It’s a surprise it’s taken this long for one of the leading women in Hollywood who is part of the biggest film franchise in the world to have her own film but it’s finally here. After several years in production and more than a year’s delay, Black Widow makes a triumphant entry onto the big screen.
Set during Natasha Romanoff’s exile after Captain America: Civil War when she went on the run from the law, Scarlett Johansson’s feisty assassin-turned-Avenger must face her troubled past she thought she’d left behind. She reunites with her estranged “sister”, Yelena (Florence Pugh), who is also a fellow former Red Room “Black Widow”/basically girl slave forced and controlled into killing. She is trying to save a whole new army of Black Widows who are being mind controlled now instead of psychologically trained to kill, whilst also trying to stop the Taskmaster – a seemingly robotic, masked and armoured supervillian who is proving to be a tough adversary. Although Natasha believes she cut off the head of the snake (Dreykov, played by legendary Ray Winstone) years ago, this turns out to be quite untrue. The two “sisters” join forces to break their fake father Alexei (a.k.a. The Red Guardian) out from prison to find their fake mother Melina who they believe knows where the new Red Room is and more about its new operations.
Like every Marvel Studios film or even TV show (as we were still treated to on Falcon and the Winter Soldier as well as Loki and even WandaVision eventually), Black Widow is chock full of fast-fisted, high octane action. From literal death and gravity-defying sequences to town-destroying acts of destruction and of course lots of classic Black Widow fight scenes and girl-on-girl action (no, not that kind) – and not just from Natasha Romanoff’s character – there appears to be more action than dialogue. But then again, when you don’t have The Hulk’s scientific/nerdy ramblings, Spider-Man’s hyperactive chitchat, Iron Man’s over-confident bossiness giving orders, Thor’s boasting and teasing of mortal humans, or Captain America’s diplomatic speeches to calm situations, there’s more time for a hella lot more action than other Marvel Cinematic Universe films which is often interspersed with more ego-clashing arguments and attempts to be comic book funny.
Black Widow gives Marvel fans a treat inside the much-awaited history and life of Romanoff – or at least the life she thought she once knew or had. Her character’s backstory is given a little airtime in some of the films but this fills in some of the holes that have been missing – including how tomboyish she used to look as a young girl with a penchant for aqua-coloured crayon hair. We know she used to be bad – whether she wanted to be or not – and is doing her best to right her wrongs, and we know underneath her tough exterior she has an array of untapped emotions, including compassion and empathy, which she has displayed on occasion with Captain America, The Hulk and Clint Barton. But here we understand more of why she has done some of the things she once did.
Scarlett Johansson continues to own the role of Natasha Romanoff who has come a long way from the fresh-faced assistant of Tony Stark and young S.H.I.E.L.D agent in Iron Man 2. Some may believe she is everywhere these days but she is a talented, diverse actress (not diverse enough to pull off playing Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell though) with a great deal of star quality. She surely wasn’t nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards and BAFTAs for two separate performances in 2020 for nothing? Her co-stars, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz, despite their questionable Russian accents (especially Pugh, whose character of Yelena funnily enough had an American accent as a child in the beginning of the film – Weisz’s character Melina’s change in accent is more believable for the purpose of her character “acting” a part) hold their own well alongside the magnitude of Johannson’s superstar superhero status. And David Harbour as Alexei of Stranger Things fame adds great comic relief as a once-powerful, apparently Russian equal to Captain America just wanting to relive his glory days.
While it may be the end of an era for Natasha, the iconic Black Widow moniker will probably live on as we hope to see more of Yelena in future Marvel films carrying on her sister’s legacy. Of course, judging by the end credits scene, which – without wanting to give too much away – joins more dots about what happened in Falcon and the Winter Soldier and links directly to the new Disney+ series Hawkeye – Yelena is likely still teetering on the trained assassin side of life rather than trying to head down the road of redemption Romanoff took.
Ultimately Black Widow is a brilliant, exhilarating and literally explosive way to end Scarlett Johansson’s era as Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow after her character’s death in Avengers: Endgame and certainly gives Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel a run for their money as one of the top female superhero films – not that there’s many to pick from. It also definitely pushes Natasha Romanoff further up my list closer to my top 10 favourite superheroes.
If you’re not a fan of films with heavy recurring themes of female freedom, female empowerment and sisterhood, you may find the feminist, anti-female oppression undertones of the film too much. Well, not so much undertones as Dreykov’s ideology of enslaving and training young girls to become his personal army is as clear as day – but at the end of the day, Black Widow has consistently shown she’s a pioneer who has fought her way to be an equal Avenger among a team full of men until Wanda Maximoff joined, despite no discerning superpowers. If there’s any film which can hope to save cinemas and make up production companies’ and the film industry’s lost earnings since the start of the pandemic, Black Widow can and it’s not hard to see how or why.