Black Widow: Movie Review

Black Widow: Movie Review

Staring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle

Directed by: Cate Shortland

Screenplay: Eric Pearson

Black Widow is out now in cinemas nationwide, and available to stream on Disney+

Back to Black Widow

Tentative of being too wrapped up, I thought I’d give it a little time before I committed Black Widow to review. I’m glad I did. Cate Shortland’s Black Widow hit UK cinemas two days before it came to Disney+ in a move that no other Marvel blockbuster film has had to consider. Pushed back, delayed, postponed, Black Widow did not have an easy run to get to the big screen. That goes for both the movie and the character.

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Black Widow: The Lost Years

Black Widow acts as a gap filler of sorts. We gain an insight into Natasha Romanoff’s background, childhood, the lost years. We also get an answer to one of the oldest questions in the MCU. Leaving the cinema, it was hard to reconcile my feelings. On one hand, I enjoyed the film far more than I anticipated. After swathes of mixed at best reviews pouring in, my excitement decades in the making was feeling shaky. Let’s talk about this hand, first. The good hand. The “What I Loved About the Film” hand.

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Family Feud

Black Widow provided more laughs than I ever expected. Harbour, Weisz, Johansson, and Pugh all bounce off each other in a genuine and authentic family dynamic. One liners, anecdotes and self-awareness are scattered throughout the script and really serve to ground the film. It feels, in fact, a bit like home. 

The casting choices throughout are inspired stuff.  I have so may feelings about Melina and her pigs. David Harbour is an excellent Alexei. Then again, any opportunity for Harbour to play a belligerent father is one I’ll take with open arms (Hopper, I love you). In a move that will surprise no-one, however, it’s Florence Pugh who steals the show as Yelena, Natasha’s scrappy sister of sorts. Quippy, sarcastic, powerful and determined, Pugh’s performance is one that is clearly made to pave the way for Marvel’s future, and oh what a future it looks to be.

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From Russia With Love

Pugh and Johansson share a chemistry that truly feels familial. The scenes the pair share are a joy to behold. With Harbour, too, Pugh has a great rapport (let’s be honest, who doesn’t she have chemistry with?) in one of the more lighthearted scenes of the film. Oh, and Alexei and Melina? I just want what they have. As such, between each cast member there exists a relationship and chemistry that really makes the film sing. It’s lovely stuff.

Throughout the film, Yelena and Natasha are dressed normally – which really should not be that big of an ask, but is still a major victory. The cast are all dressed like people. No gratuitous male gaze, no concealed wedge heels under the super-suit, no totally unsupportive, impractical, and uncomfortable outfits, no spray-on catsuits, just decent fighting clothes…WITH POCKETS! That Yelena’s smokey cat eye stays intact in the face of explosions and imminent death is almost irrelevant. 

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Red Rum? More like Red Room

There is a sincerity to Black Widow that makes the film feel both serious and accessible at once. The opening sequence is difficult and deliberately so, speaking to the recruitment of the Widows before they are trained in the Red Room. One of the reasons Black Widow feels so intensely personal is its address of themes with which every woman is familiar. Not super-spy assassin training, no, but issues surrounding women’s bodily autonomy.

The Widows, as we know from the scant details of Natasha’s life we are afforded by the MCU, are stripped of their autonomy. Widows are stripped of their rights as women to choose what happens to them, and used only as weapons in a war waged by men. In fact, a scene in which Harbour’s Alexei makes a joke about Natasha and Yelena being on “that time of the month” leads to a ell-deserved dressing down, though not one without real-world takeaways. Graphic as it may be, Yelena explains exactly why Alexei’s quip is not only not funny, but biologically impossible for Widows. Which brings us onto that niggling other hand…

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Superhero Landings

Cate Shortland did a great job of Black Widow, there’s no doubt about it. What I really can’t wrap my head around though, is why the studio didn’t seek out a team of female writers.

Eric Pearson’s screenplay is decent, but not without its flaws. In fact, it has been said in interviews that Yelena’s response to Alexei’s cheap period joke was born of Florence Pugh’s initial reaction to reading his script. Whether Pearson intended for this inaccuracy to be the butt of the joke, whether he simply didn’t know about the full nature of what Widows have to go through in the Red Room, or whether his biology is a little…off…we may never know. The one thing I can say with relative certainty, however, is that Black Widow could have – no, should have, benefitted from a screenplay team with female writers.

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Oh Captain, my Captain

Speaking of Captain Marvel, let’s talk about timing. Don’t get me wrong, Captain Marvel is one of my favourite MCU films to date, but I would be disingenuous if I didn’t state the fact that it’s a chronic injustice that Carol got her film before Natasha. Natasha Romanoff has a beautiful and brutal life. Since her introduction to the MCU in 2010 in Iron Man 2, Natasha has faced an undeserved battle for respect.

A founding member of the MCU Avengers, Natasha has been one of the few female characters to feature prominently and consistently within the films. From bad director choices to blatantly and badly photoshopped posters (I’m looking at you, Captain America: The Winter Solider), it should not have taken this long or have been this hard to see Natasha as the sole name in a film title. As far as I’m concerned, the timing of this film does it the biggest disservice. 

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Bringing Black Widow out after Endgame meant that it never felt like there were any real stakes here for Natasha. Our bad guys and good guys are black and white, binary, cookie-cutter villains. There are no grey areas. While we may have had the chance to get our teeth into Melina’s story and character motivations, it feels too easily and simply resolved. We know Natasha’s future, we know how this ends for her – to give us the backstory of her character after the fact seems cheap, and feels like this film was a tokenistic afterthought. Natasha deserved to have her story told sooner, louder, and better. Importantly, she needed to be the one to tell it.

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From Natasha to Yelena

If you put Florence Pugh in something, she is going to be a scene stealer. We spoke before about how this film feels like a springboard into a new MCU phase, and while that is exciting (stick around for the mid credits scene), it also feels unfair. Natasha has done her time. Natasha has been here with us for over a decade in the MCU. This film was her story to tell. At times, it feels that may have been forgotten. It is Yelena’s decisions that drive the plot, it is Yelena’s catharsis that is centred. Natasha can feel like an accessory in the very moment she should have been the whole outfit. Pockets and all. 

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Black Widow‘s Web

Black Widow is a complex film, but not for complex film reasons. The plot is straightforward, the characters are fun and likeable, it carries an important message of women’s bodily autonomy, and the action is engaging (the less said about the CGI the better, though). Black Widow is complex because it had over a decade’s worth of waiting and hoping on its shoulders, and it feels like it buckled. Missed opportunities, oversights, and minimal tension means that for all of its positives, you have something at the back of your mind making you wonder if this was the sum of our hope for our Natasha. Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy Black Widow, it was good – but Natasha deserved better.


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