Introduced to the MCU way back in 2010’s Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has finally gotten a solo movie of her own – the aptly titled, Black Widow. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the story follows Natasha Romanoff taking on a new, personal threat, while being forced to face her history as a spy and the relationships she left behind before becoming an Avenger.
Going into the latest MCU entry, my anticipation wasn’t particularly high – especially when you consider the fact that this is a prequel and we know the eventual fate of Black Widow. The knowledge of her fate does loom quite large over the film, but it doesn’t really hold back the story as much as I’d thought. It certainly detracts from some of the emotional impact of her story, preventing me from really getting fully invested, but the majority of what’s going on is pretty fast paced and entertaining enough to still remain engaging. Also, the fact that this film is just as much about setting up new players in the MCU as it is about Natasha herself, means you can put that missing emotional investment into the likes of Florence Pugh’s Yelena, for example. I found myself a lot more interested in the narrative arcs of the supporting characters than I did of Natasha’s own arc.
That all being said, this is actually a pretty strong story that has some great hooks early on and sends you on a pretty fast-paced adventure, interacting with the many mysterious pieces of Black Widow’s past. It’s not entirely predictable, actually throwing a few neat little shifts in the narrative here and there, and it’s overall decently fun to watch. The first and second acts are the strongest, containing a great deal of action and some nice payoff moments. It’s not a groundbreaking story, but there’s enough in there to keep things interesting. Now, I mentioned that it’s quite fast paced – and that is true for the majority of the film – but there’s a section towards the middle, right before the third act, where it feels like it all just grinds to a halt. I wouldn’t say it gets boring in these moments, but it definitely drags the momentum down and makes everything happen in this section fall quite flat.
In terms of the action, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about here. Black Widow may not have any superpowers of her own, but that doesn’t stop there being some grand action set-pieces from time to time. Much of the action is delivered in close quarters hand-to-hand combat and it’s all very well shot and choreographed. It’s very on par with the action you’d expect to see in a Marvel film, perhaps not as inventive as something you’d see in Ant-Man or Thor, but it works well with what it’s got and delivers on that front. I’d have loved to see a little more contribution to the action from David Harbour’s Red Guardian, who I feel could have been used a little more.
The movie may be called Black Widow, but Florence Pugh’s Yelena is the best thing to come out of it. She’s a well set up character who is strong, charismatic and very likeable. It feels like there’s plenty of depth to her that would be fun to potentially explore in any future projects. The writing of the character may be great, but it’s Florence Pugh’s awesome performance that makes her the standout. She brings the character to life and is able to have a little fun with throwing in some well-timed jokes here and there. David Harbour brings the comedic relief as Red Guardian, injecting some nice humour throughout, while also playing into the emotional beats ever so slightly.
As far as the villain is concerned, I liked the concept of Taskmaster more than the execution. The idea of this villain being able to mimic the fighting style of their opponent is really cool, and there are some moments where we get to see that in action. However, it’s not really used enough to make them a really awesome villain (beyond just looking awesome). Seeing how their powers change when fighting different people could have made them just that little bit more intriguing.
In the end, Black Widow turns out to be a really good, entertaining Marvel solo superhero film that hits most of the beats you’d expect at this point in the MCU. It’s a film that would have been better had it come out years ago. Knowing the fate of Black Widow in the MCU does make it hard to get emotionally invested in the character and her overall journey through the film, but the story is still engaging due to the (mostly) fast pace and top notch supporting characters. Florence Pugh is the star of the show, in my opinion, and her character, Yelena, is the best thing to come out of the movie. The action, which is what you’re really here to see, is big, loud and fun – delivering some great hand-to-hand combat and chase sequences. For fans of the MCU, it’s another entry that’s worth the watch.