After several delays due to the pandemic and dwindling box office numbers, the fourth phase of Marvel Studios has finally begun and kicking it off is the long overdue Black Widow film starring Scarlett Johansson. Rather than delivering a huge action world connecting film, this feels like a softer entry into the new phase with a focus on character and looking into how she came to be. While this is not a straight up origin story taking place just before Captain America Civil War, it does fill in some gaps and finally explain what happened in Budapest. Aussie director Cate Shortland takes the reigns as director delivering a character study that does feature some incredible action sequences and a formidable villain that welcomes Marvel Studios back to the cinema.
The story does start off in Natasha Romanoff’s childhood in 1995. Her sleeper cell family consists of father Alexi (David Harbour) her mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) and sister Yelena (Florence Pugh). They travel across different countries running from the American government. When the family is ripped apart, we flash forward to the Civil War time where Romanoff returns to Budapest to reunite with her family and take down Taskmasker and the infamous Red Room that heralds an army of brainwashed women controlled by Dreykov (Ray Winstone) Romanov must reunite her family and take down Dreykov and Taskmaster before they activate their agents all over the world.
Perhaps the strongest part of this film is the chemistry between the family. The chemistry between Pugh and Johansson is incredibly strong. Their bond as sisters and how they interact with the world around them is the part of the film that I really connected with. The way they play off each other and when they discover the horror of the situation they are in is fascinating to watch. This film injects so much connection and heart in these two characters but can also have them battling each other in perfect tandem. When the two discover that their family was fake and they were all put together as undercover, that is when things get really interesting. Harbour and Weisz are the perfect married couple, intent on pushing their agenda and careers forward while still hanging onto the sentiment and memories that they had as a family for years. It’s a very interesting dynamic and Short ensures that we are all invested in these characters and the time they are all on screen together keeps you wanting more.
The subject matter of the story is quite deep, having a whole army of women all across the world under the mind control of one man may seem like a sub-plot from a season arc on Charlie’s Angels, it really works here as the main plot. It does get quite deep with Dreykov able to kill any of the women with a touch of a button as well as being able to control their actions and do his bidding. Having this play off against the high intense action scenes with Dreykov’s right hand man Taskmasker keeps things moving at a rapid pace. Before it gets too dark, the film always manages to keep Pugh and Johansson throwing out the typical Marvel quippy one liners that instead of inducing eye-rolls here, they manage to lift the mood in this particularly dark chapter in the MCU.
The MCU has definitely got a formula down, many cinema goers will go into this expecting a superhero origin story. Fortunately Shortland and Johansson have crafted something different. This feels like more a spy film in the vein of James Bond and Mission Impossible. In fact there are some great nods to Mission Impossible and some quotes throughout the film. Those who are expecting a Captain Marvel, Iron Man origin story may be sorely disappointed with what this film has to offer as the superhero antics are considerably dialled back. This film takes more of a action thriller spy approach that allows Johansson to really stretch her acting legs and develop the character that has been sorely overdue for a solo film for years now. What is probably the most frustrating part of this movie, it feels like it is about 5 years too late. For all the amazing performances and effort put into this film, it is a shame that it took Marvel so long to make this. That being said getting the right female director was definitely important and this shows in the quality of the film.
Black Widow is finally here and manages to combine an intriguing story that shows us a lot about Natasha Romanov and what she does when not hanging around the Avengers. Bringing in other powerhouse actors like Pugh, Harbour and Weisz help to ground the film and keep it as a focus on family and how we relate to the world around us. Pugh in particular is the MVP here, her chemistry with Johansson is infectious and while this may be the end of Johansson’s Black Widow, we can only hope that it is a glorious start to Pugh’s Yelena who we will hopefully see more of in the MCU. While this film may be about 5 years too late, it is still a welcome entry and a great way to kick off the next phase of Marvel superhero films.