MOVIE REVIEW – Her name is Romanoff, Natasha Romanoff and we had a great time learning about the assassin’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and her own world. A mix of a little James Bond, a dash of Terminator 2 and some Mission Impossible, Black Widow retains the melodramatic stylistic traits of a typical MCU superhero movie.
WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki… There’s been no shortage of crazy solo (or duo) adventures in the Marvel universe since the beginning of the year. Were the Disney+ series ready to make some of the MCU films obsolete? Not so fast, says Black Widow on the big screen: although late, the prequel title opens the doors to Phase 4 with a bang.
It stands on its own
Look, we’re not sure where we stand on Marvel spoilers, in relation to Endgame, the series, etc. Tell you what, if you want to see Black Widow when it comes out in theaters, you don’t actually need to have seen a single Avengers movie. It’s not even certain that you need to have seen a single Marvel film, as the storyline of Natasha Romanoff’s origins stands on its own. You may miss a reference or two? But certainly not the main points of the new film, which are the transfer of power for the title of Black Widow (implicit), the criticism of the patriarchy on two levels, the humour needed to play it all down, and the action which reminds us that, although the series’ action is really good, the cinema is always stronger.
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) wasn’t always Black Widow. But she has always been a Widow, one of the women manipulated from an early age by the Soviet Union’s Red Room programme. With her fake sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), her fake father Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) also known as Super Soldier The Red Guardian, and her fake mother Melina Vostokoff aka Iron Maiden (Rachel Weisz), she lived a few years of pseudo-freedom in the 80s/90s USA. Years later, a delicate situation within the Red Room leads Yelena – the little sister who has become a full-fledged Widow – to reconnect with Natasha (now in a complex situation in the US following the events of Civil War). In spite of herself, Natasha will have to find her fake family and put an end to the Red Room’s actions. The relationships between the four characters are more complex than they appear, however.
Funny family, indeed, a beautiful reflection of the bonds that unite people, the artificial ones sometimes (often?) stronger than the natural ones, which can be cruel, or so chaotic. Black Widow offers us keys to think about the subject but does not force us to think about it too much, preferring to put the emotion forward. This hectic little family outing ends with a certain melancholy and simplicity that makes the prequel film a nice conclusion for the character. The passing of the torch is obviously not made explicit, it just becomes obvious.
Where Black Widow is more demonstrative is in its more or less humorous anti-patriarchal message. This is to be expected with three such strong women on screen, two of whom are daughters saddled with a silly father. The banal patriarchy of the invasive father who is unable to understand his daughters (even his fake daughters) is mauled with tenderness and humour. The more problematic patriarchy, 100% toxic and systemic, is embodied by the general at the head of the Red Room, the most despicable of all recent Marvel villains, the kind we’re happy to see explode with his castle at the end (it’s an image). Black Widow’s confrontation with this horrible character isn’t the most subtle of the genre but it’s good to see. Of course some (sexist) Marvel comic book fans will probably find fault with some of the minor character redesigns, which are also in the same direction as the film. We don’t really know what to say to these people.
The action should not disappoint anyone. The action remains as the main characters’ abilities dictate: no laser beams, no magic powers or dimension changes… On the other hand, there are some nice fight choreographies – some of the special moves are a bit too classic to really impress. The film goes for the big show at the end and doesn’t do things by halves. Nothing very original, but strangely satisfying.
Ready for Phase 4
After all this time, we were expecting more slack for this Black Widow solo film but all the ingredients work very well, with a science of meter that didn’t go out the window during Pandemic. The film is even more balanced than previous instalments in the main Avengers saga, which admittedly carried a heavy legacy from episode to episode to the finish line. Black Widow’s messages are crisp and clear, everyone plays the humour card – more or less finely – and the action is a reminder of the urgent need not to bury the big screen. We’re ready for the Phase 4 sequel in theatres.