Remember back when Black Widow was supposed to release in May 2020? Well, after more than a year wait and thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused all the delays, it’s finally here.
I hate to admit this but Scarlett Johansson’s otherwise long-awaited solo Black Widow film feels like it’s a few years too late (not counting the COVID-19-related delays, of course). Not especially after what her character has been through over the course of seven MCU films either as a cameo or supporting role from Iron Man 2 (2010) to Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Still, putting that aside, what could have been an unnecessary filler of a solo MCU film turns out to be a decent effort after all. This is largely due to the introduction of Yelena Belova played by Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Little Women and TV’s The Little Drummer Girl). She’s a scene-stealer in a film that supposed to be all about Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff. She even gets the best scene here and it happens to be a GIF-worthy moment, where she mocked Natasha by questioning and even acting out her signature fighting pose.
As for the story, Black Widow takes place between Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), where Natasha is on the run after breaking the Sokovia Accords and U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) has been trying to track her down. She subsequently lay low in Norway but not for long after she is being attacked by a masked assailant simply known as Taskmaster. Soon, she finds herself reuniting with her younger sister, Yelena as they join forces to take down Dreykov (Ray Winstone), who is the mastermind behind the Red Room, a top-secret Soviet programme designed to brainwash and train young women to become assassins.
Directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore and Berlin Syndrome), Black Widow marks her first foray into a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster and thankfully, she made quite an impression here. Her indie-film sensibility is put into good use, particularly during the opening scene — a 1995-set prologue where we first learn about the backstory of young Natasha (Ever Anderson) and Yelena (Violet McGraw) living with their adopted parents (David Harbour’s Alexei Shostakov and Rachel Weisz’s Melina Vostokoff).
Shortland also took the cues from the popular spy-movie genre seen in the likes of James Bond, Mission: Impossible and Bourne franchise and filled her film with some of the best action scenes ever seen in MCU (the brief fight between Natasha and Yelena and the Budapest-set car chase come to mind). The intricate fight choreography is just as good, thanks to Shortland’s energetic direction with the help of veteran second-unit director Jeff Habberstad (TV’s Alias, Doctor Strange and Netflix’s The Old Guard).
As much as Florence Pugh steals most of the show here, Scarlett Johansson does have her few moments reprising her iconic role as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. David Harbour excels in his comic-relief turn as Alexei a.k.a. Soviet super-soldier known as Red Guardian while Rachel Weisz delivers solid support as Melina.
Too bad Black Widow is still plagued by bland villains commonly seen in MCU films and this time, it’s Dreykov played by the otherwise reliable Ray Winstone. Dreykov is a generic antagonist straight out from an assembly line, complete with an excruciatingly long-winded moment at one point where he spills out expository-heavy dialogues.
At times, the film also suffered from an inconsistent pace with Shortland’s penchant for stop-start moments. This is especially true during the late scene where Natasha finally reunited with all of her “family” members and laying low in a house. The 134-minute length could have used some serious trimmings and among them turns out to be the overstretched final third-act. While the final scene has its few thrillingly-staged action moments (the one where Natasha and Taskmaster struggling against each other while freefalling from the sky filled with flying debris is worth mentioning here), the film tends to get overwhelmed with the overreliance of spotty CGI and haphazard editing.
Likewise, stick around since there is a post-credits teaser (and it’s a crucial one too).