Black Widow Review: An action-packed spy adventure that nearly delivers a fitting send off
After years of requesting and COVID influenced delays, MCU fans have finally gotten the solo Black Widow outing they’ve been begging for and while it isn’t a flawless outing, it does bring a unique vision to the MCU.
A Black Widow solo film has arguably been the most requested thing by the MCU fandom since Phase 1, but it never saw the light of day until Phase 4. However, the film coming now does come with its fair share of problems that we should just acknowledge. Now, does this movie come a little too late? Yes. Does the fact that Black Widow died in Endgame completely strip away the stakes? Pretty much. Does knowing that this will likely be the only solo Black Widow movie we’ll ever get make this one kind of bittersweet? Yes, especially when you realize what it really is. However, Black Widow is able to overcome a lot of the obstacles that hold it back to deliver an action spy adventure that brings in a much darker, more grounded style.
Black Widow is easily the darkest MCU film to date in both style and substance with how it shows Natasha Romanov’s (Scarlett Johansson) damaged upbringing in a sleeper cell family before being ripped from them and trained to be a deadly killer. The opening immediately tugs at your heart with how it depicts a young Natasha realizing that her life thus far has been a lie and being forced into the Red Room – a secret facility where Black Widows are trained and controlled. It’s likely one of the best openings of any MCU movie with how the gritty footage of the Black Widows being trained is elevated and made much scarier with the incredible cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It perfectly sets the tone and themes felt throughout Natasha’s latest mission.
Set just after Civil War, Natasha now finds herself on the run as ghosts from her past re-emerge, forcing her to work with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) to take down the Red Room and free the Black Widows from the control of the vile Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Although seeing Natasha kick ass and pull off cooling looking superhero poses and action move has made Black Widows seem pretty rad, this film shows it comes at a devastating cost. With seeing how controlled Black Widows are to the point where their reproductive organs are ripped out at a young age and can be killed off if they are no longer “usable” really strips away the glamour and cool factor of the Widows. This depiction leaves this horrifying impact that hits a much more mature tone for the MCU and it holds nothing back – which heavily works in creating this gut-wrenching nightmare that Natasha has tried to forget about in her time as an Avenger.
The Natasha we see here is much more haunted by her past actions that caused collateral damage and rifts between her sister and the other Widows that makes her kind of out on her own. There are definitely some great character moments that show her growth as she has to come face to face with the past she’s left behind and seeing Johansson leading is something really special since she’s really been giving her best performances lately. However, she’s not really allowed to go above and beyond since this film does more for Yelena’s future in the MCU rather than its titular heroine.
At every turn, it just feels like Yelena and Pugh are just completely stealing the show from Natasha and Johansson. When the film delves into Natasha and Yelena talking to their fake parents Alexi (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz) about the lies they told them as kids and that their family was a lie, Yelena’s moment is much more powerful and relatable with how she doesn’t just want to lose the best moments of her life. The empowering moments that tie into the story’s excellent themes about reclaiming control hold more weight for Yelena’s arc in the story. Even the post-credit scene does more for Yelena’s future in the MCU rather than provide a fitting send off for Natasha.
Look, Pugh’s performance here is nothing short of amazing and Yelena’s story is really great, but this movie isn’t meant to be hers. People didn’t campaign for years and come to watch this movie just to see it be a vehicle for Yelena in the MCU. They at least want to see a fitting, action-packed send off for Natasha – which this film can deliver at times. The action is as brutal as ever and as said before, the basis of the story and tone of the film are great. Director Cate Shortland’s efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed. However, this is not the proper Black Widow movie people have been waiting for and she generally feels secondary compared to Yelena in how the story is tailored and where the big emotional moments really are.
It’s also disappointing that Alexi and Melina are mostly just comedic relief since the whole idea of them being fake parents isn’t utilized effectively. There are some moments where tough conversations come out, but as a whole, they get off really easy and while Harbour is a blast as Red Guardian, it is just the usual weird family schtick. He’s easily a fan-favorite in the making and it could be fun to see the character return and try to live out the hero days he can’t leave behind. However, there are times where you wish there was more to them.
There is one mortal sin that Black Widow commits that unfortunately brings the MCU back to having mediocre/terrible villains after a slew of great villains with their awful depiction of Taskmaster. The Taskmaster here might mimic the moves of other heroes and look vaguely similar to their comic counterpart but has absolutely none of the personality or voice of the Taskmaster many know and love. The MCU once again wastes one its best comic villains by only bringing a hollow shell to the screen. Frankly, there’s not even a reason for Taskmaster to be there since Dreykov is a perfectly fitting villain. The entire last act between him and Natasha is a horrifying mental game that take some surprisingly nasty turns that are pretty riveting to watch, and it feels like a personal vendetta coming to a head.
Although, a Black Widow solo movie might have finally graced the screen, it doesn’t feel as powerful and impactful as it should. Rather it just feels like a giant step forward for someone else and it leaves you kind of frustrated because this film has some of the best filmmaking, performances, themes, action, and story of the MCU. Even for its shortcomings, mainly its villain depictions and lack of graceful send off for its titular heroine, Black Widow is still an easily enjoyable action spy adventure that brings fans into the darker world of the Widows while also creating an emotional story about control and family fitting for a Black Widow adventure.