Ever since the first Avengers movie, people have been asking, “Where’s the Black Widow movie? When are we getting a Black Widow standalone?” The vigor with which that question has persisted is completely understandable. Here you have a superhero- a live-action female superhero at that, a rarity in mainstream culture- featured with a group of other superheroes of equal charm and strength, whose identities have been, and continue to be, established and fleshed out through their own standalone stories. And only now, a whole decade after her MCU debut in Iron Man 2, does the Black Widow character get her own stage to tell her own story. I think I speak for all of us when I say, finally! Now that the Black Widow movie is here, one last question persists- is it worth the wait, or too little too late?

Before I answer that question, let’s take a look at what the film’s about. The story takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Avenger/former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johanssen) is on the run following her violation of the Sokovia Accords. While hiding out in Norway, she gets a message from her estranged sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), a former Widow agent. Yelena has secured a mysterious substance that, in her words, is the key to bringing down the Red Room, the Soviet super spy training syndicate that’s responsible for producing Black Widow agents. Despite some initial reluctance, Natasha ultimately decides to confront her past and destroy the Red Room once and for all. 

In some ways, Black Widow already feels past its prime. Part of it, like I said, is due to the fact that only now, so late into the game, are getting an “origin” movie for the character. Making matters worse is an ongoing pandemic that delayed its release for one whole year, further complicating its place on the MCU’s timeline. Despite its questionable conception and timeliness, the film, for the most part, has a lot of good things going for it. 

made in costime faces off against woman
Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

First, the acting. The film is carried by a lead quartet of proven talents- Scarlet Johanssen, Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. These four are the heart and soul of the movie. They have good chemistry with one another, and they play off each other well in both the comedic and dramatic scenes. Pugh especially is really good as Yelena. She’s funny, she’s relatable, and she’s badass when she needs to be. I’ve always been interested in Pugh, ever since Fighting with My Family and Midsommar. She has this natural charm to her, a subtle relatability that keeps your attention no matter what role she’s in. That appeal applies to the Yelena character as well, and with it Pugh ferments herself as a welcome new presence in the MCU. Another standout for me was David Harbour, who plays a Soviet version of Captain America, super strength and all. It’s David Harbour, so he naturally injects some cool charisma into the role, for our enjoyment. He also works as a comic relief. Surprisingly, the one aspect he was underused in was the action. For someone whose character is an alternate Captain America, there aren’t many scenes of him in combat. His physicality is hinted at but never fully explored, which was disappointing. 

Speaking of, the action is great. I’ve heard arguments from critics that the film’s action is too standard, that the sequences are lackluster in terms of choreography, editing and location. While on some level I can understand where they’re coming from, I have to strongly disagree. The action here is perfectly serviceable. It’s fun, exhilarating and edited well. I could make out everything happening on screen, and was able to follow everything okay. It’s the type of action where you feel the impact of each punch and kick, which makes the viewing experience more immersive in a way. Plus, it’s even cooler seeing 90% of such visceral action being performed by women. The film earns a gold star on that aspect alone.

Lastly, the pacing is pretty consistent. The film opens with good momentum and keeps it going smooth and steady, never letting moments meander for too long and spotted with humor that never feels too out of place. I was never bored. Truth be told, the only real issue I had was with the villain. Well, technically villains, plural. The first villain, the director of the Red Room, played by Ray Winstone, performs well but is a little generic. Winstone plays it well, and you’re eager to see him get his comeuppance. But if anyone who’s familiar with the MCU formula can guess what that comeuppance looks like. He’s just a rotten guy, nothing more, nothing less. There’s also a small reveal about his character that at first glance wasn’t too bad, though the longer it lingered, the more I thought, “Wow, that’s really stupid.” It’s not in the narrative for long, but it stays long enough to be distracting (I’ll give you a hint- pheromones). With villain number two, the mysterious Taskmaster, the issue concerns presentation. For the first two acts, Taskmaster is shown as a threat. A conscious threat with a fierce, intimidating presence and awesome abilities. Then, in the third act, it’s revealed who Taskmaster really is. The reveal is terrible per say, but circumstances surrounding Taskmaster’s being- which I imagine is a wild departure from the comics- left me with mixed feelings. Without going into spoilers, I’ll just say the character gets the they’re-bad-but-are-they-really-?? treatment, a trope I feel Disney has been using in many of their most recent films. Even after the reveal, Taskmaster still had an intense presence. I just wish the script granted them more agency. 

With all that being said, is Black Widow worth the wait? Yes, for the most part. It’s a good spy/action movie at best, a middle-of-the-road MCU film at its worst. It’ll be interesting to see how the MCU will justify the film’s existence in the future, because in the grand scheme of things, this does seem like a random blip in the spectrum of the MCU timeline. Despite its flaws, it’s a movie I recommend seeing in the theater. Not sure I can recommend paying the $30 premiere access price on Disney+, but once that film is listed there without the price tag, I definitely say give it a watch.   

Cosmic Grade- 3.8/5 Stars

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