‘Black Widow’ weaves a fun family tale with an action guise

Black Widow is the family movie F9 wishes it could be with fantastic character moments, even if the cracks in the formula are starting to show.

It may seem strange to release Black Widow now in Phase Four given this phase kicking off with a slew of Disney+ shows diving into the more fantastical parts of the Marvel universe with the grief-powered TV tribute WandaVision and the spectacular as all get-out multiverse wonder of Loki. Black Widow is closer to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in this comparison, however, this film never falls into “God, when the actual hell is this Madripoor episode ending?” territory.

The film picks up after the events of Civil War with Natasha on the outs with the Avengers and the US Government for that matter. With this newfound sense of freedom, she is looking to rid the person that took her away from her family and her life teaming up with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh).

The two eventually come across Alexei aka the Red Guardian (David Harbor) and their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) to take on the Red Room and the Black Widow program. Yet, at every turn lurks the mimic mercenary The Taskmaster to run afoul of their efforts.

Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) are on the lookout for more dangers coming their way. (Source: Marvel Studios)

This 24th entry into the never-ending story that is the MCU is a family reunion film while wearing action firmly on their sleeve. It’s the same lightheartedness one expects from this films so far, if started to show signs that the formula can get a bit stale.

Cate Shorthand is the second woman director to direct a Marvel feature, the first being Lexi Alexander’s underrated Punisher: War Zone. Shorthand directs with the greatest of ease having a handle on the characters by letting the actors be immersed in their roles and not be another cardboard template.

Pugh shines through and through as Shorthand let her improvise scenes and lines including a bit about how brutal the Widow program is. Pugh herself is magnificent by not overstaying their welcome with their character’s debut by being an actual person with humanity and hope despite all the tragedy she has undergone.

This also plays into Harbor’s and Weisz’s roles with Harbor being a man stuck to the roots of his past who can’t let go and Weisz realizing they should move on despite knowing the importance of a life shattered. Harbor and Pugh have a moment together that is filled with resentment, anger, and eventually forgiveness that is downright beautiful showing just how wide the impact of their separation from one another was.

Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) stares down Alexei (David Harbour) along with Yelena (Florence Pugh) as he tries to reconcile with them. (Source: Marvel Studios)

The best parts of this film are not the action scene, but rather when the characters can have quiet moments of conversations letting the viewers in on their thoughts, their lives and their feelings. This is has made some outings such as Loki, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Solider shine brighter than other entries.

Unlike The Winter Soldier, the action is the run-of-the-mill big Marvel set pieces everyone is used to by now. A building blows up, vehicles are destroyed and laughs are had. Nothing really dynamic or visually interesting here on the level of Thor: Ragnarok or even WandaVision. An interesting addition the film does have is in the opening credits themselves offering insight and showing the trauma induced by the Black Widow program.

However, any goodwill this scene has is ruined by a nails-on-the-chalkboard cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” played over it just in case you wanted to hear that song ruined by someone that isn’t made of felt. It’s also there in case those viewing forgot this sequence was supposed to be in 1995, four years after the song’s popularity was in high gear.

This isn’t the film’s biggest problem as that comes into the form of the treatment of the Taskmaster. The marketing would have one believe Takmaster is this film’s big bad, but it’s actually the head of the Red Room, Dreykov (Ray Winstone).

The Taskmaster makes their presence known ready to take out anyone that gets in their way. (Source: Marvel Studios)

Dreykov is a stock by-the-numbers Bond-esque villain with Taskmaster is merely his henchman. The Taskmaster’s identity reveal does lead to an eye roll due to its predictability and possibly spoiled earlier by those paying attention to the names in the opening edits.

The action-comedy formula is also starting to grow stale as it makes otherwise dramatic scenes bogged down by jokes that bring a smile, but nothing else. The dinner scene in the film and the post-credits are the two culprits of this as the jokes take away from the mood established.

Marvel Studios needs to know it’s okay to be serious because if audiences have stuck around since 2008, they can handle a tonal shift in this universe. The popularity of the MCU series on Disney+ have proved that significantly.

The lack of any stakes is also at play here in that anyone who has seen Natasha’s fate in Avengers: Endgame know that this outing isn’t the end for their character. The stakes for other characters hang in the balance, yet this is never fully played with. This is a benefit to those who only want to see this film as it is a standalone adventure as a light action romp into a universe about to branch out into some interdimensional chaos.

Black Widow gives a shining spotlight to a character fully capable of standing their own ground with a family stepping into the place of the Avengers in a romp even the likes of their competition F9’s Dom Torreto can get behind. It’s formulaic with some action leaving much to be desires and the stakes are practically non-existent, much like The Fast Saga, but has enough heart in the center to warrant a watch.

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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