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Black Widow (2021)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been absent from theaters for just over two years now, and the characters that the world love so dearly have had absolutely no new content on the big screen since the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 2, 2019. But here, after years of waiting and anticipation for Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) first film as the lead character, Black Widow takes to theaters and restarts one of the greatest cinematic universes in history.

Between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War Natasha Romanoff is on the run from Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). As she travels the world she finds herself in the presence of a number of familiar faces: Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Alexei (David Harbour), and Melina (Rachel Weisz), among others. As she and the faces that have evaded her for some time come back together, they must do all that they can to bring an end to the dreaded Red Room. While the task at hand seems simple enough, the obstacles that will stand in her way throughout Black Widow will prove to be as trying as any that Natasha has faced before. This is Black Widow’s story as she journeys through the treacherous waters of her past.

Black Widow has existed for years within the MCU and has often played a pivotal role in the events of films like Iron Man 2, Avengers: Endgame, and Captain America: Winter Soldier, but until this point she’s never been the primary focus of a film. Black Widow gives the titular character a chance to shine and be the vehicle by which an MCU film is told, and while the wait was long, it was worth it. While the film certainly isn’t disappointing, there is an aspect of the film that does disappoint, and sadly that is the film’s main character, Natasha Romanoff. Johansson is more than capable of leading a film; she’s proven herself in films like Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story, and yet she is outshined by others in her own film. This isn’t a result of Johansson’s abilities as an actor, but more so the writing of Eric Pearson, Jac Shaeffer, and Ned Benson. Natasha in Black Widow is incredibly fun, whitty, and full of energy, but the writing manages to force her to take a back seat to her co-star Pugh. Pugh’s Yelena is equally whitty and just as fun and energetic, however, one of her primary functions throughout Black Widow is to be relatable to the audience. She’s funny, and while some look at the MCU films begrudgingly--because they feel that comedy has no place in superhero films--the inclusion of comedy is often what allows Disney’s renditions of these Marvel tales to be so entertaining. With that being said, it makes sense why the funny, down-to-earth, and attractive Yelena outshines the film’s lead and ultimately steals the show. I certainly love Natasha throughout the film, but the fact that the writers are unable to write and develop her in a fashion that allows her to remain the focus of the film is an issue that simply cannot be overlooked.

The reality is that Black Widow and future MCU entities will never be expected to live up to the massive and immaculate standards of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, but fans still walk into theaters with high hopes regarding whatever MCU film they are about to watch for the first time. As expected, Black Widow can’t live up to the aforementioned blockbusters, but the writers, and director Cate Shortland, create a space that had not yet existed in the MCU--a female-led action, spy thriller. As the film begins and transports viewers into Natasha’s (and her family’s) past, that action starts almost immediately. We see how Natasha grew up and what makes her who she has been in each of the previous MCU installments, and the intensity that exists in those opening moments prove to have longevity and survive throughout the course of Black Widow. I’m impressed by how full of fun this film was.

The sets that ultimately play a significant role in determining whether or not Black Widow is successful are beautiful, lively, and as good as any other that we’ve seen in the MCU to date. Each and every scene comes to life as a result of the success of the location managers, as well as the art department. Each and every scene is born by way of the genius of both departments, and Black Widow is better as a result of their prowess.

There is nothing to hate about Black Widow, and it is the fantastic kickstart that the franchise needed to get going again. The film appeals to both long-time fans of the franchise, as well as newcomers who love the cast or the simple fact that this is a female-led superhero film. Getting to know Natasha Romanoff better than ever before pulled me into the film and allowed me to better appreciate her character and the role she’s played in the greater MCU. The fact that Romanoff, as a result of the writing, is outshined by Pugh is a bit disheartening, but the reality is that the film is a hit regardless. The storytelling ability of all involved, the simple and dry comedy of Pugh’s Yelena, and the beauty that exists in each and every set help to find Black Widow success--and, once again, the future of the MCU looks promising.

Directed by Cate Shortland.

Written by Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, & Ned Benson.

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Olga Kurylenko, etc.




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