Black Widow is finally here. It is hard to believe that Black Widow, one of the founding members of The Avengers, is finally getting her solo adventure. Scarlett Johansson’s spy with a ledger as red as her hair was first introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and after 10 years she takes her final bow in the Cate Shortland-directed Black Widow. After years of waiting and anticipating what is inevitably a film stacked with expectations, the question remains, does Black Widow manage to be worth the wait? The short answer: Kind of. The long answer: Well, you will just have to keep reading.
Natasha Romanoff is taking center stage in a film that is layered with promise for the future and resolutions for the past. The story follows Natasha after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where she is now on the run. In a classic case of dramatic irony, the road ahead for Natasha is a short one as we all know that she has an unfortunate run-in with a cliff in her near future. This particular film could have taken place at any point in time, but due to the circumstances of Natasha’s impending doom and Johansson coming to the end of her journey with the MCU, this film feels both terribly late but also a befitting goodbye to a long time favourite.
This film gives the character an honourable ending where she can finally come to terms with her past and truly embrace the hero that she has become. With a ledger that is barely dry at the time of her demise, we finally get the full context of who Natasha Romanoff was and what ultimately led her to choose to jump off a cliff for the greater good. How much of this emotional journey was already determined at the time Johansson spoke the words, “let me go ” is another matter entirely. However, the film does fill in the gaps and gives her presence in past films a new meaning. Cue the “it hits different” tweets with screencaps of scenes of Natasha throughout the years.
Black Widow is a film that largely stands on its own, as I said, the film could have taken place at any time as Natasha could have been doing just about anything when she gets roped into drama regarding the Red Room, where it all began for her. So depending on whether you watch this with fresh eyes or you are straining to keep them open after an MCU marathon, this film will satisfy you. It ties up many unanswered questions, provides context for the person Natasha has been throughout her years as an Avenger, and finally, gives her her due. She is finally able to simply exist. Exist without any cringe-worthy remarks about her attractiveness, shady jabs about her past, and also surprisingly a lot fewer men populating the screen. Even without the context from the MCU, there is enough in Black Widow that lets it stand on its own, effectively acting as an origin film without actually being an origin film.
As this is a farewell tour for Natasha, this film is the beginning of what hopefully is a fruitful spin-off Black Widow series starring Florence Pugh’s Yelena. We also have the introduction of Rachel Weisz’s Melina, who has the potential of tagging along or being a fun one-off character. Depending on how invested you are in seeing Natasha take up the space and time she deserves on-screen, Yelena’s presence may be irksome or a hopeful reminder of what is to come. (Feige, don’t hold back! We need more solo Black Widow adventures). The film has plenty of great action and fun scenes, but this film is more of a redemptive tale for Natasha and by extension, Yelena. There is great care given to have the passing of the torch be less a formality and more of a meaningful experience for Natasha. She may not be aware of what is to come, but this journey has a rather conclusive feel that will certainly make her final moment in Avengers: Endgame resonate more.
Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson’s script does a fair bit of filling in the gaps in regards to Natasha’s origins, but with so much already spelled out throughout her time in the MCU, there isn’t much mining of that part of the story needed. Which leaves a lot of room for Natasha to exist in the present with the situation laid out in front of her. It turns out that the Red Room was not destroyed and she needs to finish the job and also reconcile with her “family”. The script moves at a brisk pace allowing Natasha the space to be a fully realized character that contains multitudes. She is deadly serious but not above falling into needless bickering and jokes. She is capable of extreme vulnerability while maintaining composure and focus. Much of this is beautifully translated by Shortland’s directing and also Johansson’s performance, as she is finally allowed to do more than just look good in a black tactical suit, smirk, and offer the occasional quip or meaningful line to someone else. The script gives Natasha what she is owed, the freedom to be more. Plus, the film is a fun spy thriller that imagines a quirky, albeit dangerous, family at the centre of the story.
As for the action, well we get our typical Black Widow maneuver, but it’s all heightened. The fights are well choreographed and shot, and often reminiscent of what we enjoyed about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film is largely shot on locations giving the film a much-needed grounded feel and a refreshing break from the obvious green screen action set pieces. The final action sequence in the third act doesn’t entirely topple over the film, but it could have been cleaned up a bit more. Third acts tend to be hit or miss with most of these MCU films anyways so nothing gained or lost here. However, the film is well-paced so the big ending doesn’t feel so out of place. The film is low on extravagant fight sequences and action, but it’s not entirely missed when one accepts that this is a character-driven narrative that is less concerned about defeating a big bad, instead focuses on telling Natasha’s story.
With any character-driven narrative, the performances need to be on point, and Johansson and her fellow castmates deliver. There is a bit of sadness with Johansson’s performance that cannot be overcome, perhaps it’s because it is her last outing or the fact that this solo adventure was a little too late. It permeates throughout the film, but it certainly does not take away from the effective performance. It’s hard to say before this film that Johansson was a “perfect fit” for Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow, as there was a hollowness to the character that no actress could overcome. (Except for Milla Jovovich, I will die on this hill!) However, it is in this last hurrah that anyone who was on the fence could see what Johansson has to offer and can at least find solace in that. There is a real sense of ownership in Johansson’s performance as if she finally can settle in and be the best version of Black Widow that she could be.
As for our new Black Widow, Florence Pugh does not have to worry about depicting a hollow character. Yelena practically erupts on-screen as both the character and Pugh are bursting with personality and depth. Luckily, for her, this film covers the groundwork needed to set up Yelena as an interesting character that we not only root for but also understand.
As for the rest, Weisz is a stand-out as is O-T Fagbenle’s Rick Manson. Weisz’s Melina provides a deadpan and dark comedic presence that could very well evolve into a recurring bit for Yelena’s adventures. Manson fits into the mould of a typical recurring MCU character that connects other characters. Harbour’s Red Guardian, well, he’s okay. There is also Taskmaster, who becomes infinitely more interesting in the third act, and is bursting with potential. All in all, the ensemble assembled here all dutifully play their part in fleshing out Natasha’s world.
Evidently, all involved with the creative process of the film give great care to Natasha and her concluding journey–also laying the foundation for Yelena’s path forward. For a film that is balancing many hats, it manages to be a triumph. Black Widow neatly fits into the larger MCU narrative, gives Natasha a character-driven story worthy of the compelling hero, and is just a solid spy thriller. It is low on the bombastic antics of the typical MCU fare, but in its simplicity, it becomes a rare treasure. A touching spy thriller about found family and overcoming one’s past and forging a new, better, path.
Black Widow premieres in theatres and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9th
by Ferdosa Abdi