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Disney // PG-13 // July 9, 2021
List Price: Unknown
Ever since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), fans have had their list of characters in mind who they have always wanted to see adapted to the film medium. Between a lack of female representation among solo superhero films and a great performance from Scarlett Johansson in the role of Black Widow, audiences have been clamoring for her to get a movie of her own. She first appeared in Iron Man 2, which was released in 2010. Eleven years later, she is finally getting that solo film. The upcoming July 9 release date is after three delays from its original May 2020 date due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Set after Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow sees the title character, also known as Natasha Romanoff, confront the secrets of her past. While she has hinted at her past before, this movie explores a bit more about what she left behind when she joined the Avengers. The film starts off with a young Natasha and her family, Alexei (David Harbour), Melina (Rachel Weisz), and her sister, Yelena, who's adult version is played by Florence Pugh. The opening credits sequence plays over a montage that displays just some of what Natasha went through to become the tough hero that the world would later find her to be.
There are a few nuances, such as a radio broadcast that mentions her and Captain America, that bring the audience back to the Marvel setting of 2016. However, Eric Pearson's (Thor: Ragnarok) screenplay and Cate Shortland's (Lore) directorial style both lead to a tone that is different from the superhero action film that audiences have come to expect from the MCU. While it still has all of the big action set pieces, Black Widow plays out more like an action thriller reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Given the characters involved, the combat focuses less on powers and places more emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. The fight choreography is solid, especially whenever Natasha gets to fight the characters that can match her combat ability.
Similar to other installments of the MCU, Black Widow shies away from subject matter that could get a bit too dark. While the material is certainly there, it brightens itself up with moments of comedic relief throughout. The film has some deeper social subtext laced throughout the film, which becomes much more apparent in the third act. However, this social commentary is a bit of an afterthought that could have been fleshed out a lot more. As a Marvel film, Black Widow answers a lot of questions that fans have had for years. Even for those who have read the comics, there are discoveries to be made here that exist only in the MCU. Additionally, there are definitely some fun, new characters to enjoy here.
When it comes to the action, Black Widow mostly delivers. There are a few action set pieces in particular that are quite thrilling. When it was first confirmed that Taskmaster would be the villain, I was extremely excited to see how the MCU would adapt the character to the silver screen. Unfortunately, the character is done little justice and has a small impact on the overall film. Visually, Taskmaster looks the part and has one fight sequence in particular that is pretty great, but there is nothing else past that. Given the glaring differences from the comics to the film, it is clear that Pearson did what he could to make the character fit within the confines of this story the best that he could, but it feels forced.
Unlike the villain, Yelena is utilized very well from start to finish. Pugh is the real stand-out in this film, as she delivers such an impressive performance here. She is given most of the story's emotional beats, and she handles them with ease. Johansson delivers a marvelous performance, as well. The chemistry between the two actors is the best element of the entire film. Johansson and Pugh are an absolute joy to watch on screen. Unfortunately, the ways in which the script balances the characters is problematic. Since Black Widow is essentially a farewell for Johansson's Natasha, it feels right for her to get a proper send-off, although the film spends more of its time setting up Yelena as the newest addition to the MCU, rather than giving Natasha a proper finale.
After fans have been waiting so long for Black Widow to get a solo film, it feels like a bit of a letdown for her to get overshadowed by a new character in her own film. Despite all of my issues, this remains to be a worthy installment into the MCU. Perhaps moving forward, we will see more movies and series that fill in the gaps in between or before the previous films. Black Widow is worth seeing just for Johansson and Pugh's chemistry alone, even if the overall film doesn't entirely meet expectations.