Standing behind all the cooler toys in the Avengers lineup Black Widow is given a decent standalone film that doesn’t stand out enough. While Black Widow doesn’t make Scarlett Johansson’s character any more powerful than her laughably limited abilities next to her Avengers teammates, we do get to see a bit more of a precise picture into Natasha Romanoff’s life that made me care just enough to stay invested in the story.
Starting with a bang, Black Widow performs similarly to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with social commentary. Examining the morality behind war profiteering, The Winter Soldier stood out for being more than just another comic book film. Steve Rogers’ connection to Bucky exemplified Cap’s weakness. Black Widow investigates the abduction of children raised to become soldiers. The effectiveness of its messaging isn’t powerful, however. Once you get over the child abduction angle, the rest of the story is familiar to any other Marvel film.
Raised by Russians masquerading as Americans, Natasha’s life has been riddled with deceit forming her into a cold-blooded assassin. Moving towards a path of redemption, Natasha’s goal in the film isn’t stopping an apocalyptic event but instead sets out to free others like her. The object in her way is Dreykov, played by Ray Winestone. If you need an intimidating guy who can adjust himself to any accent, then Ray is your man. On the note of accents, I wonder why the film didn’t cast any Russian actors?
The obvious answer to this question is you need movie stars to boost marketability. David Harbour is an understandable choice given the popularity of Stranger Things. Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh are wonderful actors, who I’m not sure how the filmmakers thought they could help put butts in seats. Why not cast Russian actors in their place? The only real Russian amidst this Soviet-led ensemble is Olga Kurylenko, who has no dialogue. Why? With that said, everyone does a fine job in their roles.
When Dave Harbour started slipping into a Russian accent, I began to grow concerned. Americans aren’t the best at playing people from across the globe. To my surprise, his accent works reasonably well. With his dad bod physique and personality, Mr. Harbour fits the bill for the role of a slummy but loving Russian daddy. Rachel Weisz has a vulnerability in her face that accentuates her character’s pain. Playing the damaged sister with understandable trust issues, Florence Pugh is exceptionally talented at playing disturbed characters. Look no further than Midsommar for proof. Unfortunately, her character isn’t given much to do other than comedically bicker with her family. Luckily she will indeed be involved in future films where her role could shine, but I shall say no more than that.
Oddly the weakest one in the cast is the lead herself. That’s not to say it’s Scarlett Johansson’s fault. Instead, she’s surrounded by characters who are blistering with personality, while Natasha Romanoff is intentionally stiff. The writing helps patch this minor issue up by showing why Natasha is a good person. When allowed power, Natasha smacks it away every time. When attacked by others, Natasha lends a helping hand. She allows herself to empathize with people. That’s why Natasha Romanoff is an Avenger. She has the iron will to not give in to temptation on a level far greater than the average person.
Tackling sexism, Director Cate Shortland focuses on the subject fairly well. Captain Marvel had a similar message to this film about men controlling woman’s emotions. The problem is, the movie was so geared towards children that it didn’t take any real chances rendering its theme confusing. All we know is Captain Marvel was taught to hold back her feelings. When she lets her feelings free, she unlocks her true power. Here little girls are abducted and raised to become killing machines. This one stood out more to me since it dared to go there. Then dial the disturbing material back several notches throughout the rest of the film.
A Marvel movie is a Marvel movie, after all. At least for the standard ones. The Captain America sequels and Infinity War are stupendous pictures. The third act in Black Widow is what one would expect from a standard Marvel flick. Characters running from explosions while the movie cross-cuts to multiple fistfights happening at once sprinkled with silly jokes. Nothing makes Black Widow reach the heights of Black Panther or stand out like Loki. It’s a movie that may have come out a bit too late for its own good. There were the phase 1 films that introduced us to our heroes, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and yes, The Incredible Hulk is canon as William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross is in this and various other Marvel films.
After witnessing the events of Phase 2 and 3 films, from the disbandment of the Avengers to the snap, to the defeat of Thanos, now entering the multiverse with phase 4, Black Widow’s story has passed my window of interest. If it came out during Phase 1, it might have been more interesting. Still, it’s about as good as Iron Man 3 or Thor. Not much of a style or impact. Yet, it’s good enough for a night out in the theater.
Do you agree with my rating? Let’s converse respectfully.