It’s been a long time coming and it’s finally here — Black Widow got her own movie. It may not be earth-shattering, but it does hit all the right notes and does a fine job of giving this superhero a story all her own. By the time this review reaches your eyeballs, my own personal moratorium on spoilers (one week) will have passed — if you wanted to avoid spoilers, you would have seen the movie already, especially as it’s also on Disney+ for $29.99. However, I’m going to avoid them, for this movie anyway.
The main trunk of the film takes place in 2016 just after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run from the government after she refused to sign the Sokovia Accords.
We get more backstory on Nat, including what happened in Budapest and her fake family life in an Ohio suburb in 1996, as her phony mom and pop, Melina and Alexei (Rachel Weisz and David Harbour), steal information from S.H.I.E.L.D.
They live a normal American life by all appearances until the day comes when Alexei steals the information needed and they take flight, rendezvousing with the leader of the Red Room General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and he takes both the young Natasha and her fake sister Yelena (played as a child by Violet McGraw and as an adult by Florence Pugh) away from this family unit and puts them through the entire program making them both Widows in the Red Room.
We learn from just the opening credits the awful process of becoming a Widow entails, including being shoved in shipping containers to bring them the secret facility and mind control.
When Yelena, now grown and on a mission as a Widow, discovers a synthetic gas that counteracts the mind control that is on her, she takes more vials and sends it to her Avenger sister. But Natasha runs into an armored soldier named Taskmaster who’s after the vials so she travels to Budapest to find her sister. The two decide to join forces and try and free more Widows from the Red Room using the gas, but it means they’ll have to find their “parents” too.
The absolute best part of the entire film, besides just seeing women be the heroes in their own stories and in no real need of assistance from a dude, is Florence Pugh. It takes all of 5 minutes to love Yelena and her amazing pocketed vest.
Harbour is also delightful, if a little underutilized, but again, this isn’t his story.
Johansson isn’t stretching into a whole new territory from what we’ve already seen and it’s pretty evident that without Pugh by her side, we’d probably be a little bored by her brooding Russianness.
Unfortunately, the film itself suffers from the problem a lot of Marvel movies have, the villain isn’t really that good. Both Dreykov and Taskmaster are pretty one-note and because we get more of the familial story (which is obviously the better story), we lose any nuance they may have.
Before you say “it’s just a comic book movie!” I give you “Black Panther,” “Infinity War,” even “WandaVision” as counterpoints. And any stakes or danger from said villains we’re supposed to feel for the characters goes away because we know exactly what happens to Natasha.
There are absolutely wonderful moments shared between Pugh and Johansson as they reconcile the fake lives they had in Ohio and the real ones that transpired afterward and of course, there is plenty of action, each scene beautifully choreographed.
But as a whole, the movie feels like it’s too late. It is a solid MCU movie, and there’s nothing so wrong to not make watching it an enjoyable experience, but it can’t quite stand out as one of the best the factory has ever cranked out.