Marvel’s Black Widow Review (2021)

We Are All Sisters

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Natasha Romanoff is not your average shining hero.

She’s an ex-assassin from the top secret Soviet program ‘Black Widow’ involved in political killings and sabotage around the world. But she changed her side, started to work for American government in top dangerous missions. And became a member of a worldwide famous team of extraordinary peacekeepers — Avengers, lead by inventor-billionaire Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark and WWII veteran, super soldier Steve ‘Captain America’ Rodgers (sounds crazy, right). 

But their team has fallen apart: after tragic events in post-communistic Sokovia, where Avengers’ attempt to stop rebel AI Ultron from planetary homicide has caused a lot of civil casualties, the United States has pushed ‘superheroes’ to legalize their actions and register as government agents. Not everyone agreed with it and after some clashes, half of the Avengers faced detention. Steve Rogers has disappeared, and his ally Natasha decided to take a break from this life full of fights and car chases. She’s escaping to Norway, but then receives a strange package from someone she didn’t expect to hear from: her long forgotten sister, Yelena. And that’s not the only surprise she’ll get from her past. She’ll face a mysterious killer in a mask that mimics all her friends’ martial arts style and will have to admit that her past is still haunting her — so it’s time to end it, once and for all. 

And no one should ever get what she had to go through.

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This is Marvel’s 24th movie, and the first one after “Infinity Saga” ended chronologically with “Avengers: Endgame”. And it’s pretty amazing to see how different these movies are. Though it’s still the same universe sharing one visual style, the same optimistic mood and humanistic message “You can be a better version of yourself, it’s always good to fight for your friends and family”. DC’s cinematic universe (at least in Zack Snyder’s epic vision) has a bit of a different motto: “Even if you’re almost a god with crazy powers, you don’t have a right to stay away from the mortal world’s problems”. I’m not sure which philosophy I like more, but since it all ended with Snydercut I’m going to keep being a humble Marvel fan and enjoy the ride with millions of others. This is a huge and evolving story, the biggest movie series longer than Star Wars, Harry Potter and even James Bond (soon it will be at least), an extraordinary big screen action/adventure series made for everyone. 

Commercial cinema, made with huge and diverse talent & passion, learning from its own mistakes and trying to get better and different with every new chance. 

Want some fantasy and like “Inception”? There’s mind-blowing “Doctor Strange” for you. Need some quantum physics and a criminal heist spirit? Try out “Ant-Man”. Looking for a weird team/family comedy and sci-fi action? Tune in to “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Isn’t it fantastic to get surprised with every new movie?

Oh boy, I love Marvel.

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

It was a fantastic journey started in 2009 when one kidnapped and wounded American hostage built an exoskeleton from junk in Afghanistan’s caves. It ended in 2019 with one snap that brought the half of the life in the universe back five years after Thanos’ ultimate Decimation. But now it’s over, some heroes’ gone, the world has changed. What’s coming up next?

The new movie doesn’t have the answer, but it’s a great comeback to our favorite universe after a long break and this pandemic time. It takes place after “Captain America: Civil War” and before “Avengers: Infinity War” and seems like an isolated and not so impactful adventure of a side character, but it’s an interesting mix of a spy movie, high octane action in some parts, a bit of a sci-fi…

…and reunion story of a dysfunctional family hiding behind the typical action plot. This is the heart of the movie.

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

We’ve been with Natasha (portrayed by Scarlett Johansson) for a while (her first appearance was in “Iron Man 2”, 2010) and her story in the main timeline is over. But this particular, personal story of her helps us to understand her better and gives her a perfect tribute. She’s facing a clear conflict she needs to solve to feel better and finally set herself free. She’s been fighting with good guys on her side, but did she really do everything she could to earn redemption after what she did? Furthermore, she was a political killer before joining The S.H.I.E.L.D. and her hands covered with blood, as her ‘father’, Alexei ‘Red Guardian’ Shostakov (portrayed by David Harbour, sheriff Jim Hopper from ‘Stranger Things’), proudly mentions. Can she be the role model for little girls after that?

We learn more about Natasha Romanoff’s childhood in the 90s, her fake American family and hear ‘real’ sister she cared about when they were kids. We knew Black Widow’s childhood was ruined by tough military training, brainwashing and terrible medical sterilization procedure, but this particular flashback in 1992 with peaceful life in Ohio before coming back to KGB’s torture chambers makes the picture even more tragic.

Years after that when she receives a strange package from Yelena Belova (portrayed by Florence Pugh, you might have seen her in amazingly terrifying ‘Midsommar”) and realizes that 

there’s at least one person in the world she could call her real family — and she basically has left her a long time ago.

Yelena, younger and more open-minded sarcastic multifunctional soldier, doesn’t trust Natasha enough and envy her current lifestyle, but the new problem forces them to work together and gain each other’s trust once as they had when they were kids. 

