Review for Black Widow
Pity poor Black Widow and Hawkeye... They may have been integral members of the Avengers, front and centre on all of the Avengers movie posters, but they never got the same degree of attention as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk. On the road to the climactic Avengers Endgame, the others all got feature films telling aspects of their origin stories, while developing the overarching story to the first three phases of the MCU. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America all got trilogies of movies! Black Widow had to wait until after Avengers Endgame (at which point you might consider a movie superfluous), while Hawkeye had to settle for a TV series spin-off. Given the theatrical lack of treatment that the Black Widow movie got during the pandemic, it didn’t fare much better. But on my quest to watch all of the MCU movies, I’ve made it as far as Black Widow. Drinking game! Every time Scarlett Johansson spins around a villain’s neck, take a shot!
Set around the time of Captain America: Civil War, after defying the Sokovia Accords, Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow is lying low, avoiding the attention of General Ross and the authorities, when a mysterious package draws her into trouble once more. It’s from her sister Yelena, and it’s being sought by a mysterious masked figure with insane combat skills. Over 20 years previously, Natasha’s ‘family’ had to flee the US after their cover was broken, and Natasha and Yelena were subsequently recruited into the Red Room project that turned them both into lethal assassins. When Natasha defected to S.H.I.E.LD., she thought that she had destroyed the Red Room, and killed its head, Dreykov. But it turns out that the Red Room is still operational, and with a new generation of assassins under total mind control. To fight this menace, Romanoff will have to reunite with her ‘family’, who bring a whole new meaning to the word ‘dysfunctional’
There are just creative choices to whinge about here; one or two moments of questionable CGI, and the fact that Ray Winstone just has the one accent in his arsenal. Otherwise the 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer is nigh on flawless, although I did notice a bit of shimmer on a desk edge around the 1 hour 39 minutes mark. The audio too is immersive and effective in bringing across the action. It’s par for the course for a modern Blu-ray transfer, although I did feel as if Black Widow comes from the low budget end of the MCU swimming pool.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray style case, which boots to a slightly animated menu. You can play the film with an optional 57 second introduction from the director, Cate Shortland. The following extras are on the disc.
Sisters Gonna Work It Out (5:24)
Go Big If You’re Going Home (8:50)
Gag Reel (2:54)
Deleted Scenes x9 (14:11)
Comic book movies could tend to become rather generic, but the MCU movies have impressed me most when they take on other genres as well. I’ve loved the political thriller direction of the Captain America films, Iron Man 3 was a classic comedy action thriller from Shane Black, while I really was surprised by the comedy heist direction of Ant-Man. With a character like Black Widow, you’d be a fool not to expect a spy thriller, and you do actually get that. Unfortunately, it’s more like one of the Roger Moore Bond movies that it explicitly references at one point, complete with a ludicrous scheme to take over the world, with a villain in a secret lair, metaphorically stroking a Persian cat. Given the film’s premise, you would have hoped that it would have The Bourne Identity as a touchstone, but instead it’s more Austin Powers in tone.
The thing is that the Black Widow character has always been setting us up for a better story than this. Since her MCU screen debut in Iron Man 2, we’ve been hearing about the ‘red on her ledger’, the dark past that has put her on a path of redemption and atonement, with heady overtones of guilt and regret. With the Black Widow story ostensibly exploring that past, I expected something broody and unflinching. Instead, Black Widow’s story is goofy, while the characters are written as pure comic book spandex, all surface and no depth. Given how Black Widow, as well as Hawkeye were the most ‘human’ of the Avengers, less reliant on super-powers or tech wizardry, I also would have hoped for a more human, down to earth tale, but we get super-powered characters here as well, with Natasha and Yelena’s ‘father’ Alexei, a super-soldier, the Russian equivalent of Captain America, grist for the mill for a rather tedious running gag.
It’s as if Marvel are in the doldrums following the acme of Avengers Endgame, either introducing new characters for the next phases of the MCU, or at something of a loss with what to do with the previously established characters. Either way, they’re not hitting the same heights that Phase 3 achieved. Black Widow feels like it’s going through the motions. Sure, the action is still on point, and there are plenty of cute character moments, and bits of wry humour to appreciate. But if you ask me what the point of the Black Widow movie is, besides earning some lucre, I’d be at a loss to answer.