Movie Review: Black Widow And The Future Of The MCU

Black Widow Review

Photo: Elen Nivrae from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

After almost two years since the last Marvel film, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) returns to the big screen one last time as we witness her on the run after the events of Captain America: Civil war, finding herself on a dangerous mission to tear down the Red Room and eliminate her old boss, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), once and for all. For many movie-goers, Black Widow may be the first film that marks their return to the theater since before the COVID Pandemic began. Whether you see this film at home on Disney+, or you go to see it in theaters, a simple thought always remains that Executive Producer Kevin Fiege, and Marvel Studios, know exactly how to tailor a riveting action packed story that leaves fans on the edge of their seats begging for more. Director of Black Widow, Cate Shortland, ensures that Nathasha Romanoff’s legacy is solidified forever, alongside introducing wonderful new characters such as Yelena (Florence Pugh), Alexei/Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Melina (Rachel Weisz). The cast dynamic in this film was one of the most enjoyable to watch thus far between all the Marvel films, and the chemistry between the dysfunctional relationship of all these characters enhances both the humor and the stakes of the film. 

Black Widow is significant for it’s more grounded atmosphere compared to the cosmic events of films like Infinity War, Endgame, and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, this Marvel project hit’s us Marvel fans heavy as we finally start to witness a darker side of Romanoff that has only ever been hinted or touched upon in past films. Black Widow takes charge as the first film of Phase 4 of the MCU, and goes a bit more in-depth on how Romanoff rose to become a deadly Russian assassin long before her time with the Avengers. 

If you’re aware of the event that occurred in Avengers: Endgame (Black Widow/Endgame SPOILERS AHEAD), Romanoff willingly paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to retrieve the soul stone on Vormir. So many fans prior to the film’s release speculated reasons for it only coming out now, when it is highly agreed upon that this film should have happened so much earlier, while she was still alive in the MCU. But regardless of the many times this film has been delayed, it simply does not matter, because Black Widow brings the fire back for Marvel fans that the Disney+ shows may have not been giving. 

Although some may believe this film to be a prequel, a telling of a young Natasha as she’s trained in the Red Room to become a Black Widow, it actually barely has anything to do with that part of her life. In fact, we only get a glimpse of it. This became one of my biggest criticisms of course when watching the film, but that curiosity of the Red Room experience was told more through Romanoff’s sister, Yelena, who has been under the chemically induced control of Dreykov, for as long as she can remember. The opening to the film, which reveals young Natasha and Yelena escaping with Alexei and Melina from their home in America, set us up for the action thriller we’ve been waiting for and shows how the girls were sedated and taken into the Widow Program to begin their new lives, unwillingly of course, as killers. Although, it would have been nice to see the girls during their adolescent years more, revealing the psychological torture that they endured to become mindless assassins, with such limited time to tell the story sometimes we need to jump more forward and get right into things. 

Although not usually touched upon, title sequences can say a lot about the tone and mood of a film, and Black Widow was no exception. Standing very far from the happier or more colorful sequences of other MCU projects, a rather darker title sequence was in store for audiences this time. A series of images and videos of children being treated like cattle rounded up, and taken, along with photos of notable politicians from throughout the Cold War era, revealing Russian sleeper agents intercepted within the American government, all to a cover of “Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, cover performed by Maila J. The sequence duration went rather long, but I felt entranced by what was on the screen, and the score helped push a lot of emotions already forward about how creative this film was going to be, and how different it was gonna approach its story compared to what we’ve seen in the past.

One of the biggest questions of Romanoff’s past was answered, and it was the answer to the long-living question of, what happened with Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in Budapest? If you haven’t seen the film and want to keep this a surprise, do as you will, but for those interested, the answer is simple yet satisfying enough for the time they had to cut everything together in the film. In fact, “Budapest” is the entire reason this film is truly being told, for its the location Romanoff was sent to along with Barton to finalize her defection to SHIELD. Her target was Dreykov, and her collateral damage in finding him, his daughter. After bombing the building the two were in, Natasha Romanoff became an official Agent of Shield, and thus her journey to becoming an Avenger began.

It also makes it more bitter-sweet when looking at past Marvel films featuring Barton and Romanoff, as you now truly know the red in their ledger, the skeletons in their closet, and all that they’ve been through together, all the way until the end. But it seems that some of those skeletons come back to life, with Yelena coming back in contact with her older sister Natasha, to let her know about a chemical agent that can save the girls from being mindless slaves for no one other than Dreykov himself, the man who destroyed Romanoff’s soul. The Red Room is still active, and it makes the audience wonder how many other secret, and deadly, organizations are out there lurking in the shadows waiting to strike at the innocent. 