Personally, I’d like to mention Red Guardian. He’s the first Soviet superhero, copy of Captain America, was betrayed by his own government and locked away in Siberia. This big and loud Russian dad with huge beard, big ego and terrible sense of humor has a big heart and looks like a supercharged Solzhenitsyn who loves to fight and talk (but not listen). Hilarious character, I’d love to see him again.

But I don’t want to spoil the main story here, so I’ll just say — it’s fine.

Not too smart, not too dumb, its core is plain simple: main heroes need to gather together to save the day and punish the evil. You’ve seen it a lot, it’s basic chase-talk-action-talk-infiltration-action-talk scheme. But it has a few plot twists you might find surprising, great acting (you’ll love Yelena, I promise) and some psychological accuracy in characters, which are broken and lost. 

Also… antagonists. I’ve heard Marvel used some help from Russian history consultant and damn, it feels in some way. It feels Russian. Interiors, characters, locations… I can believe that Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz from “The Mummy”) lives in this place because she feels nostalgic, and the distant jail looks like a westernized version of GULAG. If Alexei Navalny could see this movie now, he’d have laughed a lot but appreciated it too, I think. (Hope you’ll be free soon, man)

Instead of this review, the movie isn’t political at all, — it exists in its own universe and Natasha & Yelena are opposing not the Russian government, but some abstract organization. And that’s good! 

Taskmaster in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

The Soviet Union has broken down, but the Red Room still exists as an organization beyond any government. And its ambitions are very frightening. 

Basically it’s the PMC, a private military company like those fighting in Syria or the Central African Republic. The difference is that fiction Red Room is bigger, exists under the surface in top secret mode and takes orders from itself. And it looks like a very personal thing for its founder, general Dreykov (funny surname by the way, never heard of Russians with it). The interiors inside the Red Room, Dreykov’s speech and image, — it all looks like he’s an evil Soviet functionary! The person with a twisted mind that survived 1991 and decided to build his own little Soviet Union with golden walls, heavy sofas, retro PCs and disk phones. One bald authoritarian leader with shaking feet from the Kremlin would love it! (By the way, I think Dreykov’s character might base on Prigozhin’s figure. In case if you don’t know who is it, people call him “Putin’s cook” and claims he owns PMC fighting in Syria and CAR. As well as infamous ‘Troll Factory’ involved in messing with presidential election in US in 2016 and 2020. Very unpleasant person)

And again — this movie made completely out of politics, there’s nothing to learn about modern Russia or its past, just a few phrases and hints. And it’s clearly a good decision — Marvel doesn’t need it. It’s always been an international set of action adventure stories, telling us that

it’s not important where are you from, Russia or States, Hydra or the Red Room, there’s always a chance for redemption and making the world better without unnecessary evil from the past.

“Black Widow” is a story about getting your own freedom, fixing mistakes, asking for forgiveness. It’s a story about breaking mental chains down and learning who your true family is. Even if it was fake before and was based on a lie… it’s not important if you know your heart. Family is someone you feel close to, someone who cares about you, and you care about them.

Sounds basic and cliché, but here it’s working and feels even tender in some ways. Natasha and Yelena might not be real sisters, but they are one. They care about each other, they’ve been through a lot. As much as other Black Widows, still suffering from the total control of their organization. 

At the end, it all turns into the story of female empowerment — and you’ll definitely not want to miss it.

(L-R): Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Moreover, it’s just a technically great action movie, with fast car chases and crashes (I’m always wondering how it’s all made in movies like “Fast 9” or this: how do you film car chase scenes when you need to crash and explode so many cars and do it safely? Almost unbelievable to me), pretty violent melee combat and action sequences. There aren’t too much of it (it’s not “Fast 9” after all, though it’s about family), but they are big, wild and CG is good enough to not resemble bad 2000s action movies (hello “Venom”). The final action packed sequence is something artistic mind-blowing, you haven’t seen anything like this in Marvel movies yet. Surely, these story tropes like ‘hero vs villain finally get to fight’ or ‘villain is trying to escape, but you’re not a fool, right?’ are kind of boring and predictable. But take it as an inevitable little evil of a big movie with big money spent on it. I think we can live with that.

So is it good? Yep.
Is it worth watching? Aha.
Would I watch it again? Hmm.
Yeah, I think so.

If you’re a Marvel fan, I suppose you’ve already closed this tab to go and buy a cinema ticket, or you’ve already seen it and are ready to discuss it in the comments (by the way, what’s your favorite moment?). If you’ve found this movie by a mistake and haven’t seen all previous ones, you might get some sort of pleasure out of it. Just lower your bars and admit it’s something that has a way bigger background than it is in the movie. But you might like it anyway, I think. At least, I hope so.

Ugh, can’t wait to see what’s coming up next. Go Yelena!

7/10

Goodbye, Natasha

See you on the other side

P.S. Here’s the opening titles’ song, Mara J’s cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.

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