James Jay Edwards

Black Widow Is a Bold New Direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe

(L-R): Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Taskmaster in Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

James Jay Edwards reviews Black Widow, a new Marvel superhero film directed by Cate Shortland and starring Scarlett Johansson. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

 

Since Avengers: Endgame and the subsequent Spider-Man: Far From Home, Marvel has been silent on the movie front, instead concentrating on building their mythology through television shows like WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier on its parent network’s streaming service Disney+. Until now. Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are back with Black Widow, but they’re not back in quite the way that fans might expect.

Black Widow takes place right after the events of Captain America: Civil War. The Avengers are disbanded and half of them are imprisoned for refusing to adhere to the Sokovia Accords that require them to register as superheroes and let the government police their actions. Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson from Marriage Story, Jojo Rabbit, and, well, all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies), is on the run and finds herself in her Russian homeland.

 

(Black Widow, theatrical release poster, courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Marvel Studios)

There, she is confronted by her past—mainly, the memories of the Red Room, the training program which turned her into the cunning killer she is. She decides to try and bring down the Red Room and, to do it, she enlists the help of fellow spies Yelena Belova (Midsommar’s Florence Pugh), Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz from The Favourite), and the Russian equivalent of Captain America, Red Guardian (David Harbour from Stranger Things). And she’ll need that help, because protecting the Red Room is a foe known as Taskmaster, a masked assassin who can mimic his opponents’ fighting style to perfection.

Since her debut in Iron Man 2, Black Widow has been a fan favorite, so it really was just a matter of time until the character got her own standalone movie. What is surprising is that Black Widow is not a typical Marvel movie. It’s not even a typical superhero movie. The screenplay, written by Jac Schaeffer (WandaVision), Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), and Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarock), is more of a spy thriller than a comic book adaptation. And that seems to suit the tense and suspenseful filmmaking style of director Cate Shortland (Lore, Berlin Syndrome) just fine.

 

(Black Widow, Photo by Jay Maidment, courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Marvel Studios)

The scope of Black Widow is much smaller and more contained than the other Marvel movies. At its root, it’s a revenge flick about one woman and her quest to right the wrongs of her past. Part of what gives the movie its standalone feel is that the characters are more believable than many superhero movies. Sure, Red Guardian has super-soldier powers, and Taskmaster is almost a supernatural force, as enigmatic and fearsome as an antagonist can be, but most of the characters are real people who have been specialized and programmed to do their “jobs.” It’s easier to buy into the concept of highly trained spies/assassins than it is to believe in a half-human/half-spider hybrid or a rich guy in an iron suit that bends the laws of physics. Black Widow is as reality-based as a superhero movie can be.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any action in Black Widow. Far from it. There are tons of fights in plenty of cool settings, and anyone who has paid attention to Black Widow in the other Marvel movies can guess how great the acrobatic choreography and insane stunt work is. And there’s even a subtle hint of humor behind it all, with Pugh and Harbour providing the snark that was usually reserved for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark character. Pugh’s Yelena has a particularly funny running gag where she pokes fun at how Natasha “poses” while she fights. The anxiety is broken up by laughs.

 

(Black Widow, Photo by Jay Maidment, courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Marvel Studios)

People who are going to see Black Widow already know that they’re going to see Black Widow. But they should be aware that what they’re going to get is more Mission Impossible than The Avengers. And this new direction is refreshing in a couple of ways. Not only is it great to see Black Widow get her own movie after Scarlett Johansson has spent more than a decade developing and owning the character, but it’s fun that what we get isn’t just a run-of-the-mill superhero joint.

Black Widow is in select theaters and streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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