Jacob's Movie Reviews: Black Widow Spins A Tightly Knit Web

Black Widow is the 24th (yes, 24th) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and is the first released in what is known as “Phase Four” of the MCU.

For the uninformed, you may expect this film to kick-off the new series of upcoming MCU films following the completion of the “Infinity Saga”. But that’s not the case, as Black Widow timeline-wise falls directly after Captain America: Civil War (2016).

The film follows the exploits of Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) after she flees Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) because she violated the “Sokovia Accords”. I don’t want to delve too much into the plot, but suffice to say Romanov isn’t the only Black Widow out there.

What you get is a fun action flick, packed with your usual MCU-fare (smooth back-and-fourths between characters, neat fully done action sequences and plenty of high budget special effects) and a bit of real-world commentary on the side (more on that later).

If you’ve seen most or all of the MCU films to date, you probably won’t be surprised too much by what happens in this film. This is both its strength and weakness. There are a few twists and turns but nothing to write home about.

While first-time MCU director Cate Shortland could’ve opted for a slow-burn espionage thriller digging into the roots of Romanov’s past, what we get is a movie that doesn’t buck the trend in what you can expect to see in an MCU film.

But I don’t want to place all of the blame on Shortland. It’s highly unlikely that the MCU overlords would’ve greenlighted a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy-esque film that would’ve been a complete outlier as compared to its MCU contemporaries. The MCU formula is tried and true and we probably shouldn’t expect anything too far from the norm.

But damn it if I don’t want that. My favorite MCU movies have been the ones that stray just off the beaten path enough to give them an edge (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok). I think Black Widow is close to doing that, but just misses the mark.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. I did. Johansson is as good as she usually is, and newcomers to the MCU Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle and Ray Winstone give admirable performances, specifically Pugh.

Pugh is Yelena Belova, Romanov’s “sister”, and is a no-frills assassin similar to Romanov, but doesn’t take herself quite as seriously. There’s one running gag throughout the film that lands quite well involving something Romanov does that Belova makes fun of (I won’t spoil it), a self-deprecating joke that you would expect to see in Deadpool and not an MCU film. Pugh seems to be a star in the making and it would be smart for Marvel to include her regularly in the future.

Winstone gets most of his screen time in the final act, but plays a down-right vile and reprehensible villain in Dreykov that you hate instantly. The best villains are the ones you really hate, and boy is it easy to not like him.

Harbour, Weisz and Fagbenle are solid, but aren’t exactly given a lot to work with. Harbour makes the most of his appearance, playing the Soviet-version of Captain America, the “Red Guardian.” The character is self-centered, only wanting to relive his glory days as a Soviet national hero, and Harbour is well-suited for the role.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the side-villain Taskmaster, a known entity in the comics, but is making its film debut. The identity of Taskmaster is a major plot point, so I won’t refer to it as a he or she. Nonetheless, Taskmaster is essentially a robot-like assassin tasked (no pun intended) with hunting down Romanov and until the final act, is nothing more than a good sparring partner for her. Its development ramps up in the final act though, making it more than a forgettable side-villain.

There is enough nuance in the plot to make it entertaining and enjoyable, specifically its subtle but present social commentary on human trafficking. The MCU has become less and less afraid of making statements in its films or shows, to varied success overall. In this case it works because it’s organically sewn into the story, rather than shoehorned in.

As for where it ranks in the MCU, I would say it’s firmly in the middle. It’s good, not great. Go in expecting an MCU-like film, and you won’t be disappointed. Anything more, and you may come away as I have, hoping for more.

Grade: B-

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