‘Black Widow’- Film Review: Scarlett Johansson’s Solo Standalone Film Entertains

Now that we’re getting those long-awaited anticipated movies coming out this year, waiting patiently for everyone to seek, there’s something amazing the fact Black Widow, the first installment in Phase Four and overall 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the first in the juggernaut franchise two years after the last film, Spider-Man: Far From Home. That’s crazy to believe, right? Whether it’ll have its fans, it just feels like a great way to be back in this universe with recent idiotic comments that won’t back its fans down.

What’s the Story: Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is one of the remaining Avengers on the run after violating the Sokovia Accords. Trying to lie low, she is forced to confront her past and must reconnect with her family- younger sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), Alexei/ Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Melina (Rachel Weisz)- to take down The Red Room, the training facility that trains women into deadly assassins, and the head of it- Dreykov (Ray Winstone).

Ever since her debut eleven years ago in Iron Man 2, nobody would’ve guessed Johansson could be a top-notch actor star in bringing this character to life. It was about time Marvel Studios was smart enough to have ourselves a standalone Black Widow movie, the second female lead film following Captain Marvel and while her other Avengers friends already had sequels. Most of us knew this was originally going to be the start of the summer movie season last year that was caused to the pushbacks a few times from the pandemic until settling at a perfect time when everybody is going back to the theater.

2021 already gave us some Marvel material with their shows so far on Disney+, but we were all anxious to see Black Widow for a long time. As excited as I was to see another superhero movie on the big screen again, was this prequel/ solo movie going to give this character justice, with the height of her popularity presented over a decade ago? Black Widow might not be a film I’m in love with at the moment, but I knew it was good enough to be a serviceable enough solo outing that delivers on what made the character more popular, to begin with, that I was glad director Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome) and writer Eric Pearson, working from a story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson, did the best to their advantage.

Let’s start off with the obvious positive attribute the film carries and that’s Scarlett Johansson reprising her biggest role yet. We’ve already seen how great she was in playing Natasha/ Black Widow in seven movies prior, but now with her in the lead this time. This time around, I was hoping this would be the chance to understand where she was coming from her past and doesn’t get outshined by everyone else. Honestly, I’d say this is one of her best performances of this well-established character.

There’s no denying this is Johansson’s film, but as everybody pointed out from the early reactions, I thought Florence Pugh and David Harbour were the other two standouts. I loved the chemistry and sisterly banter between Johansson and Pugh since you quickly buy they could be siblings. Pugh as Yelena Belova proves the studio has done a tremendous job at casting some of the best actresses working today into these scene-stealing roles. She made a great impression if the chance come to playing this character again. Harbour as Alexei/ Red Guardian is the Soviet’s equivalent to Captain America is that type of dad you probably find embarrassing, but you deep down you gonna care for him. Unlike other mediocre superhero movies, this is how to use Harbour in a comic book movie that doesn’t waste his talents. Rachel Weisz as the mother-like figure, Melina, was the weakest out of the family since she didn’t have much to do, and I assumed that when the Oscar-winning actress was announced to be in the film. However, her performance, combined with the chemistry of everyone else, was good enough to follow through.

Shortland didn’t need to go out her way in making Black Widow on a bombastic scale when all this had to accomplish was to bring this character and fresh additions to experience something that hasn’t been done while, along with sticking to the traditional Marvel formula. The moments when it calls for it to have action, it’s about what you expect from any of the other MCU movies in the past, but it does a great job at keeping it entertaining with its fast-paced and well-choreographed combat scenes. My favorite out of all of them was the fight scene between Natasha and Yelena, where it’s almost like it’s straight from an exciting Bourne film, It wasn’t until the third act where it gets big in its CGI, yet I liked how Shortland made the earlier action sequences grounded. Plus, there was no way I was watching this on Disney+ for $30 when I wanted to see them play out on an IMAX screen.

The story I wanted them to be told went in the direction with other spy thrillers that crosses my mind between Mission: Impossible and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the latter especially, happens to be stuck in a superhero movie, and it takes care of being a personal tale of Natasha and how her original family means much to us now. With that said, it wasn’t one to be moved by besides the opening prologue when we see Natasha as a kid being taken away from her family. The beginning of the film hooked me early on since it have us some insight in what she was like before her training in the Red Room. Most of the comedy comes from Harbour, and those moments will get laughs in the theater, including a setup with a helicopter that I saw coming, but still made me the first person in the theater to crack up. For the most part, it takes a step back and having a bit of a darker tone that still balances out when incorporating a fun element to it, too.

With the film’s skillfully trained villain, Taskmaster, it’s one that I’m didn’t know about from the comics and the marketing doesn’t show too much of it but gives a glimpse of how they’re able to mimic the techniques of other heroes. Will I remember Taskmaster as the most memorable baddie? Probably not, since this wasn’t a villain that blew me away. So I’m going to assume it’s different here than its portrayal in the comics. Taskmaster might’ve been an awesome villain if there was more opportunity to flesh the character more.

You know being with her “family” was the one time she felt normal, and they took away it from Natasha, which is nice to know she has people who care for her other than her work friends. Watching this dysfunctional family made it easy enough to think of all of them together as one when they’re together. Is it a shame we probably won’t get a sequel with the four of them? Yes, but I’m happy with what we got.

But do I consider this as one of the strongest MCU films? Even after the first viewing so far, not quite. And though I wasn’t expecting it to be, some gripes held it back from being amongst one of the best. Probably the biggest thought on the back of everyone’s mind is thinking why the studio took this long to focus the attention on Black Widow? There’s no problem in making it a prequel since a lot of us always wanted the backstory of one of the important players on the Avengers team; the problem with that is finding out how predictable it will be near the end. Aside from that, I thought this pacing in the middle drags when all the family are together for those quiet moments where I was missing some action at that point.

Overall, Black Widow is worth the wait. Despite not rising to the same level as some of the other standalone MCU movies, we still have ourselves a solid entry. I got what I expected when I didn’t see myself thinking this was going to be great when all I wanted was to see a summer movie on the big screen that will make us miss the Oscar-nominated actress in this role with a film that’s I can see being a deserving send-off for the character. 

Final Thoughts: Black Widow is certainly a worthy addition to the MCU. While it’s not a standalone movie that breaks new ground and would’ve been appropriate for it to come out years ago, it offers plenty of grounded action and great performances of Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh. I still believe it could’ve made a bigger impression when the character had more relevance, but, regardless, I enjoyed it. With the slate of what Phase 4 has planned out, especially with the remaining three films this year, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Grade: B

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