‘Black Widow’ Finally Gets Her Due, Even If It’s Too Late (FILM REVIEW)

Rating: B

It’s difficult to judge any Marvel film as a singular entity without considering the larger MCU milieu. Marvel’s success at the box office is a largely a product of their episodic style, with each movie serving as a piece of a larger story that takes years to come to fruition. As such, one can’t watch any Marvel movie without also considering how it effects the larger universe in which it exists. This is true of all Marvel movies, but especially true for Black Widow.

Black Widow is a movie that should have come out years ago—and I don’t mean that it should have been released last year, as originally scheduled. Fans have been clamoring for a solo outing from Scarlett Johansson’s super spy almost since her introduction in Iron Man 2. Various forces prevented that, which is not limited to former Marvel Entertainment chairman and CEO Ike Perlmutter’s assertion that girl superhero toys don’t sell. In the meantime, Black Widow appeared in various Marvel ensemble films until, finally, the character suffered from permadeath in 2019’s Endgame.

And so now, 11 years after her introduction and 2 years after her death, we finally get the solo movie everyone has wanted for years. Largely, it’s fine. It’s certainly an enjoyable and fun film that recalls the spy movie themed exploits of the Russo Brothers’ Captain American films, and it might be one of the most entertaining entries the MCU has had in years. And yet it all feels inconsequential.

I suppose such is the way when making a long-awaited movie about a character who is already dead. It’s definitely hard to get over fatalism when the ultimate outcome is already set in stone. This obviously results in a lessening of the stakes. Not that stakes are ever that high in Marvel movies anyway. Even the supposedly shocking end to Infinity War was hampered by the fact that all the “dead” characters already received sequel announcements. So maybe looking for consequence in Marvel is a fool’s game anyway. Still, it’s hard to bring yourself to be too emotionally invested when you already know the title character of the movie you’re watching is dead.

Perhaps if the movie had come out shortly following Civil War, which is when Black Widow takes place anyway, a lot of this could have been avoided. It certainly makes for an intriguing follow up to that film and even widens the themes explored there. The film also makes Black Widow’s controversial death in Endgame feel weightier and more tragic. These are all good things, no doubt, but they’re also suggestive of a lot.

As it exists, Black Widow shows us all that we might have had with a trilogy of movies following Johansson’s character. Director Cate Shortland certainly has a knack for the character and it’s a shame she didn’t get the chance to helm a longer series. As it stands, the film exists largely to give audiences the chance to meet Natasha Romanoff’s sister (and fellow “graduate” of the Red Room) Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh).

To that end, it’s a fantastic introduction. Pugh, who stands poised to take the mantel of Black Widow in the MCU, plays an entirely different sort of character from Romanoff. Where Romanoff is poised and cool, Belova is aggressive and playful. Her introduction is fantastic and it will be fun to watch her become more and more integrated into the MCU as the next phase develops (starting with the upcoming Hawkeye series on Disney Plus).

But it does feel weird that we finally get a Black Widow movie only for it to serve as an introduction for another character. As a capstone to a trilogy, it would have been phenomenal. Now, however, it feels like an afterthought. Like an apology from a friend you haven’t talked to in years. Sure, it’s appreciated but it doesn’t really change much, does it?

Still, esoteric musings aside, there is a lot to love about Black Widow. It’s great to finally see Johansson finally unleashed and prove that, yes, both she and the character she brought to life are capable of holding down a movie (even though that means pretty much nothing at this point). Pugh’s character is a fantastic heir to the Black Widow throne and portends potential great things to come. Additionally, the introduction of Romanoff’s mother and father, played by Rachel Weisz and David Harbour, gives us two more characters who have the potential to bring fun and interesting things to the universe.

On top of that, we finally get to see Natasha face the demons that have been haunting her since her introduction. On the run from the American government following the events of Civil War, she finds herself finally able to take on the forces behind the notorious Red Room and the Black Widow Program that trained her. This adds an incredible depth to her character and, while largely moot, does give Johansson a proper, less silly send off for the character than the one she got in Endgame.

Ultimately, the good here outweighs the bad, and the bad is largely just a question of how the character has been handled over time. None of that really detracts from the fact that Black Widow is a damn blast. It’s just unfortunate because it proves what we might have been able to get from the character had she been given half a chance. They say that late is better than never, but Black Widow also proves that late is often too little.

Black Widow is now playing in theaters and is available to rent on Disney+.

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