Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Black Widow (2021): A Review (Review #1510)



For far too long, the Marvel character of Natasha Romanoff has been left without a standalone film. Despite wild acclaim for her first appearance in Iron-Man 2 back in 2010, it has taken a decade (and the character's death) for her to at last have a film where she is the star. Black Widow is sequel, prequel and set-up for a television series. It's also unoriginal and apart from one or two performance not particularly great.

1995 Ohio finds what appears to be a typical American family having to flee to the safety of Cuba. Why? Because they are actually deep cover moles for the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) is injured and the father Alexei (David Harbour) must sacrifice his daughters Natasha and Yelena to the State so they can be the professional assassins Mother Russia needs.

Move twenty-one years later and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), still carrying guilt over accidentally killing the daughter of her boss General Draykov (Ray Winstone) is a fugitive, one of those Avengers avoiding the UN due to the Sokovia Accords which she is not in compliance with. Only her friend Mason (O-T Fagbenle) helps her avoid authorities. Circumstances draw her out after a fierce battle with a mysterious figure to reunite with Yelena (Florence Pugh), who is like Natasha free from the Black Widow mind control.

Seeing a way to free the other female assassins, they join forces and bring back their ad hoc family together. That means breaking their "father" Alexei aka Red Guardian out of prison, and finding Mama Melina on a remote farm. Things, however, are not as they appear, as there are betrayals and double-crosses on all sides until leading to an epic confrontation between Natasha and the villain known as Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko).

In the requisite post-credit scene, Yelena mourns at Natasha's grave where she's visited by a mysterious yet oddly comic woman (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who tells Yelena that a particular man is responsible for Natasha's death. This woman then shows her a picture of Clint Barton/Hawkeye. 

I must be honest in that while it has been about two to three weeks since I saw Black Widow, I can barely remember anything from it. What I do remember for the most part isn't positive. The biggest takeaway from Black Widow is that for reasons unknown Eric Pearson's screenplay (from a story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson) decided to crib from the FX television show The Americans. I'm not well-versed enough in comic book lore to know if these really are Natasha's origins, but for those who have seen The Americans the parallels are simply too hard to ignore.

Moreover, I did wonder why despite speaking with perfectly flawless American accents once they fled to Cuba the faux-family opted to keep these really thick Russian accents that seemed wildly comical. Only Johansson opted to not adopt the accent, which is a reason why her performance wasn't as silly as everyone else.

Perhaps that was the point: to have comedy through bad Russian accents. At least that was the result, particularly with Harbour's blustery Red Guardian. As a side note, given how he is presented (perhaps real, perhaps not) as the Soviet Union's version of Captain America, it's curious how he was discarded and sent to prison where apparently he is strong enough to break entire arms in arm-wrestling contests but not strong or smart enough to break out of prison.

Pugh is the standout as the cynical, sarcastic yet wounded Yelena. She has more of a chance to show a dramatic range when she recalls her lost youth. It's a credit to her talent she can do both action and drama with equal ability.

I find that Black Widow though is pretty paint-by-numbers. The action scenes fine but not particularly exciting (especially since I know Natasha is going to live to die another day). It's almost expected, and somehow the most jolting moment is Natasha smashing her own nose to allow her to attack a major villain seems a mix of weird and funny.

Again to be fair I have pretty much lost interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and don't have any vested interest to remember what the Sokovia Accords are, let alone try and keep track of what it is or who is who. Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine comes the Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and here is where my primary issue is with both the MCU in general and Black Widow in particular.

The franchise is so tightly tied in to itself that those of us who don't watch things like WandaVision or Falcon and the Winter Soldier won't know the who or what of future MCU films. It's become a niche franchise, so with the Countess' appearance, what Black Widow ends up becoming is a trailer for Hawkeye. 

Black Widow is fine, something one watches and forgets. More for hardcore MCU fans to complete the collection, I wish the character of Black Widow had gotten a more fitting film than what we ended up with.

Next Marvel Cinematic Universe Film: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


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