The first film of the MCU’s fourth phase, Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, is an entertaining spy flick with a talented cast though it feels too-little-too-late.
To date, the fourth phase of the MCU has been made up of television shows focusing on fan-favourite characters like Scarlet Witch, Loki, Winter Soldier, and Falcon. They have been a little lacklustre yet have still delivered some promising pathways for the future. With Black Widow, the MCU goes back to an adored character who has been under-written since her first appearance. This film should have been made a long time ago and does not have as much impact or consequence since we already know the character’s fate.
After the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), aka Black Widow, is on the run and set to confront a dark and dangerous conspiracy that ties with her past. Pursued by an unstoppable force that wants to bring her down, she must face her former life as a spy and the relationships with her family (Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, and David Harbour) to dismantle a corrupt organisation.
One aspect that may distract the audience is the Russian accents, which are horrible. The cast delivers poor accents, and at times it makes it hard to understand what they are saying. During the first part of the film, you see the main characters talking English as a family, but they change their dialect and tone once a Russian character comes onto the screen. Blending their accents with another language, and it ends up like a mush of idioms. Once you hear Ray Winstone speak his first line, you already know it will not be a good one.
Black Widow is the MCU’s version of a spy flick; a combination of Red Sparrow (2018) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004) with a dash of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015). Escaping an avalanche, a motorcycle chase through Budapest and skydiving out of a floating base that is crashing, the action set-pieces resemble the franchises mentioned above. The set-pieces are well choreographed and accompanied by a lovely score from Lorne Balfe that uplifts them.
The only problem with these action sequences is that they go a hundred miles per hour, thanks to the poor pacing. Likewise, the villains are completely wasted. Taskmaster, a prominent villain in the Marvel universe, was not explored enough for the audience to care, and Dreykov (Winstone) is just another “secret agent bad guy”. A more strongly explored villain could have brought consequences to the main character, yet since we already know what happens in Black Widow’s future (revealed in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame), it does not matter as much.
On a positive note, Florence Pugh and David Harbour are excellent as Yelena Belova and The Red Guardian. Pugh embraces her character with a combination of charm, poise, and badassery while being cheeky. The best scenes and lines feature Pugh, and her chemistry with Johansson is prominent. Her line delivery is sharp, whether it is bickering mid-fight with Natasha or joking about her superhero landing poses. Meanwhile, Harbour plays the muscle and dad figure of the film. He gets to deliver some hilarious lines like believing that he is equal to Captain America or how he is proud of his assassin daughters.
Black Widow is an entertaining spy film that delivers popcorn fun with Florence Pugh and David Harbour carrying it on their backs. However, the story is messy, the pacing is off, and the villains are squandered. It falls short in the narrative as it is supposed to “conclude” a cherished character’s arc. You could still have fun with the movie, but there is a feeling that Feige and crew wanted to get this out as quickly as possible since it is potentially the last time the character will appear in the MCU.
On July 6, 2020, it was announced that Marvel Studios executives, including Kevin Feige, were so impressed with Florence Pugh’s performance as Yelena Belova that they plan to include her in future MCU films and she may even become the new Black Widow. In fact, Feige stated that this film was written to showcase Belova just as much as Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff.