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Black Widow

“The best part of my life was fake.”

It took me a minute to figure out what I wanted to say about this movie. I’ve caught some of the consensus from online critics, and their opinion is primarily that this is a mid-tier Marvel movie (which means it is good but not great) with a sub-par villain and ill-timed jokes. I respectfully disagree. I’m not going to say this is a great film. I’m not going to explain why anyone else is wrong either. I am going to talk about why it made me cry for five minutes after it ended.

This review will contain spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.

So, the biggest meta question about this movie is quite simple on the surface; Is a Black Widow solo film made after the character has died, too little, too late? That’s kind of hard to wrap your head around, because in a way this was just another summer blockbuster. It had great characters, fun action and a solid explanation of Black Widow’s red ledger and why it was gushing with red. We get the details of Dreykov’s daughter, and what Loki was talking about in The Avengers. So why did I cry?

Because this was also a tribute movie. Tony got a grand funeral in Endgame. Natasha got an entire movie to say goodbye, where we finally learned more about who she was, what her actual motivations were, and who she loved. Now most of that is subtext, and it is easy to lean back and ignore that stuff. I can see how someone might just see this as an action movie. Because that’s what it is. Yet for me, the family dynamics that were explored, the relationships, and the details about Nat’s past were the things I loved about this film.

Since I can’t go into detail about those things without spoilers, I’m going to instead talk about the performances. David Harbour is about perfect as Alexei, the Soviet version of Captain America, who was also a bit of a father figure to Natasha. He almost steals every scene he’s in, or he would if it weren’t for Rachel Weisz as Melina. Melina is a weird character whose strange presence combined with Weisz' perfect deadpan delivery creates a fascinating and complex character who would steal every scene she is in... if it weren't for Florence Pugh as Yelena.

Yelena is a revelation as the stand out in the entire film. Her chemistry with every character is spot on, her emotions believable, and her entire arc was about exactly what I would’ve hoped for when introducing a character who could potentially take the mantle of Black Widow. I don’t know exactly what they are going to do with her moving forward, but she was my favorite part of the film, hands down.

Not to ignore Scarlett Johansson; she is the glue that holds things together. Her role is somewhat thankless as the main protagonist, but she creates an emotional through-line for the character. Connecting the cypher she had been in previous films to the emotional core of the Avengers in Avengers: Endgame is what makes this film powerful. We are watching a memory, a ghost moving across the screen to learn more about her and the things that made her who she was. Natasha may not have gotten a grand send off, but like any great spy she died as a hero remembered by those who loved her.

The action beats in this film are uniformly brutal, and are closer in tone to Captain America: The Winter Soldier than the rest of the MCU. However, the finale was appropriately massive, and is not as nearly absurd as the trailers made it out to be. The reveal of who Taskmaster is works within the film, but may be disappointing to comics fans. Also the villain was fine if not a little dull. I did like Ray Winstone’s performance, and I did find myself hating the man. But it got to the point where I just wanted Nat to kill him already.

Bits:

O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale) has a small but memorable role as Mason, a sort of black-market broker who works with Natasha.

William Hurt comes back as Secretary Ross and proves he is still up to his old tricks, hunting down Avengers with as much zealotry as he did Bruce Banner.

Ray Winstone is Dreykov, who has been a bit of a mystery since the first Avengers film when his name was dropped by Loki.

Budapest was finally explained, and god, I wish they had actually shown it instead. It probably would’ve taken too long to film, and been distracting from the plot. However if they ever wanted to bring Renner and Johansson back together for that film, it sounds like it would be nuts.

There is one after credits sequence, and it is a bit of a must see and stands as the first example of a movie tying into the new Disney + shows.

Quotes:

Yelena: “Okay, you got a plan, or shall I just stay duck and cover?”
Natasha: “My plan was to drive us away!”
Yelena: “Well, your plan sucks.”

Alexei: “You both have killed so many people. Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

Melina: “Good boy, Alexei. Good boy.”
Alexei: “You named a pig after me?”
Melina: “You don’t see the resemblance?”

No matter how much this may have affected me personally, I understand this wasn't the best Marvel film.

3 out of 4 Reunited Fake Family Members

(Please note that the comments below may include spoilers!)
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Samantha M. Quinn spends most of her time in front of a computer typing away at one thing or another; when she has free time, she enjoys pretty much anything science fiction or fantasy-related.

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I'm more of a casual Marvel viewer than a fan, but I really liked it. It was great to finally see Natasha's origins and get some closure for her. Plus Alexei, Melina and Yelena were absolutely terrific. Especially Yelena.

I may have checked out with the violence a bit, but that's me. It always feels like just one of these stunts would kill even a superhuman, and the big melee in the air at the end was so incredibly improbable that I didn't buy in. But again, that's me.

Billie Doux said...

... and they could have gone in an incredibly heavy direction with the exploitation and subjugation of women. Part of me was a bit disappointed that they didn't, and part of me wishes they had.

Baz said...

My biggest issue with this film (as a guy, so maybe this is irrelevant) is that the two main female led Marvel movies have gone for "evil men subjugating women" plotline, which is probably relevant, but I hope that's not all they are going to go for whenever they have a "new" female lead.

It also seems off that people are praising Alexi, who is a total shitbag who sold his daughters into slavery. Sure he's goofy and funny, but for me, as a father of two daughters, he should be the secondary fucking bad guy of this movie not a goofy sidekick.

sunbunny said...

