Introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2010, just two years after its inception, Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow is one of the MCU’s most enduring characters. She has fought against Hydra, Ultron and Thanos; has soothed a savage Hulk; and has proved to be a fan-favourite hero amongst cinemagoers.
But up until now, Black Widow has been given the shitty end of the stick in the MCU. Her appearances have been limited to ensemble pieces or supporting roles in other characters’ movies, and in the most recent team-up film, Avengers: Endgame, she was one of the few heroes to be killed off.
However, this week Marvel is making amends: Natasha has got her own solo movie. It has been a long time coming, and yes, the film’s release was delayed due to the pandemic (just like most of the movies from 2020), but it is finally here.
The film – appropriately titled, Black Widow – arrived in UK cinemas today, and will be available to watch on Disney+ Premier Access from Friday. Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, and Ray Winstone.
The movie – set shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) – casts the spotlight on Natasha’s backstory and introduces new characters. The film is a standalone picture, which is small in scale, but big on action.
In the film, Natasha is on the run from the US Government. A number of the Avengers are in custody, but Black Widow has managed to slip through the net.
Keen to keep off the grid, Natasha has set herself up in temporary accommodation where she can lay low. But her new hideout is not as untraceable as she thinks, and it is not long before she becomes the unwitting target of an assassin known as the Taskmaster.
But as Natasha quickly discovers, Taskmaster is not searching for the Black Widow – the assassin is instead on a mission to retrieve a package which is in Natasha’s possession. The package has been sent by Yelena Belova – a fellow Black Widow, who Natasha once called ‘sister’, and who now needs her sibling’s help.
From here, Natasha soon finds herself caught up in a deadly mission that will see her revisit her past, and face up to an old enemy. This enemy is the head of the Widow training centre known as the Red Room, and he is responsible for the hardship in Natasha’s early life.
As most fans of the MCU will be aware, Marvel movies come in all shapes and sizes. Some feature end-of-the-world scenarios, and various cameos from other heroes, while others offer smaller stories that largely focus on one particular character.
Black Widow falls largely into the latter category, and while there is a supporting cast in this film who make it somewhat of a team-up picture, this is a film which strips things back a little to place the focus largely on one hero. It is essentially a spy thriller, with Natasha front-and-centre, and exists to fill in a few blanks about her character.
Stylistically and thematically, Black Widow is similar in tone and presentation to The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There are moments where it has fun, and there is some humorous dialogue dotted throughout the picture, but there is a serious edge to the film and an action-based aesthetic which makes it feel like a Bourne movie.
It is fair to say that Black Widow is one of the more grounded Marvel Studios films to date. I feel it is important to mention this, so that you know what to expect.
I am aware that this movie is opening after a hellish year for most people, and at a time when many audiences are simply craving popcorn fodder. Black Widow offers plenty of escapism, but it isn’t the same kind of escapism you might expect from say, a Guardians of the Galaxy film or a Spider-Man movie.
But don’t for one moment think that this isn’t a good movie. Black Widow is a lot of fun, boasts some excellent fight sequences, and it all slots nicely within the established timeline of the MCU.
Sure, this film should have been made years ago – and ideally, before Avengers: Endgame was released – but it arrives perfectly formed and never looks out of place. And most important of all, Black Widow does right by both Natasha and Scarlet Johansson, by presenting a compelling tale which gives both the character and the actor plenty of interesting things to do.
This is a female-centric story, with a strong female lead. It never panders to the audience, and time-and-time-again Natasha proves she is one of the most capable Marvel heroes, worthy of a solo film.
Although this is Johansson’s movie, Black Widow also injects some new (soon to be fan-favourite) heroes into the MCU, most notably Yelena Belova, as played by Florence Pugh. Belova is a fantastic addition to this movie, and moving forward, hopefully will be a great new character in other Marvel films.
Pugh has excellent chemistry with Johansson, and when both Widows are on screen together it is a sheer delight. In fact, the only real disappointment of this movie is that it is set in the past, so we are unlikely to see any further Pugh/Johansson interactions.
Had this movie been made five years ago, before Natasha’s fate had been sealed, this could have been the beginning of a new series of films for the two actors. As it stands, this ‘team-up’ is all we are likely to get, so enjoy it for what it is.
In addition to Pugh, the movie benefits from great turns from David Harbour and Rachel Weisz, who are both brilliant in supporting roles. The same can also be said for Ray Winstone who proves to be a thoroughly odious bad guy, and seems to relish being one of the villains in this tale.
And then there is the Taskmaster, who is a formidable foe that can mimic the movements and fighting skills of any opponent. Taskmaster is one of the coolest-looking villains in the MCU and gets to feature in all of the best action scenes.
Black Widow is a confident picture, which has the hallmarks of a good Marvel movie. It gives Johansson the strong platform that she should have had years ago, and delivers everything fans have come to expect from an MCU picture.
Do I think it’s the greatest MCU tale? No, but this is still solid stuff. It is good entertainment, that really hits the mark and offers Natasha Romanoff the swansong she deserves.