After three delays from an original May 2020 release due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Widow, the solo movie featuring Natasha Romanoff, one of the original Avengers, finally got released. It is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first film of MCU Phase Four. It was supposed to be the first Phase Four production, but with the delays, Disney+ series WandaVision took the honor. Now at last, Black Widow has her solo movie. But was it worth the wait?
As a primarily MCU fan I loved the more “grounded” parts of the universe. That means I lean more with the Captain America, SHIELD, Hydra, and super-soldier stuff and Natasha Romanoff is an important part of that. Unlike Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Thor, or even Bruce Banner, Natasha’s beginnings weren’t explored as one Avenger movie after another was released. I know that she had wonderful working chemistry with Captain America, is great friends with Hawkeye, is one of the few people who can calm Hulk back into Bruce Banner, and can look at Tony Stark in the eye if he’s crossing the line. But her past can only be seen through glimpses and flashes. I know her for her amazing fighting skills, her ability to fight and hold her own against super-soldiers (even though she gets her ass handed back to her), her quips and her incessant teasing of Captain America. But you could never always figure her out because she is amazingly talented in hiding who she really is.
I initially expected the movie to thoroughly explore Natasha’s origins, but my expectations were subverted. The movie did not go through the specifics of Natasha’s time as a Black Widow and it only delved into her actual origin very briefly. In fact, I feel that this movie only works if you knew who Natasha Romanoff is as a SHIELD agent and Avenger. Instead, the movie built its story around the theme “family”, and how Natasha, reeling from the break-up of the Avengers who she considered her family, returned to face her two former “families”, the undercover one she lived with for three happy years in Ohio, and the more sinister Red Room she betrayed to get away from. The movie made a fitting choice to show Natasha making amends with one, while completely condemning the other.
The freedom-loving protagonist going against an evil organization that stomps at free-will and human rights is a basic American action movie premise, and Black Widow certainly is that. But what sets it apart from the rest is that it is part of the MCU, and it tells stories not just about these characters but to expand that universe. And by expanding that universe, the movie finally does Natasha Romanoff’s character justice by making us understand why she cared so much for the Avengers and its cause. It’s not just the fact that Natasha really believed in what she was doing and what the Avengers stood for, but because they were her family, and for Natasha, family meant a lot. And while that family were in pieces after Civil War, she found this “old” one she used to bring down the Red Room once and for all.
It puts into proper context her actions and motivations throughout all those movies she has been in, from Iron Man 2 to her ultimate sacrifice in Avengers Endgame. It reminded us that despite not being one of “the big ones,” Natasha grew from a smart-talking Master Spy/Assassin to being the leader of the Avengers for five years after the Snap. I could even call this movie the “missing piece” in her character’s growth.
Scarlet Johansson has been Natasha Romanoff for more than ten years now and it’s a little sad that this movie is her last in the role. It does set up her successor, Yelena Belova played by Florence Pugh really well. Both actresses show remarkable chemistry, and Pugh’s Yelena really shines with her little sister antics that are actually adorable. The movie doesn’t exactly play “pass the torch” from Natasha to Yelena in the MCU, but it establishes the character in preparation for her place in the MCU’s Phase Four. David Harbour is great as Alexei Shostakov, the Red Guardian, who also provides a lot of the movie’s light-hearted moments. Created as a counterpart to Captain America, Shostakov’s insecurity about his legacy and his self-centeredness make a lot of comedic moments. But he also cared deeply for the girls that were chosen to be his “daughters” in a cover mission to steal data from SHIELD (actually Hydra) in 1995.
Rachel Weisz is okay as Melina Vostokoff. Weisz is a great actress, but her character was relegated to having one moment and one moment only. She is still great in the scenes she is in but I feel that we could have seen more out of the character. Ray Winstone is great as General Dreykov. While the character itself is your standard MCU human villain without morals, Winstone’s acting genuinely made the character utterly hateable.
Then we get to Taskmaster, played by Olga Kurylenko (with Andy Lister as in-suit stunt performer). I would have to be honest and say that I had absolutely no problem with this depiction of Taskmaster, but I do understand how upset some fans were with how different the character was to its comic counterpart. It’s not like the MCU hasn’t done this before, but because the character of Taskmaster is much deeper than what was shown, the decision to make her connected with Dreykov stood out like a sore thumb.
Taskmaster in this movie is an over-powered enemy that got defeated because of the plot, and not because she was actually beaten. That was my only real complaint about her. She served no other purpose than as character development for Natasha. I guess that’s the consequence of making the character a mind-controlled freak of nature instead of a person motivated by an ideology. She would have to be defeated by the hero somehow, and because she’s a formidable and unbeatable fighter, Natasha’s plot armor would be her downfall. Marvel Studios could have at least given her character some focus, but I guess that would have to come in another movie or Disney+ show.
In the context of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow does not rank among its greatest entries, but it is a fitting send-off for a character who was in a good number of them. It completes Natasha Romanoff’s character arc, sets up a number of characters for the MCU in Yelena Belova, Melina Vostokoff, the Red Guardian, and Taskmaster. It has some issues with character development specifically with Taskmaster, but it was able to accomplish what it set out to do which is to close the book on Natasha Romanoff’s story. I liked this movie, warts and all. A fitting tribute to a worthy Avenger.