Going to see Black Widow was a big step for me, post-pandemic (developed low-key agoraphobia during quarantine, but I'm sure I'm not alone.) I'm really glad I got to see it in theaters. There's something so special about seeing a Marvel movie in a theater...

It was okay. Not great. Not bad, by any stretch, but I'm not dying to see it again. Can't wait for Yelena to return however. I was a little confused in the beginning because in the TV show The Americans, the kids of the Russian spies are actually their biological children so for a hot second I was like...Nat's real family?

The whole thing felt pretty predictable. Like the Melina is really Natasha twist I saw coming from a mile away. And the sky explosion...I don't want to say silly, but...

I also really thought the movie tripped up when they said that Nat's mother never stopped looking for her to the point they had her executed and then followed it up with "these girls are worthless and unwanted and I make them into a commodity." Muddied the theme a bit.

I can see where you're coming from, Samantha, that the movie felt like a goodbye, but I've never really cared for Natasha so I didn't have really any emotional reaction at all to anything. Which isn't a failing of the movie at all, just a different perspective.

Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

Really liked this film. Plenty of flaws and things I didn't like but there was also alot to love and infact despite there being objectively 'better' Marvel films the more I think about it the higher this one rises on my own list. The film worked perfectly as a Black Widow movie and a passing of the torch.

Yelena was perfection. Looks like Marvel have big plans for her which isn't surprising. My fave new character in years and I completely believe her as the next BW. In the film she had amazing Chemistry with everybody especially Natasha and there sisterhood was beautiful even relegating Nebula and Gamora to number 2 on my fave siblings list. The family scenes and the performances elevated this movie for me from a decent action flick to something really deep and thought provoking at times.

@Baz

Completely agree with your first point, and its not just Marvel more like every film the last 3 or 4 years. However just for this particular case and subject matter I think it was used well. The bad guys character suited the type of POS that does similar things in real life.
Also completely understand your point on Alexi. That part did annoy me because as much as he did Melina also sold them and helped create the drug that would be used to subjugate one of the children she raised in later life. She gets less of the responsibility for this even from Natasha and Yelena. I thought Melina and Alexi were both pieces of shit. But Rachel Weisz and David Harbour somehow made them likeable and sympathetic.

TJ said...

This film was good, not great.

But as I see different reviews on the net I can't help wondering if there is a LOT of Marvel fans out there who is a bit chauvinistic and can't handle a female heavy movie?

I just leave it at that...

Brent said...

Watched this movie today and still not completely sure how I feel about it. I like what you said about it being a goodbye. At the same time this showed me that she should have gotten her own movie ages ago and could easily have had her own trilogy of spy movies. When she finally gets her own movie it feels like she is getting once again pushed to the side for Yelena, who I thought was great. Knowing that she is already dead made the movie feel more like a Yelena origin story feat. Natasha. With that being said I did enjoy it and enjoyed the family dynamic. Rachel Weisz was amazing as always and David Harbour did a good job. I did find it awkward that Alexei was made out to be a father figure when in the comics they were married, though that is probably just me.

Anonymous said...

They already messed up with Natasha. May as well bookend and say goodbye to the character. I have a feeling that we will see her again anyway, among others.... Multiverse will Multiverse.

This was definitely Yelena's origin story but it was also Natasha adding this last piece of redemption for herself which she fulfilled in Endgame. Yelena (amazing personality, the laugh HAHA) was the stand out because of Florence's performance and the character she will be going forward.

Natasha/ScarJO has always played the stoic straight women so to speak surrounded by colourful characters and she did it again here. I think it was big of the actress to allow Pugh to shine some much it was a definite torch pass.

While I dont share some of the complaints about this movie, the counter argument of ' you dont like it, because women' Is so insulting and lazy.'.. Most fans wanted this movie made way earlier so obviously they cared more than Hollywood did. When did a percentage of idiots on social media begin to govern how a movie should be received or if you should like it.
Its nice to have validation for what you like but its ok to like things other people dont. Some of my favourite films are considered some of the worst ever made.
I recommend TANK GIRL.

Ironically even people who hated the film want to see Yelena, Melina and the Widows again in future. If they make good use of them it could retrospectively make this film better. Maybe they show up on the Hawkeye show maybe they get their own.
If you think having an actual Russian speaking and great actress in Olga Kurylenko wrapped in some shell and silenced except for three words is good use of her than....wow.
Why even use the taskmaster name. That's almost false advertising, Even within the film, it makes sense as far as the plot within the movie but removes all taskmasters agency and excuses Natasha's actions even though she still had the guilt and saved her in the end.
The action was great, Natasha and fam were all great I wish we got more. Third act wasnt great but how many Marvel movies and superhero films in general have ridiculous 3rd acts. Decent movie my disappointment comes from it could have been so much better even released this late.

paladinteacher said...

I went to see Black Widow with a teacher friend of mine. It just felt so good to go into a theater and have the whole experience - eating popcorn, the lights dimming, having larger-than-life action in front of you . . . I thought that it was a good movie, definitely worth the price of admission. Yes, it's a comic book, popcorn movie. Some parts were implausible, some annoying, but it was also funny and full of action. I would think that there is more positive than negative about the movie, but it has taken a big hit in the second week's box office receipts.