Black Widow (2021)

Posted in Reviews by - July 09, 2021
Black Widow (2021)

It has been 11 years since Scarlett Johansson first made her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Russian spy Natasha Romanova, alias Black Widow, notable for being the only woman in the Avengers, and relegated to either a romantic interest, an emotional support for the boys, or to provide fetishised kick-assery in tight-fitting clothing. Thanks in no small part to Johansson’s command over the performance, the character has developed and endured throughout the series, yet despite her fascinating history – portrayed in Marvel comics since the 1960s – she has remained the only Avenger without her own origin story. So this standalone Black Widow film finds the studio slightly on the back-foot, having to retrospectively pay homage to one of its most important characters, even if – given the events in Endgame – it is maybe already too little, too late.

If Johansson does decide to hang up the catsuits for good, then as swan-songs go, this isn’t a bad way to exit: fun, well-cast, and action-packed. It doesn’t have the pathos or heft of, say, Logan – and it all too readily slips back into the kind of computer-generated maelstroms we have come to expect from Marvel – but it does make a good fist at being diverting, mixing superhero antics with a dysfunctional family comedy, a Terminator-style chase thriller, and a kooky spy caper, as well as leaning into a highly prescient message about the subversive power of the patriarchy. This is personified by a bullying, woman-hating, Weinstein-like creep played by Ray Winstone (attempting Russian via Hackney), who is shown to be literally controlling the minds of young women around the world, turning them into super-killers, and robbing them of their free will. Black Widow is placed in a position where she must unite and rescue the sisterhood around the world.

In true Marvel style, the film is also as much an origin story for Natasha’s equally explosive younger sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), who now looks set to pick up the baton. The film shows their forged upbringing in 90s Ohio as orphaned children of Russian spies, before a return to Europe and their years training as brainwashed assassins in the so-called ‘Red room’ at the hands of the manipulative Dreykov (Winstone). Natasha escapes and becomes a world-famous Avenger, whereas Yelena has only just been sprung from her stupor. When the estranged sisters meet – soon after the events from Captain America: Civil War (2016) – their sibling rivalry is highly entertaining, with Yelena mocking her older sister for her ‘hero posing’. Rachel Weisz and David Harbour have delicious fun as their fake parents, playing former Soviet loyalists looking to make amends. For Harbour, in particular, his hilariously embittered turn as the USSR’s answer to Captain America is surely worthy of its own Disney+ series.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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