Black Widow: Not Marvel’s Best, but Still Good – Disney+ Review

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.

As opposed to her posing repeatedly, which is heavily expected.

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). 

They kill people and look good doing it.

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. 

His knuckles say “Karl Marx.” He can punch you into class unconsciousness.

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.

At least Natasha tries to keep her sister safe.

Overall, though, this was definitely a movie that was worth seeing. 

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Cats – It’s Im-purr-fect, but Not A Total Cat-tastrophe 

Critics seem to be coughing up hairballs, but I think they fur-got what the show was in the first place.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for a musical older than almost any of you reading this)

There are few summaries as Cat-sh*t crazy as this film’s plot, but it’s mostly the same as the musical. 

Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is an abandoned cat in the middle of London. She is greeted by a group of “Jellicle” cats who inform her that they are on their way to the Jellicle Ball. Jellicles will be judged for their singing by Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi “Thank the Phoenicians” Dench) and the winner will be given a unique gift: They’ll be reborn into a new life. Along the way, Victoria meets the “narrator” Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild), the magical cat Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), the theatre cat Gus (Ian McKellen), the twin cat burglars Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan), the railway cat Skimbleshanks (Steven McRae), the fickle Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), the fat elite cat Bustopher Jones (James Corden), and the more-than-a-little-stir-crazy cat Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson). Trying to upset the contest is the mystery cat Macavity (Idris “Black Superman” Elba) and his agents Captain Growltiger (Ray “Come on, you know who I am” Winstone) and Bombalurina (Taylor “Tay-Tay Von Swizzlesticks” Swift), who attempt to abduct the competitors and the judge. However, in the end, the contest is won by Jennifer Hudson when she sings “Memory.” Yeah, her character’s name is Grizabella, but it’s Jennifer Hudson and YOU WILL RESPECT HER.

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Respect her, even as this.

END SUMMARY

This movie has been beaten by critics with every known implement of cinematic abuse, including bad puns. Hell, the Rotten Tomatoes summary says “Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery.” I admit that I, myself, only saw this film because I was dragged, clawing and hissing, by another person who has tolerated similar-caliber films on my behalf and I expected a travesty of near Biblical proportions. 

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Their opening in Egypt was apparently pretty rough.

Instead, I got a mediocre adaptation of a musical. 

Yes, as everyone has been talking about, the actors in this movie are given coverings of CGI cat bodies and they are fairly unnerving. Yes, the sets are designed to give the actors the same proportional sizes as a regular cat, which can be extremely disorienting. Those are going to turn a lot of people off very quickly from the film and I get why. Honestly, I was surprised how little it ended up bothering me after I acclimated to it. Given that Cats has always been super weird I think others would have felt the same if the film didn’t have what I’m now realizing is Tom Hooper’s musical signature: Pointless realism. 

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It’s impressive to take humans and put them back in the uncanny valley.

If you watched the film adaptation of Les Miserables, I’m sure you have an idea of what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, the movie has several scenes of realism that bring the audience out of the movie. Musicals aren’t supposed to be accurate to life, after all, so we don’t need to hear the sick “crack” of Javert’s head hitting the ground when he jumps off of a bridge or the bloody splatters of Gavroche getting shot. Those moments don’t make us more immersed in the experience, they create a greater incongruity between the musical parts and the rest of the film. Similarly, watching Rebel Wilson eating a bunch of roaches (even tap-dancing ones) and scratching her thighs while spread eagled like a regular cat doesn’t exactly mesh well with her subsequently unzipping her skin to reveal another outfit underneath. This is the kind of thing that permeates the film… too much realism matched with too much surrealism or theatrical realism. Now, I can say that I see what they were going for, having the cats sometimes act more beastial and sometimes more human in order to emphasize their emotions, but it just doesn’t feel like it. It feels… well, gross. 

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Yes, she unzips her body TWICE and it makes no damned sense. 

Having said all of that, the movie does have some good things going for it. Almost every performer is cast perfectly. They added a little talking and gave the film a slightly more exciting plot by expanding Macavity’s character, even though the plot is still minimal (and always has been). The song that Taylor Swift wrote for the movie, “Beautiful Ghosts,” gives Victoria a solid number that helps expand her character and give her more of a connection with Grizabella. Several of the songs were given a few updates and changes that were really solid and the performance of “Macavity: The Mystery Cat” by Taylor Swift and Idris Elba was freaking amazing. Lastly, Jennifer Hudson did absolutely nail “Memory.” I know that the song has been overdone and covered so many times that there is a joke in the film Jersey Girl about every single child at a talent show singing it, but it’s still a great song and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t misty-eyed after it. 

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She’s the T.S. in T.S. Eliot. 

Overall, this movie wasn’t necessarily “bad” as much as it is “disappointing.” With so many great performances and so much going for it, the film still falls flat because of some really bad creative decisions. Can we maybe just keep Tom Hooper away from musicals from now on? 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.