widow. Sort of.
Did somebody say something about Budapest?
Black Widow makes the narrative rounds; typing up every loose end in Natasha's story—from that much-reference Budapest mission with Hawkeye and reconciling her past to passing the now-not-so-tight Widow suit to the scene-stealing Yelena. The film’s post-credits scene with La Contessa Valentina Alle...Elaine from Seinfeld sets up Pugh’s role in the upcoming Disney+ series Hawkeye; therefore, she’ll presumably take up the mantel of Black/Red/White/Whatever Widow.
The MCU has been misused Black Widow in films like Avengers: Age of Ultron when she kept telling the Hulk “the sun’s getting real low.” Despite overtly sexual/laughable portrayal early on and the romances with Bruce Banner, Johansson has acted her ass (no pun intended) off. It would’ve been nice had a slightly different version of Black Widow released after Civil War but it does work as a recontextualization of Infinity War and Endgame. I don’t know about you, but I was dying to find out where she got that vest with all the pockets. Besides, watching Johansson be an absolute, brutal badass in a slick espionage flick feels like a well-deserved, if not belated, hell yeah.
Verdict: Mandatory Movie.
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