Black Widow is a Romp, but is that Enough?
This weekend I returned to the theater for the first time in over a year, and no doubt that will influence my feelings toward the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow.
Black Widow is the first true summer blockbuster and in some ways the unofficial grand re-opening of the theater in a post-vax world. I’m not going to lie, it felt terrific to be sitting in a theater, loudly shovelling almost half of my popcorn bucket into my mouth before the previews had finished rolling. The pictures are back, baby.
With those disclosures aside, let’s get to the meat of this piece, my honest review.
Black Widow is a perfectly adequate MCU entry that does little to disappoint, but also little to wow. If I were to plot the MCU on a spectrum from Incredible Hulk to Endgame, Black Widow would fall somewhere in the slightly obtuse area of the arc. Let’s call this area the extra-medium zone.
Its closest analogue is probably Ant-Man and the Wasp. Notwithstanding the fact that the Ant-Man sequel also has absolute legend Laurence Fishburne, and as my colleague Christian Coleman likes to say, “everything’s better with Fishburne.” If you’re as okay with Ant-Man and the Wasp levels of quality and entertainment value, as am I, I think it’s worth your time.
Storytelling is really hard, even when you have millions of dollars to do it, so with that in mind I will try my best to serve up a compliment sandwich.
First, Florence Pugh is absolutely fantastic as newcomer Yelena Belova. Belova is a fellow “widow” and quasi-sister to Scarlet Johannsen’s Natasha Romanov, and is the film’s emotional center. This is somewhat to be expected as Pugh’s character is just another in a growing list of roles that showcase her range and talent from, Midsommar, Little Women, and beyond.
David Harbour was great although his role felt a little too small. As one of the only true “enhanced individuals” in the film I thought they could have done a little more with him on the stunt front, as well as given him a little more dialogue in the third act. Both Harbour and Rachel Weisz are relegated to necessary loose ends toward the end of the movie, and were done a disservice by the writing.
This is not Scar Jo’s best outing as agent Romanov. She does a fine job with what she is given, but after seeing what she is capable of from Endgame, it’s somewhat sad that this is likely her final time donning the Black Widow catsuit.
Again, most of the emotional turmoil and growth is handed over to Pugh, which, given her talent, is probably not a bad idea.
I found Ray Winston’s villainous General Dreykov in need of either more character development or more camp. It’s ironic that in the first act, Romanov is watching Moonraker, quite possibly the most ridiculous and campy of the Bond films, but the director can’t quite get the villain right. He was neither intimidating in a realistic or melodramatic way and the central conflict suffers for it.
The true villain of the story is humanity’s disregard for the wellbeing of little girls around the world and general whats-his-name is our avatar for shifting the blame.
Regarding Dreykov’s evil plot, I do think it would have been a more interesting choice to make the mind control more psychological rather than chemical and would have given all the “widows” of the red room more agency.
Before we wrap up, allow me to give what will likely be my most unpopular opinion: I liked the choice they made with Taskmaster.
Overall, this was a fine installment of the MCU and just enough of a teaser of things to come to get the nerds like myself theorizing about when our new Black Widow will resurface, quite probably on the small screen as well as the big.