Spoiler alert: This review contains spoilers for Marvel’s Black Widow.
Marvel fans have waited years for Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) to get a solo movie, and the big day has finally arrived. Black Widow hit theaters and Disney+ this weekend, and it’s safe to say that Natasha got a proper send-off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe — even if it took more than a decade to tell her story.
A powerful addition to the MCU, the film is on par with any of the other OG Avengers’ introductions to the franchise. Given that Natasha’s already a well-known character and has no superhuman powers or fancy gadgets to speak of, Black Widow leans into its character work. On that front, the film succeeds tremendously. Watching this movie feels like getting to know Natasha all over again.
That’s not to say Black Widow is lacking epic action sequences; those it has in droves. Whether Natasha is going toe to toe with prison guards or diving from exploding buildings to save her loved ones, it’s clear why Marvel wanted a theatrical release for this film. The cinematography is top-notch. The same can be said about Black Widow‘s emotional beats, which rarely — if ever — miss.
Journey to the Past
One of Black Widow’s strengths is that it doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics that are bound to arise once you start digging into Natasha’s history in the Red Room. Although the film is constantly lightening the mood with Marvel’s signature humor, it’s unafraid to look its characters’ trauma in the eye and address it head-on.
Black Widow’s opening sequence sets up exactly what kind of film it’s going to be from the get-go: action-packed and deeply emotional. The first scene sees Natasha (Ever Anderson) and Yelena (Violet McGraw) as children, unexpectedly being dragged from the dinner table and forced to flee from Ohio with their “parents,” Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz).
The first glimpse of their family paints a picture of a group of people who care deeply about one another. However, that doesn’t stop Alexei from handing the girls over to the Red Room. It’s heart-wrenching watching the floor pulled out from under Natasha and Yelena, and the film never lets you forget it.
Add in the opening credits, set to Malia J’s harrowing cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and Black Widow does a splendid job of hitting fans in the feelings as soon as it starts. It doesn’t necessarily let up, either…
Familial Bonds Are the Heart of Black Widow
Both the past and present Black Widow scenes place familial bonds at the center of the story. In fact, the relationships between the characters mark the movie’s greatest strength.
Adult Natasha and Yelena (Florence Pugh), of course, are the beating heart of the film. Johansson and Pugh have fantastic chemistry, and their performances drive home the sense of sisterhood between these characters. The MCU doesn’t feature enough close relationships between women, but hopefully, Black Widow will serve as a turning point.
Weisz and Harbour make equally interesting additions to the family, and their ties to their “daughters” create a fascinating dynamic that’s difficult to pull away from. The two won’t be winning “Parent of the Year” anytime soon, but the film never fully lets them off the hook for their part in Natasha’s history. It does, unfortunately, allow them to move on from their relatively large roles in keeping the Red Room alive with little consequence — one of the film’s few faults.
Harbour also deserves a shoutout for his humor, which helps keep the film balanced all the way through. After Thor’s Avengers: Endgame storyline, Marvel fans probably could have done without any more fat jokes, but the rest is truly entertaining.
Let’s Talk Florence Pugh
Pugh is undoubtedly the best part of Black Widow, and she brings Yelena to life with gusto. Whether she’s tackling an emotional confrontation or simply knocking on Natasha for her fighting poses, one thing is clear: She understood the assignment.
One could find fault with the fact that Yelena steals the show in Natasha’s movie, but the film serves as both a farewell and an introduction. While it closes the door on Natasha’s legacy, it draws Yelena into the MCU — and the franchise will certainly be better for it.
Some fans — particularly diehard fans of Marvel Comics — may be disappointed in Black Widow’s take on Taskmaster. Not only does the character completely diverge from the source material, but Taskmaster doesn’t even turn out to be the movie’s Big Bad. Instead, the film attempts to bring Natasha’s story full circle with the character’s identity reveal.
However, for a film that focuses so heavily on the trauma created by human beings, it feels right to have an ordinary man like Dreykov (Ray Winstone) be Black Widow’s final boss. After all, Dreykov is the root of all the suffering Black Widow brings to the surface. It’s only right the women he’s harmed should get the opportunity to take him down.
While Natasha’s showdown with Dreykov isn’t necessarily satisfying on the action front, it hits important emotional beats and tackles serious subject matter like human trafficking all in one go.
Tying It All Together
In terms of fitting its story into the MCU’s timeline, Black Widow does an impressive job of establishing continuity without focusing too heavily on the Avengers or the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War. The film firmly belongs to Natasha, but it does establish a place in Marvel canon — and it makes sense of Natasha’s willingness to let go in Avengers: Endgame. She made her peace with the past in this movie, and that’s clear as ever during her final moments on Vormir.
The post-credits scene also ties Yelena’s story into the Hawkeye series heading to Disney+ this fall, connecting Black Widow to the past and future of the franchise.
Sure, it would have been nice to see Natasha get the epic movie she deserves sooner than 2021. Still, Black Widow more than makes up for the wait — and leads well into the next chapter of the franchise.
Black Widow is playing in theaters and available to stream with Disney+ Premier Access.