Movie review: The MCU returns to the big screen with ‘Black Widow’

Marvel Cinematic Universe fans have been waiting a long time for a Black Widow solo film — and I’m not just talking about how this film’s release date was pushed back a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Black Widow made her first appearance in the MCU back in 2010 with Iron Man 2. Eleven years later, the Avenger is finally getting to star in her own MCU film. 

Unlike other characters’ first solo outings (such as Iron Man or Thor), Black Widow isn’t actually an origin story. It’s set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Natasha Romanoff is on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. when problems from her past suddenly resurface. She reconnects with her younger sister, Yelena Belova, who has also been trained as an assassin and secret agent. Yelena wants out, and together she and Natasha decide to take down the “Red Room,” the program that brainwashed them as children and forced them to become assassins.

Overall, I enjoyed Black Widow. I actually got a little emotional seeing the MCU intro sequence on the big screen again. There were some things about the movie I loved and some things I would have changed, but the end credit scene has me intrigued and excited about where this story will continue in the future. 

What I loved

I know this is Natasha’s movie, but my favorite characters were actually some of the new ones who were introduced. Florence Pugh is great as Yelena, and I’m glad that we’ll (presumably) see her character again in the MCU. She’s an interesting foil for Natasha. She’s just as skilled a fighter as Natasha is, but she’s more desperate for connection. Even though their family structure during their life in Ohio was staged as part of a Soviet plot, Yelena sees it as real. Natasha really was her sister, and Russian agents Melina Vostokoff and Alexei Shostakov a.k.a. Red Guardian really were her parents. 

Speaking of Melina and Alexei, I really enjoyed Rachel Weisz and David Harbour’s performances as these characters. Red Guardian is the Soviet answer to Captain America, and even though the Cold War is over, Alexei is having problems letting go of his old identity. In this movie, he finds a better cause to fight for — his family. 

At times, Black Widow feels more like a Bourne movie than an MCU movie. We don’t see a lot of superpowers on display; this is more of an old-fashioned espionage thriller, which fits well with Natasha’s character. The fight sequences are high-energy and well-choreographed, and there’s also some nice, quieter character moments between Natasha and her found family. 

The film’s opening scenes are actually quite dark for an MCU film, featuring Natasha and her family running from S.H.I.E.L.D. and then Natasha and Yelena’s forced separation. We see a heartbreaking montage showing how the Red Room captures young girls and turns them into brainwashed soldiers. This film definitely doesn’t have as many humorous moments or quips as other Marvel movies we’ve seen.  

Finally, the music in this film — composed by Lorne Balfe — is really, really good. I feel like the music in MCU movies has been getting stronger over the years (in the past it was far less memorable than the music for other blockbuster franchises, such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings). The Black Widow soundtrack is one of my favorites so far, bringing in some Russian musical motifs and featuring a nice usage of the Avengers theme towards the end.

What I would have changed  

I’m still frustrated by the fact it took 11 years to get a Black Widow solo film. She should have been given a spinoff movie right after the 2012 Avengers film, instead of waiting until after her on-screen death in Avengers: Endgame (a moment I’m still peeved about, but that’s a separate discussion). 

My personal preference for the Black Widow solo film was that if it had to be a prequel, I would have liked to see a full-on origin story. Show us more detail about her life growing up in the Red Room, her experiences as a secret agent as an adult, and then finally, her recruitment to S.H.I.E.L.D. It would have been interesting to see her connection to the Winter Soldier, and then her friendship with Hawkeye. 

Natasha’s past still remains a bit of a mystery, and I feel like I want more closure for the character. Black Widow doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as the Disney+ MCU series we got earlier this year. To be fair, those were all miniseries with longer runtimes, but many MCU films have managed to tell deeply emotional stories, such as Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: Civil War.

Watching Taskmaster mimic the fighting style of her opponents was super cool, but I think they could have done more with the character. 

Looking ahead

As mentioned previously, I’m really intrigued by the end credits scene in this movie, which features a reappearance from Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who showed up earlier this year in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. She approaches Yelena with a new assignment: killing Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye. 

Natasha sacrificed herself in Endgame so that Clint wouldn’t have to die. This mission is going to be highly personal for Yelena, and I’m hoping this storyline will finally bring the closure I’ve been looking for re: Natasha’s death in the MCU. 

Even though I’m annoyed how Endgame handled that Natasha/Clint scene with the Infinity Stone, obviously Yelena killing Clint isn’t the answer. I’m hoping that throughout her mission, Yelena will be able to make peace with her sister’s fate and that Clint will be able to find atonement. 

Again, I’m just grateful that the MCU appears to be continuing Yelena’s story and having her take up the mantle of Black Widow now that Natasha is gone. 

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