For years, fans have been clamoring to see Scarlett Johansson‘s Natasha Romanoff lead her own solo movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and now, after her pivotal on-screen death and a slew of delays, it’s finally here with the release of Black Widow. The 24th film in the franchise, and first after a two-year gap, it feels very reminiscent of entries from Marvel Studios’ past. But instead of being completely outdated, Black Widow manages to bring some new things to the table and keep the MCU moving forward in an exciting way.
Set directly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s latest gives audiences the deepest look at Natasha Romanoff so far, further developing her complexity and giving Scarlett Johansson enough material to build her most honorable performance as the character, period. Getting to follow Natasha’s journey, while also finally filling in the gray areas of her past, is truly exhilarating, making it all the more saddening that Marvel waited to tell it until after she was killed off. This leaves Black Widow feeling null and void in the grand scheme of the MCU. However, that doesn’t mean that this film is without its worth.
The film’s plot, while entertaining, still suffers from a glaring issue – it’s nothing new. Marvel Studios has been trying to break away from the criticism that “all MCU movies are exactly the same” for some time now, but if Black Widow is anything to go by, they are certainly not trying hard enough. Black Widow could easily fit into Phase Two, which is why it being the first entry of Phase Four is a bit disappointing. In fact, it draws many similarities to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in narrative beats, tone, visual style, and more. It may be a serviceable conclusion for Natasha Romanoff, but the film would have greatly benefited from more unique qualities – an edge deeper than this just operating as a neat prequel. Instead, Natasha is left with a story straight from the early 2010s.
The strongest part of the film is that of Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, a scene-stealer who manages to captivate the viewer in every moment. Pugh’s chemistry with Johansson, combined with a well-written script, makes for a stellar relationship. The dynamic between the reunited “sisters” carries Black Widow from beginning to end, due in large part to Pugh’s work. Her portrayal of a broken young spy who can’t help but to cling on to the past makes Yelena an extremely captivating character to follow. After this great introduction, new waves of fans will surely be anticipating her return.
As shown by the relationship between Natasha and Yelena, Black Widow has a large focus on family. Though these two women aren’t the only members at play. David Harbour and Rachel Weisz portray the “parents” to this dysfunctional family, Alexei and Melina, and both bring something special to the table. Harbour’s comedic timing always hits the mark, as he also steps in the fatherly role perfectly. Weisz, on the other hand, has an unexpected charm to her, resulting in an especially engaging character that isn’t as predictable as one may think.
Unfortunately, not every role in Black Widow shines on these levels. With every group of strong heroes should be a strong opponent for them to face, and all the odds were in Black Widow’s favor with the inclusion of Taskmaster, a cunning fighter who can study and replicate his adversary’s skill set. Yet, the biggest flaw with Black Widow’s interpretation of Taskmaster is the lack of a personality. Comic readers recognize Taskmaster from the one-liners, attitude, and colorful persona that make him a fascinating foe. But in Black Widow, the part is reduced to a silent assassin who is good for little more than a few action scenes throughout the film, sharing essentially no lines with Black Widow herself.
Taskmaster is turned into a carbon copy of The Winter Soldier, minus the depth that made that “Red” assassin interesting in the first place. It truly is a shame, as Taskmaster has built up a small, albeit loyal, fan base that has been longing for his live-action debut. This introduction, though, is a poorly done one, being used for nothing more than action scenes and lead-up to secret twists and turns, making the head-turning villain feel more like a plot device. That’s not to say anything negative about Black Widow’s action set pieces, as they are superb. Taskmaster may not be as compelling as a threat, but the character’s gimmick is a great basis for well-choreographed, hand-to-hand fight scenes.
Even if it isn’t hugely important for the MCU when it comes to setting up the rest of Phase Four, Black Widow’s thematic relevance is still valuable. The events of the film play out as the ideal bridging point between Natasha’s highs as an Avenger and her time on the run. More so, her path and decisions go as far to directly set up her ultimate sacrifice in the future. Although it may be set before her death, Black Widow serves as a fine way to say goodbye to such a pivotal figure in the MCU, regardless if it is a long overdue project.
Black Widow can’t help but to stay formulaic in certain areas, doing little to differentiate itself from the other entries in the franchise. Still, that doesn’t entirely take away from it being a well-made epilogue to the story of Natasha Romanoff. It proves to be a solid addition to the MCU, managing to showcase its own value and purpose, even if that’s hard to believe at first. Natasha’s adventures may have come to an end, but Black Widow leaves threads to be continued and expanded on in future installments, meaning that this film could actually have a stronger impact on the MCU. Hopefully, these loose ends are further explored, as they certainly save this film from being anything less than standard. Fans will also agree, honoring Natasha Romanoff’s legacy doesn’t have to end here.