Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow first appeared in Iron Man 2 over a decade ago and died in 2019. Naturally, this was the perfect time to finally give her a solo film. I will acknowledge that Black Widow isn’t quite as easy to do a film about as Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel. Black Widow’s origin story is horrifying when you think about it hard enough. This movie, while it essentially montages over that period, makes it clear that she was essentially abducted as a child, tortured, operated on against her will, and brainwashed to be a perfect killing machine. Essentially, she’s the bad guy in most movies. So, doing a movie about her confronting that past, while it didn’t get as dark as it could have, was naturally going to have a lot of uncomfortable moments. The film tries, and largely succeeds, to balance this out with humor, but there are still a lot of parts of the movie where you will likely squirm a bit in your seat. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s definitely not what you expect from a Marvel movie.
The film takes place right after Captain America: Civil War with Natasha Romanov on the run from General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). After seemingly finding a good place to hideout, she receives a package that was sent by her sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), and is attacked by the assassin codenamed Taskmaster. Escaping, Natasha reunites with Yelena to find out that the Black Widows and the Red Room that trains them are both still operating, despite the fact that Natasha believed she killed Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the man operating it, as well as his daughter Antonia (Olga Kurylenko). The pair decide to find the Red Room through their old handlers and fake parents, the Soviet Super-Soldier Red Guardian (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).
There are a lot of things this movie does well. It spends a lot of time taking apart tropes forced onto female characters in action films, with Yelena even calling Natasha a “poser” and those conversations are usually pretty hilarious. Actually the humor is mostly on point, particularly with the banter between Johansson and Pugh as well as David Harbour’s self-deluded super-soldier persona. The action sequences are excellent and contain some of the more fun entries into Marvel due to the fact that almost all of the characters in this film are not superhuman. It’s a little harder to know when something is dangerous when the characters can bench-press a bus or hold a helicopter in place. When most of the people can suffer collateral damage from explosions or getting punched a lot, then it seems like they’re in more trouble when they are being chased by an armored vehicle. The movie also does a good job of distinguishing itself from most of the other female-led movies by not trying to be an origin story and not trying to make its main character a paragon of virtue. Black Widow is almost a reformed supervillain and that’s not a common main character for a blockbuster film.
There are some downsides, though. The movie touching on the abuse that the girls suffer in the Red Room is deeply disturbing, but the fact that they end up bantering with Harbour and Weisz, their fake parents who essentially handed them over to be tortured, is almost more unnerving. They make jokes about genital mutilation at one point to make Red Guardian uncomfortable, but it still seems weird for them to not want to just put a bullet in his head for allowing them to go through that. While maybe you can forgive Red Guardian as he is kind of an idiot who really bought into the ideology that what happened to them for the best, Melina is a genius who helped design the program they went through. They should want her to die painfully, not be a surrogate mom again. Also, there’s nothing that can really happen in the movie that’s too surprising, because we know that Black Widow survives only to die five movies ago.
Overall, though, this was definitely a movie that was worth seeing.
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