BLACK WIDOW, the long awaited, much delayed addition into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that goes back on the timeline into Origin Story Territory shows some promise here and there, yet one of my main criticisms of this 20+ movie franchise is that I feel like I am seeing the same verse-chorus-verse movie over and over again with interchangeable characters, and BLACK WIDOW, which I still feel will do really well with its fanbase, is one of the more annoying examples of verse-chorus-verse, lather-rinse-repeat.
Set before the crazy-epic AVENGERS: ENDGAME and as much as an origin story as one can get, BLACK WIDOW is a more focused story on Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and her events leading her to her Avengers connections. This is more of her personal story that also gets her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) and their father (David Harbour, an even more WELCOME addition) in on the action. There’s also a bad guy (Ray Winstone) who Natasha is bent on stopping. There is all the usual snarky banter between all of the leads, and even one of Natasha’s famous poses in that one is mocked here to middling results.
The opening sequence, set in 1995 Ohio, is by far the most impressive in the picture as it feels nothing like anything in the Marvel franchise. This is where we first meet Natasha, looking a bit more punk-alt of the era as police surround her house and an escape ensues to an airport. These sequences have none of the flat colors or typical design of many of its predecessors in the last decade, so it’s sad to discover that once the story moves ahead in years, so does the quality.
There’s a surprisingly more somber tone here with BLACK WIDOW at the start, and filmmaker Cate Shortland (who has made strong features like SOMERSAULT and LORE, both worth seeking out) doesn’t seem to really be interested to be different after that opening Ohio sequence. Its first act after the curtain-raiser really takes its time setting things up in a much more languished pace than other Marvel movies, but once the action kicks in it looks and sounds exactly like every other Marvel movie I have seen in its bland widescreen compositions and editing.
One thing I noticed here, more than others in the franchise, is that almost all of the dialogue only exists to push along the “plot”. As the Marvel movies progressed and the stories became bigger, it seems to be less about what is happening in the moment and more on the why and the explanation. Even what is supposed to be a sequence where Natasha and Yelena are sitting at a restaurant feels more like a scene where there are too many hints, too much exposition and explaining, and none of it feels natural. It’s not that I want to see sequences of the main characters having coffee and talking about movies or what’s on their iTunes playlist, but just make it feel a bit more interesting.
With that said, it’s not that the performances of Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh are lackluster with the goings-on. In fact, they’re very good here. And we know that Johansson has long been with this character over the years and she owns it, and as always she looks great. Pugh, who quickly rose to fame with her prolific filmography, also is impressive here as Yelena and I’d be interested to see her spin-off into better Marvel movies. The always reliable Ray Winstone makes a fine bad guy, and it’s also great to see HELLBOY himself, die-hard David Harbour have a lot of fun here with differing looks (and tattoos) as the movie progresses.
Fans of the Marvel movies who want escape will no doubt enjoy BLACK WIDOW, and I am all for that. Go have fun. Get your “MCU” on and I know you will care more about the progression of this “Cinematic Universe” more than me. I am fully aware that a lot of these movies are critic proof along with all of the spinoff series that are saturating Disney+ too that has its major followers, so it almost doesn’t matter what I think. And yet even as a movie buff slash film fan, this one left me wanting to be invited in.
BLACK WIDOW will be available in theatres (where permitted) and Disney Plus Premiere Access on July 9th. Many thanks to our partners at Disney PR for sending along an advance copy for review.