Directed by: Cate Shortland
Written by: Eric Pearson
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone, William Hurt
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
Marvel kicks off phase 4 of its cinematic universe with an in-depth character study of Black Widow, her family, and her upbringing. I have a very hit-or-miss opinion on Marvel movies in general; some are great, some are awful, and most of them are pretty average action flicks, but overall they’ve been overwhelmingly disappointing. Still, I love the space and universe themes, the magical worlds, the fantastic lore, and I hold out hope that these films can eventually live up to their full potential. I’m excited for The Eternals and the upcoming Doctor Strange, Antman, and Guardians of the Galaxy films. In all honesty, however, I’ve never been very interested in Black Widow’s character, and I wasn’t convinced this would be a sufficient opening sequence for a new age of Marvel films.
Still, I kept an open mind. I wanted to enjoy it and be proven wrong. I wanted it to blow me away and leave me drooling in anticipation for future offerings. I wanted a story that would elevate a bland, periphery character and make her more impressive and likable throughout future movies.
But we get none of that. What we get is a slew of anti-Russian propaganda, boring action, even more boring dialogue, too much focus on an insincere family that doesn’t even make sense, a lack of continuation of the epic themes from around the Marvel universe, and an amazing villain that is reduced to no more than a plot device.
The anti-Russian narrative in this film is so overdone that I didn’t know whether to take it seriously, or if it was some sarcastic joke. Instead of focusing on the characters and what makes them unique and interesting, it morphs into an allegory for how Russia is somehow so evil it can never succeed. Shortland could have developed Dreykov’s character, but chooses to explore insincere family relationships interspersed with comedic moments lacking in humor or touch. In fact, this would have been a perfect moment in the cinematic universe to do a villain film. I posit that this movie could have been improved by making it about Dreykov instead of Black Widow.
The acting is quite good, but the writing is lacking. The comedy isn’t funny, the sincerity isn’t touching, and the plot doesn’t move. Pugh steals the show, as she is making a habit of doing in recent years. It’s easy to forget Johansson is the star here, because Pugh single-handedly elevates scenes. Johansson is still good, too, as is everyone else, but there’s only so much a good cast can do with lame lines and a stagnant plot.
Even the action was lackluster. There were several prolonged action scenes throughout the movie where I found myself looking at my watch to check the time. Instead of being exciting and fresh, they are boring replications of action filmed a thousand times before.
In the end, Black Widow provides none of the storytelling elements that escalate the tension or excitement of this new phase of the saga. This doesn’t fit into the canon. It could have been a solid addition to phase 1, but I see it as a wasted effort that currently adds nothing. A small part of me thinks I’m being a touch too hard on the film, but in reality it was a simple-minded, unfulfilling, boring film that adds nothing to its counterparts. I can’t recommend it.