Yes I’m one of those crazy people who spent £20 to watch Black Widow at home (though to be fair to myself the cost of a ticket plus a bus to my nearest cinema and back is actually not far off that same amount…) What did I think of the first MCU movie in Phase 4, especially after we’ve had such great Phase 4 TV already? Well… it was fun. Not much else, but fun. Let’s take a deeper look!
Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy, and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
It’s like looking in a mirror!… except the difference in height, face, hair colour and clothes.
While at the end of the day the film is pretty much an excuse to have Scarlett Johansson in well shot action sequences but I will give it credit in the fact it created a sort-of family for our lead character and that story of that weird quartet was entertaining. We all knew Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow had an unpleasant past, trained in the “Red Room” to be an assassin, made infertile, all that stuff. Well here we find out when she was a young girl she was put in a false family unit in America with a “Mum, Dad and Sister” who, at least in the former two, were also agents. The Mum was scientist and early Black Widow agent Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) while the Dad, Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), was the result of a Soviet super soldier experiment and fought as “The Red Guardian” for a while, before his mission in America. Her sister, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) however was too young to know the truth and believed she was in a regular family unit. When their mission to steal some vital information was finished the four of them escaped the US and returned home where Natasha and Yelena were taken to two different Red Room cells while Red Guardian was sent to prison by head honcho General Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Throw in a scene where we see Widow leave Russia behind by using Dreykov’s child daughter to explode their house and kill the General (or attempt to kill…) and that’s all the flashbacks we get.
So that’s a lot of sudden backstory, although it turns out “killing Dreykov’s daughter” was actually mentioned by Loki in the first Avengers film, which I’d completely failed to take in, so it wasn’t all pulled out of nowhere. The “current day” part of the film is actually set just after Black Widow’s involvement in Captain America: Civil War, with her on the run from the US government and the Avengers split into pieces. It’s here she meets back up with her “sister” and finds out she was part of a Black Widow program that actually used some sort of chemical brainwashing instead of conditioning to control agents and she was recently brought back to reality via a cure, which she now intends to give to the other chemically controlled agents. Natasha is confused, believing she killed Dreykov and stopped the Red Room, but neither are true. The two would-be-sisters then got through a few well shot and enjoyable chase sequences, escaping both other Widows and The Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) who looks quite close to her male comic counterpart, costume and powers-wise, though is completely silent and has no connections to SHIELD or the US at all for that matter.
The Red Guardian in live action… we really are scraping the bottom of the Marvel barrel, and I love it!
The two of them then break their “father” out of prison in yet another enjoyable set piece, then the three of them reunite with the “mother”. It’s at this point where I really enjoyed the bizarre dynamic they’d created, Alexei was a complete bastard for being okay with sending his “children” to the Red Room and generally doing bad things just for the sake of his country, but somehow he’s so legitimately funny and endearing here that I soon forgot about that and just enjoyed the character as a fun / slightly crazy uncle-like character that the two sisters just sort of put up with. Melina betrays and three of them and escorts them to the Red Room, which is apparently a massive building permanently floating in the clouds, I guess explain how it was off the radar alright. In reality Melina was in on the idea of taking down Dreykov for good and ending the Widows program and her and her “daughter” Natasha used fake face tech to swap places. Cue some exposition, some satisfying Black Widow punching complete bastard Dreykov scenes, the revelation that Taskmaster is actually Dreykov’s daughter that Black Widow assumed died in the explosion and finally a bunch of fight scenes and action set pieces as the whole Red Room comes crashing to Earth and the Taskmaster / other Black Widows try and stop our quartet.
In the end the other Widows/Taskmaster are freed of their mind control and head off with Yelena, Alexei and Melina while Natasha stays behind to confront her pursuer in Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and eventually acquire the quinjet she and Cap use to break their allies out of prison at the very end of Civil War. As I said the movie is one big excuse to have some crazy action set pieces and some decent fight scenes, but the weird family dynamic worked well, and Yelena was entertaining, which is good because she’s presumably being set up as the next Black Widow now Natasha is dead, current-day timeline-wise (and in a post credit sequence which seems to hint that she’s being directed at Hawkeye to get revenge, which I guess will be continued in the Disney + series of the same name…)
Am I the only one who wanted to hear the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Taskmaster theme at some point in the film? What’s that? Yes? Oh, okay then.
Nothing stood out as truly bad, but it’s safe to say the film isn’t anything special. I know I’ve talked about a few good parts of the plot but as you can also tell it’s just going from one set piece to the next and has no real impact on the MCU timeline at all, beyond giving us a valid replacement for Black Widow. We’re even back to “poor villain” territory as even Ray Winstone couldn’t really make me care about our lead antagonist, luckily Taskmaster was good for a fight scene or two, even if she was actually just a silent henchwoman for 95% of the film…
Basically it’s fun as a two-ish hour action distraction, but it’s not a big and interesting kick-off to Phase 4, and in fact fails to live up to the TV shows we’ve had in this “phase” already.
A fun action sequence!
While the performances were good and I did like the bizarre family dynamic, the film wasn’t really up to much overall, especially compared to the TV output so far from Phase 4. The main thing to take away from Black Widow is “fun action sequences”, but if you’re looking for something deeper or more impactful on the MCU timeline then you won’t find it here…