But of course, every film needs it’s points of conflict, with its main antagonist, and it’s pawns to fight on the way to the final conflict with the main antagonist. Contrary to what the trailers made us believe, Taskmaster is not all that we think he is, and unfortunately he suffers from the same fate that other Marvel films have with giving us rather disappointing lap dog villains that are just hiding the presence of a rather simple villain.

The taskmaster story is completely rewritten for this film in a way that disrespects the character and waste’s its potential as nothing more than a plot twist. With Dreykov revealing that plot twist of who’s truly under the mask of Taskmaster, we are taken out of what made the villain so intriguing and mysterious. If you’re curious, the Taskmaster shown in the film is a female version of the character, played by Olga Kurylenko, and is also, evidently, Dreykov’s daughter, who was thought to be dead alongside him in the Budapest bombing. Taskmaster quickly is pushed off, as a rather daring Natasha and Yelena join up with their russian agent/adopted parents Alexei (who had to be broken out of prison) and Melina (who worked for the Red Room and studied pigs) track down and attempt to kill Dreykov and shut down the entire widow operation. 

Family is a common theme to consider when watching this film, as funny as that sounds. But witnessing a horrible out of shape convict dad who has super soldier serum, and a cynically screwed up scientist of a mom who talks to pigs, trying to reconnect with their assassin children after not seeing them for years, is rather quite beautiful. It takes some punches, scratches, and squeezing of red spandex to fit this family back together, but the way the cast bounces off each other during the dinner scene on Melina’s farm, was very enticing. 

Florence Pugh steals this movie away with her riveting performance as Yelena. Yelena shows a sense of naivety and hope, compared to her rather realist sister Natasha, and she is quite intriguing to dissect as a girl who was so young thrown into the Widow program, which makes killing all she’s ever known, and that much more of a complex character to watch develop with her in the future of the MCU. By all means this film is as much hers as it is Romanoff’s simply for what it is setting up for the future with the character. Yelena’s most interesting dynamics come from her jokes and snarky comments with her sister despite being in the craziest of situations, and undoubtedly the way that she doesn’t care about sacrificing herself for the cause (just like her sister).

Ultimately, Yelena is no one-movie character. Yelena has been written to become one of the next strong female leads in the MCU, and in time it’s expected she’ll be taking up a role very similar to Romanoff’s. One can hope at the very least. And of course her sense of style already lives on in the MCU as we find that her vest she wears in Black Widow, is the same vest Romanoff wears in Infinity War. It’s small details like that Marvel is always keen to include, making an even more emotional impact on the way we watch these movies over and over again.  

Post Credit Spoilers Ahead:

After the film comes to an end, sending Romanoff off on a quinjet to go break some old friends out of prison leading into the events of Infinity War, we cut immediately to the credits, and as all true Marvel fans know, the film isn’t over yet. The scene we never got in Endgame was Romanoff’s funeral, and we finally get to see what that could have been like as Yelena visits Natashas grave. We expect a cute, wholesome ending, but of course that’s not what we’ll get. Instead, we are introduced to a familiar face standing at Yelena’s side. Although hoping for Barton, or even Alexei, it is instead the mysterious woman, played by Julia Louis Dreyfus, who appeared in the Disney+ original series Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Introduced as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, Yelena seems to be acquainted with the woman, as the two seem to start talking business, revealing a target that Valentina wants Yelena go after, a target responsible for Romanoff’s death, Clint Barton. 

So what does this mean for the MCU? Well, after recruiting John Walker on her team, and now Yelena, it seems that Valentina is building a team of her own, the Dark Avengers perhaps? Nothing will be clear until the arrival of the Hawkeye series coming out later this year starring Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld. With the knowledge that Yelena is working for Valentina, who obviously seems to have a bone to pick with the Avengers, we expect to see her appearance in the Hawkeye show, probably going head to head with Kate Bishop as a new adversary, while Hawkeye attempts to convince Yelena of where her alliance should lie. All we can do is wait and theorize. Overall, I would give the film, Black Widow, a 8/10. It was not the perfect Marvel film by any means, but I would say it was one of the most rewatchable and emotional films by far. The universe is expanding, but taking a look back on Natasha Romanoff, our Black Widow, it’s safe to say, for now, that her story can finally come to a close, and her ledger can finally be wiped clean. 

Black Widow

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Movie Review: Black Widow And The Future Of The MCU article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021

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