EDITOR’S NOTE: (Sorry, this will be a long review! The most important thing to take from this review if you don’t read it is a) Loki review will be released on Wednesday with the finale and b) I will do anything to get a screener for Hawkeye (I’ve been defending him since 2012). If you know how I can do this, please hit me up! And, if you don’t that’s fine; just hit the follow button!)
[DEEP BREATH IN]
After what feels like an eternity due to the pandemic – Black Widow finally hit the big screen (or little, depending on what you fancy) this Friday. And, whilst the pandemic may have delayed the film’s release, the title character has had to wait a decade getting pretty much zero character development unless it is tied to another character, making this movie such a mouth-watering affair.
Black Widow follows the title character dealing directly with the fallout of Captain America: Civil War as for the first time in her life she can chose what life she lives, until her past catches up with her and forces her to face it. Attempting to wrap together plot threads that have been left over from other movies with zero correlation and deliver a final swan song for the second most under-loved Avenger (you know who’s first).
Like I pointed out at the top of the post, as I come to write this review I have had to take many deep breaths in and out. I don’t think I have ever been so conflicted writing a review, as I struggle with the battle of either being very harsh or very lenient; knowing the truth – Black Widow is not as bad as some may make it out to be but also not as great as others may.
The truth is, Black Widow’s biggest success is also its biggest disappointment. The issue with Black Widow isn’t that it is bad, but rather it had the potential to be so much better – potential it itself defines within the first two acts of the movie. Where for flashes, it seems like it lives up to the decade wait – until it just doesn’t, feeling like it is on the cusp of being there – but it just doesn’t get there.
Natasha’s journey in the MCU has been well-documented and the injustice of having to wait a decade to get the chance to shine is not something lost on anyone watching, but in what is no doubt her last appearance, the film should have attempted to go out with a bang but instead this film has no real big impact and I doubt I would feel any different had it come out in 2017.
A Marvel film is a guaranteed success, both critically and financially, and there is a lot to say about Black Widow on all bases, the good and the bad. But, unfortunately, all MCU films are victims to their own success as we judge them on what came before, or/and our expectations of what we want. Factor in the new TV shows that are being delivered that allow 6-8 hours of content to fully flesh out these characters, Black Widow was up against it.
Furthermore, the question must be asked how can the stakes be high when the audience is well aware Black Widow will die a couple years in the future. Removing the element of fear in any situation the title character finds herself in – like the final showdown, as I constantly remind myself – she lives.
But, to be fair, this argument is one I find quite tedious as, it is not the fault of the film that it has to play with the rules given, and the filmmakers do still manage to define new rules. By having it set after the events of Civil War and putting Natasha in a place we have never seen her before is quite refreshing – although in order to ensure clarity with the rules, the filmmakers decide to ignore some of the most exciting elements – leading to one its biggest problems, telling not showing.
Enough of the cryptic messages – and onto the “straight talking”. Like I said, Black Widow is a good film – but just not a great one, whether that is because of the standard it is being compared with or the expectations it finds itself in is unclear. And, I liked a lot about the film, the first two acts of the movie are very strong, building the world of Natasha Romanoff, introducing a new character in Yelena Belova that instantly becomes a fan favourite and the concept of family that is sprinkled in throughout the film which you see carries over into Avengers: Endgame.
Setting out the basis of where we find these characters and unveiling the secret life of the most secretive Avenger. Building these relationships in and around Natasha whilst also successfully introducing the biggest threat the title character will face in the best action scene of the entire movie (up there with another early action piece between Yelena and Natasha). But you see – this all happens in the first half of the movie, and, it fades away from there.
The first act of the movie is very powerful, a flashback scene is quite discomforting but serves a purpose and lays the foundation of why the character is the way she is. It’s one thing to be told she is a Russian secret spy – but another to see and understand her whole life was chosen for her. (Remember this sentiment, it will be very important for later)
My only nit-pick is the actor chosen to play young Natasha isn’t best suited. And, the flashback serves a glorious purpose moving forward in defining a major film character. But, the true masterpiece is the opening credits, playing harrowing footage of young girls trafficking played over a daunting rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
A key point is that very often the coolest elements of the film are the eluded to back story of the title character, and instead of containing a flashback scene – we (the audience) are told what has happened and not shown.
