Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published July 11th 2021
Marvel films are back
The world must be returning to normal because we finally have a new Marvel superhero movie to go and see at the cinema. After an amazing TV series (Wandavision), an okay TV series (The Falcon And The Winter Soldier) and currently showing a bizarre but amazing TV series (Loki), we now can return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a film that we have been waiting for for years.
Black Widow (2021)
Directed by Cate Shortland.
Written by Eric Pearson (screenplay), Jac Schaeffer (story) and Ned Benson (story)
We start in rural USA and we see a young family- mother, father and two girls. They flee their suburban home quite suddenly, by car, then by plane, running from the police and the oldest of the children is forced to fly the plane with the father on the wing shooting a gun. They go to Cuba where the older child protects the younger. Their father gives them a talk, they're drugged and taken away, then we hit the credits where a bunch of young girls are terrorised while a dirge-like version of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' plays. That's not a spoiler – that is literally the first fifteen minutes of the movie!
This pretty much sets the tone for the film – this movie does not stop. And yet it is not an action film at its heart – it is a film about family and relationships.
This film is set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and once the credits are over, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run and goes to a safehouse in Norway. Meanwhile, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) is doing stuff. And we see the Taskmaster watching fighting films. Now, in the comics, the Taskmaster's main power was that he could watch anyone fight and then mimic their style and effectiveness perfectly. And they've done that here, but the backstory has changed. Amongst other things. Again, not spoilers, that's the next ten minutes of the film.
So, without spoiling the film, Natasha meets Taskmaster, but Taskmaster is not after her. She goes to Budapest and meets Yelena and they fight to a stalemate and then are attacked by a bunch of fighting women and now we enter what is essentially a super-powered spy-thriller involving drugs and chases and fights and everything else. The old family comes back together, there are a lot of explosions and we all know Natasha survives.
Now, there are two things that make this movie one of the more enjoyable Marvel films since the end of Phase 1. First, it does not rely on the sometimes ridiculous super-powers; some powers are on display, yes, especially the Russian super-soldier Red Guardian (who the sisters rescue from prison and an avalanche at the same time), and the Black Widows are a decidedly over-trained group, but this does not rely on that. Second, and most importantly, the relationship between Yelena and Natasha. It feels natural; there is a real chemistry between Johansson and Pugh which translates to their characters on the screen. This film hinges on them being believable as pseudo-sisters and it works. I don't think this film would be as good without that.
It wouldn't be a Marvel film without things exploding
I loved Pugh's Yelena, for what it's worth. Her sarcasm, her quips, her explanations, her comebacks – she comes across as some-one who does not take crap from anyone and yet is loving. I really hope she is a part of the MCU going forwards. Pugh was great.
So, anyway, there are reveals and subterfuge using the mask technology from Civil War, and the dead eyes of the Taskmaster are so perfect. The final battle was more a final escape and not too bad, keeping the tension reasonably high, especially after Yelena and the helicopter explosion. And the post-credits scene (of course, there had to be one) sets things up for another film nicely, and, after that scene plus the last episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, we have come to know who one of the main "bad guys" (maybe?) is in this Marvel Phase 4.
Is this the best Marvel film? No. But is it one of the better ones? I think so, yes.
So, what's wrong with it? First and foremost, we needed this film earlier. We needed to see Natasha before she (SPOILER!) died in Avengers: Endgame, see her doing stuff like this. She was something of a two-dimensional character in the films she appeared in; finally, we see her as a real person, learn her backstory, but it's too late. Second, the villains all felt like they were there to be killed, to be set up to be mown down. Even Taskmaster hardly felt like a huge threat. The tension of the story feels artificial, the ending was inevitable. It became more a character study at times than this great MCU action-adventure movie, and that led to some jarring beats in the movie. Finally, the final battle was laden with deus ex machina situations and set-ups which, while established earlier in the film, were just overly convenient.
And head-scissors! So many head-scissors.
But none of that took away from what was a really enjoyable film, one I do recommend. This film is carried by the two leads and these two fine actors bring this film to the heights it achieves. Its ultimate success rests on their shoulders.
And that is Black Widow. Phase 4 of the MCU has started with an absolute bang. A nice high standard to get things going.
Now showing at cinemas everywhere and on Disney+.