REVIEW: Black Widow (2021)

A film by Disney, directed by Cate Shortland

Black Widow has been out forever, and even on Disney+ for a while, yet I haven’t gotten around to watching in until today for some reason. It’s a real shame because it’s a pretty solid film all things considered. This was originally supposed to be the beginning of “Phase 4” of the MCU, only to have the Covid-19 Global Pandemic through a massive spanner into the works of Disney’s corporate machine. Despite lawsuits and your typical noise from fans that seem to refuse to see anything with a woman in it, then never shut up about their decision, it seems like the film was overall a moderate success, just not the huge record breaking blockbuster Disney anticipated. So here we are, well into 2022, how is Marvel’s Black Widow?

“In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller “Black Widow,” Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.”

In many ways Black Widow feels like a long lost Jason Bourne film, filled with battling assassins, wild car chases, insane firefights and a couple glimpses of spying here and there. It’s not too dissimilar, in tone and feel, to the The Winter Soldier, which is one of my favorite MCU films, because of that I absolutely loved it! The final act is especially great and stands toe-to-toe with ALL of the Captain America films in terms of white knuckle action scenes to close a film out. The entire siege on The Red Room, and especially the escape as it came crashing down were amazing.

One of my biggest anticipations for this film was the inclusion of one of my favorite Marvel mercenary characters, The Taskmaster. He is one of those characters that was relegated to being a Avengers villain for the longest time, then got a second-wind when Gail Simone started using him in her Deadpool and Agent-X runs. Being forced to work alongside somebody as annoying as Deadpool was pretty funny, and the pairing will always be one of my favorites. Taskmaster is a key antagonist of several superheroes, with the ability to mimic fighting styles proving to be a challenge for them. There is one instance in the comics where he actually nearly kills himself by studying films like The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in order to take on an Asian mob syndicate. knew going in that they had changed the characters origin, and could tell from the trailer that a twist reveal was likely, so I wasn’t too bothered.

I feel like 8 months later is log enough to reveal a spoiler, so here goes: We find out that Taskmaster is actually a woman in the MCU, a former member of The Red Room, just like Natasha. I somewhat knew this because it is pretty evident from the characters body shape right from the get-go. While gender-swapping usually annoys me when done incorrectly, this one was handled well, and the character literally did everything they do in the comics, so it’s not like a situation like Baron Zemo – wherein a beloved villain was turned into a fairly benign character that had to be redeemed in the Falcon and Winter Soldier TV series due to fan backlash. If my assumption is correct that they are building towards a TV or film version of The Thunderbolts, Marvel’s answer to The Suicide Squad, this Taskmaster would be a great addition to the cast.

This film has a solid cast including Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Natasha’s sister. Since we all know that The Black Widow has passed away later in the timeline, and with this taking place right before Infinity War, it will be interesting to see where Yelena ends up – hopefully she takes the mantle of Black Widow, and builds on the legacy. If the after-credits scene is any indication (as well as the trailer lol) she will be in the Hawkeye TV series, which I have still not watched. With any luck, this Holiday weekend will allow me to finally clear my Disney+ back-log!

Joining Yelena is David Harbour as Alexei Alanovich Shostakov A.K.A. The girl’s “Father” and A.K.A. The Red Guardian, The USSR’s answer to Captain America in the distant past. By the time we see him again, he has done a long prison stint and is somewhat kooky in the ol’ noggin. Pretty soon his past glory comes back to him, and we see him take the battle to the Taskmaster and other Red Room soldiers. Otherwise, he is hilarious and basically acts as the film’s comic relief. He is joined by his former “wife” and fellow Russian super-spy, Melina Vostokoff, as portrayed by Rachel Weisz. I always enjoyed her in action films ever since her run with The Mummy, so seeing her here was cool. I hope we see a return of all three characters in something in the future.

I will disagree with many reviewers and say that Black Widow was far more enjoyable than Captain Marvel. I’m only making the distinction here because there seemed to be a coordinated effort by some fans to slag Black Widow off before release as if Captain Marvel should be the only female-centric Marvel film. Honestly, this baffled me for many reasons – first and foremost why wouldn’t people want MORE diversity in casting? I know some folks get annoyed that Scarlett Johanson gets all the big female roles all the time, but this movie has three major female protagonists, a number of female villains, and a female director. While Captain Marvel came off as inauthentic to me, Black Widow was an honest and relatable portrayal of strong women duking it out.

I’m somewhat sad I waited so long to watch this. Honestly, I feel like the fact that Disney kept delaying it’s release somewhat took me out of “the zone” for getting pumped about it, similar to other films that were held back until the mythical “time when Covid stops” (cough topgun cough). I am one of the heathens that feels like I’d almost rather just have films release on VOD from now on (or possibly soon after release), even though the film industry definitely doesn’t want that model to take hold, and will try their hardest to “put the toothpaste back into the tube”. They are already blaming piracy for “lost profits” even though piracy will happen either way, so they are paving the way for a massive pull-back.

Overall, this is one of the stronger stand-alone (non-ensemble) MCU films no matter what “phase” we are in. I really enjoyed the plot, the cast, and the action scenes. It’s a shame that Johanson’s Black Widow has been “killed off”, as I would love to see more of these. Then again, she is supposed to be working with Disney on a “secret MCU” project, and we have a multi-verse now, so who knows. If you wasted a ton of time not seeing this, like me, go out and check it out – it’s an awesome spy film in the vein of The Bourne Identity, has great action scenes, and has strong female presence without feeling like a soulless film designed to pander. I look forward to watching Hawkeye this weekend, hopefully to see a slight continuation of this.

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