An ally to Captain America’s Steve Rogers and the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization is front and center after first appearing in Iron Man 2 over a decade ago.
Scarlett Johansson headlines the standalone Black Widow, the first Marvel Comics feature since Spider-Man: Far From Home a couple of years ago which seems much longer. It does seem odd that Aussie director Cate Shortland’s film carries in-the latest phase of the ‘MCU.’ But it intersperses the dysfunctional familial dynamics with espionage as the title character takes in a late 1970s OO7 flick starring Roger Moore.
Though the script might feel a bit manufactured and loose by Eric Pearson, it’s part of a slick package with quality musical compositions engulfed by GCI and rapid editing to overwrought effect. Allowing whats within to come through while delving into the distaff and what distinguishes Natasha Romanoff from her Avenger counterparts. A KGB-trained assassin with a troubling childhood.
Following a studio formula sets up plenty of hand-to-hand forays and choreography that should please aficionados as a prison escape around the midpoint makes for a highlight. This ‘prequel’ is set likely not much after the events of Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War as a superhero clan has become divided.
An intensely, evocative prologue has a little of the feel of the F/X acclaimed series The Americans as the older Natasha (Johansson of Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story) is on the lam having violated the Sokovia Accords. Assisted by M-like Mason (O-T Fagbenle) to take cover in Norway, Russians from her past trace her whereabouts. Not to mention Yelena (Florence Pugh of Midsommar, Little Women (2019) who was her childhood sister in an Ohio ‘sleeper cell’ some twenty years earlier.
The plotting from Eric Pearson involves this Budapest reunion and pointed recollections coming to the aid of their fatherly agent Alexi (David Harbour of Netflix’s Stranger Things) at an aforementioned Arctic facility. In what seems a little less like a Marvel foray has the gradually bonding siblings needing help from scientist mom Melina (Rachel Weisz). In order to find the headquarters of wicked Puppeteer-Type Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the imperiling, arcane Red Room.
Shortland does well to keep the proceedings as taut as possible given dramatic underpinnings and chase sequences that also call to mind the Bourne films with a distaff edge. A textured balance to the globetrotting allows for less clamorous interludes to Stan out before dilution of the indolent onset of mayhem and confrontations.
Within the backstories, Johansson reveals a less hyper-sexualized character as vulnerability seeps into wild, steely physicality. Pugh turns out to be quite the as Yelena is pugnacious, affecting and wry a solid companion and critic of Natasha (and perhaps being more impactful to the MCU if you hang around for a sharp post-credits sting). Weisz and especially Harbour in Alexi’s comical, aggressive turn (having fun with arm-wrestling in his super-charged Red Guardian way). Winstone does what he can with a standard-issue monomaniac engaged in stentorian swagger.
While Avengers: Endgame packed much more from it’s foreboding gravitas around an apocalyptical barrenness an examination into the familial and a woman’s turning point is a creditable analogue to the shiny, souped-up blockbuster. Black Widow may hit the mark-in its little touches around a harrowing descent from normalcy into a hornet’s nest. Even if dollops of awkward levity enriched by relational angst still can’t hide the fact that mostly a web of a ripping poser has been spun.