One of the least interesting Marvel characters gets her time in the spotlight in “Black Widow,” the latest standalone movie in the MCU. There’s something about this film that feels different, in a good way. Perhaps it’s because Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) isn’t one of the Avengers who is the most well-known or loved by fans, but much credit should be given to screenwriter Eric Pearson and director Cate Shortland. Instead of another lame origin story about a forgettable superhero, we get a smart, absorbing, and darker look at a woman who is the product of an oppressive Russian brainwashing program that turned young girls into deadly assassins.
The film plays around with the Marvel timeline, making this film a prequel to “Avengers: Infinity War.” The Civil War is over, and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is struggling as she continues to hide from the government. (Don’t worry if you aren’t well-versed on the order of events or if you haven’t seen previous MCU movies, it’s not like you’ll be lost when watching this one). The movie is a hybrid of a family drama featuring dad Alexei / The Red Guardian (David Harbour), mom Melina (Rachel Weisz), and sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), and an action movie with over-the-top, borderline-quality CGI that is an expected attribute of most big budget summer superhero flicks. The special effects eventually overshadow the deeply personal and haunting story, with thrills outpacing the more intense themes at play.
Pearson pens a smart background story with a compelling family dynamic. The performances are terrific, from lead to supporting, and the big showpieces deliver. Stuntmen and women are the unsung heroes of action / adventure films, but they always make for exciting entertainment. The stunt work here is exceptional, and the fight choreography equally so. Even the opening credits and title sequence is, in a word, badass.
“Black Widow” takes a character that’s not very interesting and tells her story in a way that makes us care. This is a solid film all around, and should appeal to anyone looking to spend a few hours enjoying some empowering, female-driven action.