Black Widow (Review): Too Little Too Late For This Character

Marvel’s Black Widow released on Disney+ July 9th but, being somewhat of a cinematic purist, I chose to see BW at my local theatre instead. Was it worth the delay (or the 9 month pushback from its original release date)? Read on to find out my thoughts!  

Before my outing a few days back, I hadn’t set foot in a movie theatre since last fall, before they all shut down. My mouth watered just thinking of that soft, buttery popcorn; my body sought to experience audio so powerful I could physically feel it; and my spirit longed for this wonderful feeling of anticipation I’ve felt all my life, right between that moment when the lights go down and the picture flashes onto screen. And I looked forward to seeing Black Widow! What better movie to end my cinematic drought than the latest installment to one of my favourite franchises?

However, I do admit my expectations were relatively low for this one. Don’t get me wrong– I’ve always enjoyed Black Widow as a character but I never felt she needed a stand-alone film. Not everybody does. For example: Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye both work very well as supporting characters in other Avengers-led movies. Black Widow fit more in that mold for me. That said, I’m a fan of Scarlett Johansson, and Black Widow has a lot of fascinating baggage to unpack, and I was perfectly happy to see a solo-vehicle for the character if the story was right!

I just wish that story came sooner than it did. Considering where her character arc leads by the end of Avengers: Endgame, the prospect of a new film about her NOW seemed outright nonsensical. This movie should have been made a decade ago! Heck, it would have been OK even 5 years ago. But it’s cold comfort to have it in 2021. Maybe it’ll feel better on MCU re-watches when you can view the films in any order you want? But, considering this film’s place in the Marvel timeline, it doesn’t contribute much of value for the larger story. 

A visual representation of me getting to see a brand new movie in theatres!

This is said with sadness, but Black Widow is exactly what I thought it’d be: a launching pad for new characters which Marvel Studios wants to use in future projects. And in that regard I think it succeeds greatly! Florence Pugh and David Harbour steal the show as Yelena Belova and Alexei Shostakov. I loved every scene in which they took part, and I hope we will see more of them.

Unfortunately, these characters being amazing caused a large problem. Yelena was, frankly, a more compelling character than Natasha in this story. And the film might be called “Black Widow” but Natasha is kinda just roped into an adventure which Yelena spearheads. It nearly felt like The Mandalorian Season 2 where Din (Mando) has personal investment in the overarching story, but by far the more interesting tales centred around the supporting cast he met from week to week– like Bo Katan or Boba Fett or Greef Karga and Cara Dunne.

Not to say Black Widow doesn’t get a good story– because she does. I felt the execution of said story was lacking though. Johansson gives this performance her all, and she’s amazing in the film, but not even Black Widow herself could save the half-baked plot of this film.

Many aspects of the movie could have been cut entirely and barely changed this film’s sequence of events (such as the character Taskmaster). Other concepts were very complex concepts which could have used more breathing room than they received. It felt like a lot of important scenes for adequate character development were cut out– especially at the end. And, because of how the story was handled, I also didn’t fully buy into some of the character progressions. Certain relationships developed too quickly– considering much of the film spans a couple days– and others’ motivations weren’t explained very well. 

​Speaking of poorly developed characters: the main villain of Black Widow was also weak (but that’s just par for Marvel’s course at this point). This badguy served more as a means to an end than a three dimensional person with compelling motivations. Actually, his motivations were extremely basic (almost the most cliché villain plot you can think of) and never adequately explored. What they did with him was… serviceable, but it could have been so much better— especially if the villain had more screen-time before the final act.

Yelena Belova– AKA the best character in the movie!

​I’m being harsh on the movie so far but there was a lot about the plot I enjoyed! The heart of Black Widow lays in its story of a dysfunctional family. Those parts which featured this most prominently were easily my favourite moments! The bonding and struggles this unconventional group goes through make this film stand out amongst its peers. Families which don’t get along are well-trodden ground in movies but this one felt fresh the way it was handled. And, because of my aforementioned enjoyment of the family dynamic– one of my favourite sequences (arguably in the MCU) is Black Widow having dinner in a cabin with her reunited family unit. There was fantastic character work there. Personally, it’s the movie’s backbone.

Another thing I appreciated was the film’s self-awareness. Yelena makes some some solid jokes about Black Widow’s personality (see, how Marvel has crafted her character). It also knows full well that many movie-goers already know a lot of Black Widow’s history from The Avengers movies. I thought the film did a great job of re-introducing her backstory without beating us over the head with things we already know.

One final thing I liked a lot were the costumes. Each of them had a distinct look which communicated the wearer’s personality. It’s not normally something I notice but maybe I was drawn more to it after the film devoted an entire conversation to a costume piece (Yelena’s vest)

The new dynamic duo

As many things as I liked, I’ve got to double back to some more negatives now… Namely– Black Widow’s action sequences were a huge letdown. They were entertaining and competently handled but ultimately didn’t impress me. I liked a few of the one-on-one fights above all the others (hand to hand combat choreography was amazing) and the last sequence of the finale. But whenever action went bigger with tonnes of destruction the movie lost me. Black Widow would have been better served by keeping the spectacle smaller and more subtle like most espionage movies. I’d argue that would fit the character more than what we got.

Oh yes– one more huge gripe with the action: human characters (see, non super-powered) came away from a ridiculous amount of moments uninjured when they REALLY should have been… Normally I wouldn’t care about a detail like this in a Marvel movie. Heroes ought to be able to take a few hits. But when this movie is mostly populated by above-average people, it shouldn’t take Avengers’ sized threats to kill them.

I know it does no good to review a film based on what I think it should have been but I’m gonna do it anyway… For my taste there was too much high-octane action when there should have been more espionage. This film could have been the female-led James Bond-esque story people have been clamoring for so long (with some superhumans to spice it up)! But instead we got an entertaining, though admittedly disappointing, action-adventure story with little to set it apart from the superhero movie crowd. If this came out 5 years ago, maybe I’d feel differently. But now that Marvel’s shown than they can be more experimental with their superhero fair, I hold them to a higher standard, and Black Widow didn’t measure up.

Black Widow is more generic than it ought to have been, but it’s still good viewing If You’re Bored or just wanna return to the movies!

What’s Scarlett Johansson’s best performance as Natasha Romanoff? What did you think of Black Widow? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

REVIEW METRIC: Don’t bother; If you’re bored; Worth a watch; Pretty darn good; Must see; Watch it A.S.A.P.

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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