“God Help The Tyrannical Russian Agent Murderer/Brainwasher Who Comes Between Me And My Sister…"
By Jonas Schwartz
After years of speculation and promise from the MCU, the standalone Black Widow has finally reached theaters -- and, for an additional fee option, on Disney+. The action film rests solely on the high caliber cast and without them, the pedestrian writing and direction would have dragged the film to the depths of the hollow DC films. Oscar® winner Rachel Weisz, Stranger Things, star David Harbour, and wunderkind Florence Pugh work with Scarlett Johansson to keep audiences captivated.
In 1995 Ohio, a typical American family receives the signal that the jig is up. It turns out none of the “family” are blood-related, but an active Russian sleeper cell. They have been discovered by S.H.I.E.L.D, and escape to Cuba for a meetup with their leader, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), to pass along the intel they stole. He sends the father-figure, Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian (Harbour), and the mother-figure, Melina Vostokoff/Black Widow (Weisz), back to Russia and the two little girls to the mysterious “Red Room’ to be trained and turned into assassins Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Pugh).
The film flashforwards to the time between Captain America: Civil Wars and Avengers: Infinity Wars, where Natasha is currently wanted by the government for the ramifications of breaking the Sokovia Accords along with Steve Rogers/Captain America. Her former “sister” Yelena pulls Natasha back into a mission regarding fellow Black Widow agents, mind-controlled by a nefarious former enemy. The two break their surrogate father out of Russian prison and rendezvous with their surrogate mother in an off-the-boards mission to save Earth from an evil plot of world domination.
Directed by newcomer Cate Shortland and written by Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok and Godzilla Vs Kong), the film lacks a compelling storyline, and the action scenes are underwhelming. Black Widow’s biggest problem is its lack of urgency. The current film takes place long behind where the MCU is currently residing. Audiences must re-remember the consternations of Captain America: Civil Wars and follow a character who died several films ago. Had the film been made during Phase 3 before Infinity Wars, it would have had more impact. As it is now, only the post-credit sequence (really the best moment in the entire film) takes place in the current MCU world. When one goes back and re-binges the MCU films, their hearts and minds are focused on the tasks at hand, but to have a new film act as a prequel of a protagonist who has now passed away, feels like an also-ran
So, is Black Widow worth watching? Without question. Because of the performances. Weisz, Harbour, Johansson, and especially Pugh seep subtext and unwritten cohesion into the film as they deal with past rejections, betrayals, and frustrations, and attempt to re-create a familial bond that had many years ago been thrusted on them for purposes against the United States. Edit out the chases, the explosions, the double and triple-crosses, turn off the volume completely, and you still have a family drama as in-depth as a Eugene O’Neill play. It is just not from the dialogue, but it’s all there in those talented actors’ eyes.