You know what they say, better late than never!
“Black Widow” is the long-awaited (and oft-delayed) solo film for the titular superhero played by Scarlett Johansson, and follows a mission that ends up reuniting her with her family (Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz). O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, and Ray Winstone also star while Cate Shortland directs.
For years fans were asking for a Black Widow solo film, but it took the success of 2017’s “Wonder Woman” and the explosion in MCU popularity to finally have the project greenlit. It marks the final starring role for Scarlett Johansson as the character, who like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans is leaving the franchise after a decade of wearing tights, and is a fittingly smaller-scale Marvel movie that does everything it needs to while still offering some fun new surprises.
Scarlett Johansson has been one of the best parts of the Marvel Universe since her debut as Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” and it’s nice to finally get to see her run the show instead of being a sidekick or part of an ensemble. Here we get a little more intimate look at her as a person instead of an Avenger, with little moments like her quietly driving along while listening to the pop song “Cheap Thrills” by Sia. She continues to be a badass when it counts, but part of what has made Natasha one of the MCU’s most loved characters is her personality, and Johansson keeps that dry wit and warmth.
The star, however, is Florence Pugh, whose star power only continues to grow after having a 1994 Jim Carrey-type year in 2019, coming onto the (mainstream) scene with “Fighting with My Family,” “Midsommar,” and then “Little Women,” the last of which landed her an Academy Award nomination. Here Pugh plays Yelena Belova, Natasha’s younger sister, herself a member of the same assassin-training course, and steals the show. Pugh carries all the emotional scenes of the film, trying to come to terms with the fact her youth was a charade and her life has not been her own, but also has some laugh-out-loud moments (“this would be a cool way to die” she says to herself as an avalanche is approaching). Pugh is set to appear in the Disney+ show “Hawkeye” and will surely be one of the main focuses of the MCU moving forward and I couldn’t be more excited.
Overall, the action in the film is some of the best that we’ve seen in the MCU. Outside maybe the “Captain America” films (namely “Winter Soldier”), this is the most brutal hand-to-hand combat we’ve gotten. You hear bones crunch and the impact of knives slashing, and it really is one of the most enjoyable Marvel films action-wise that we’ve gotten in a long while. The special effects can be a bit wonky (there are several explosions that look right out of a PlayStation 3 cutscene), but they never take you out of the film.
The writing is hit and miss, with the banter between Natasha and Yelena being the amusing Marvel quipping but the dialogue-driven scenes between multiple characters being a tad bit slow. The MCU has also always had a problem with its bad guys and this may be the weakest example yet, with Taskmaster looking cool and being a physical threat, but the motivations and development of the villain organization being a bit lacking.
“Black Widow” is one of the better MCU solo outings, and just like how “Luca” is “lesser” Pixar doesn’t mean the lower-stakes make it bad. This is a very good Marvel film that does everything it needs to do and offers some closure to the Black Widow character while showing the impact she made on the future of the franchise. Johansson and Pugh are great and the fight scenes are incredibly entertaining, and it is just nice to see a feature-length Marvel movie for the first time in two years; it’s almost a microcosm for us all finally getting back to normal.
Critics Rating: 7/10