And, so after finally giving the character their time to shine after waiting a decade to see it, defining a genuinely exciting prospect the film suddenly stops becoming about Black Widow – which leads to the next question: was the film always bound to fail?
Somewhere within the third and fourth act, the film becomes less of a Black Widow solo film. What started of as very much a Black Widow story, and really delivers bucket-loads of development slowly ebbs away into the overall picture – constantly reminding you this Natasha Romanoff has no future in the universe – further adding a lack of excitement to the fight scenes because it’s not possible for her to die.
Resulting in a mess of a final action sequence that just passes by with no consequences and yet another missed opportunity to deliver a good Taskmaster fight scene, where we get to see all their techniques used.
As we the world of Black Widow expands, we shift the focus from the most important character, as it become less of Natasha’s story. Whilst the film is good, its lack of ambition especially with where it could have gone definitely holds it back. I’m not sure if I feel this way because I have watched a lot of Disney+ shows recently and expect each character to be fully fleshed out.
The final two acts of the movie are weirdly merged into one, leaving me with the constant urge of checking how long is left of the film to get a rough estimate to adapt my expectations in line with how long is left. There is a lot I like with the film. And it isn’t so much that I don’t like certain aspects but rather I feel like so much could have been better, from the action stand-point to the consequences of the actions.
There comes a stage in the movie where the words being said – the exposition delivered no longer holds any weight. Because the film leans into the idea of taking responsibility but not allowing the consequences to take place. And, as I have grown my opinions have changed, I want to see Natasha come to terms with the damage she has caused as an Avenger and ask is she any different to people she left behind? And that’s what I mean with the consequences. Does the film ask these questions? Yes. And I applaud that. But does the film answer them, no? Do I see the internal struggle, no
Moving onto the more evident problems, and no doubt it is what you’ve read in other reviews, the villain. This is a spoiler-free review and so I will refrain from getting into details – but the overall storyline of the film is a powerful one that celebrates young girls. But, there will be people angry at the villain of the film, on one side of the coin you have a very generic bad guy, who runs an evil organisation who controls the world – give this character any name you want because I guarantee you’ll give him more development than what he receives.
And, on the other hand you have a really cool idea – an action cheat-sheet, that is hardly ever used and presence is withdrawn as Black Widows is too – leading to a powerful ending but ultimately underwhelming one as the entire conflict relies upon a fifteen second flashback (at max) where it feels all the exciting parts are told to us – and just one scene keeps getting played over and over again justifying this conflict.
But, I do love the making of the film, the cinematography, the shots, the score and the acting are all phenomenal. Florence Pugh is amazing, and a mainstay for many MCU films to come, Scarlett Johansson puts in a strong lead performance and is amazing. And I enjoyed David Harbour massively – even if I can understand that his character’s consistent humour weakens his character. Taskmaster is an under-utilised character, their action set-pieces aren’t up to what you would expect and all their cool scenes are given away in the trailers
The actor that plays Taskmaster is very powerful, able to pull off a powerful performance silently, but Taskmaster is not allowed to shine due to the story. And this applies throughout, whilst Rachel Weisz is good with what she is given, her character just serves purpose to the story, as does Ray Winstone because they are just part of the machine that is the story. And, ultimately, all these characters do is take away from Black Widow without adding much in return. The film has all these plot lines building up that it is impossible to land all of them and instead they tie them loosely – especially in the case of Black Widow’s sacrifice
There is a lot to like, and Black Widow is a good film, that I would recommend you to check out. And, not go into it expecting the worst, because it is still a very enjoyable movie, but the only disappointing aspect of the Black Widow movie isn’t what we got, but rather what we could have had.
So, with this film it comes down to how you look at it. Is it good film in delivering a goodbye to Black Widow? No. But, is it a good film in setting up the future of the MCU, and creating a Black Widow universe? Yes.
And I would rather have the movie than not have it at all