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Black Widow review: Marvel roars back to theaters

Black Widow standing in a field
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Pic credit: Marvel

Marvel was releasing two movies every year and had moved up to three when the pandemic shut down theaters for almost a year.

Marvel is back in theaters for its first release since 2019 with Black Widow.

Scarlett Johansson is back as Black Widow, a character first introduced in Iron Man 2 in 2010. It took 11 years for Black Widow to get her own movie after appearing in seven Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to date.

The movie also arrives two years after Avengers: Endgame, where Black Widow died.

However, this is a prequel, and despite knowing Black Widow eventually dies in the MCU, it is well worth your time.

Black Widow review

Before Black Widow can get started, the movie starts off even further in the past with Natasha as a little girl living in small-town America.

Natasha and her little sister Yelena are shown playing together and Natasha is the protective older sister. They sit down to dinner with their mom and dad and learn that they have to leave.

Their dad, Alexei, drives them out of town, and soon, law enforcement officers are chasing them and shooting at the family. They reach a plane, and after a battle, they take off and land outside the United States.

It turns out they were not a real family, but Russian sleeper agents. Alexei leaves with a Russian official, mother Melina is taken away after getting shot, and little Natasha and Yelena are split up.

That was the last time Natasha saw any of her fake family.

Black Widow takes place immediately after Captain America: Civil War.

To catch you up, that movie saw Black Widow betray Iron Man and the United States government to help Captain America and Winter Soldier escape.

While Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Falcon, and Scarlet Witch were all arrested, Black Widow went on the run, as did Captain America, while Wakanda gave Winter Soldier shelter while trying to cure him of his brainwashing.

Black Widow was on her own, and the movie shows Natasha on the run, with Thunderbolt Ross closing in on her with the U.S. law enforcement agencies to arrest her for her actions in Civil War.

This is just an opening and she escapes to hide out.

Sadly, she doesn’t have much of a chance to hide before she gets a mysterious package sent to her by someone from her past in Budapest. Before she can see what it is, a villain known as Taskmaster attacks her and she ends up running for her life.

This leads her on a journey into her past. Like in the comics, Black Widow was trained in the Red Room, an institute that trains young girls to become assassins. To defect to the United States, she had to assassinate the leader of the Red Room and did so. However, in this movie, she learns the Red Room still exists and is worse than ever.

Black Widow standing with Yelena Belova
Black Widow standing with Yelena Belova. Pic credit: Marvel

Her “little sister” Yelena was one of its best assassins, but when she gets blasted with a red mist, her head clears and she learns that the Red Room has brainwashed all the girls and controls them with the flip of a switch. She needs Natasha to help her and this forces an awkward family reunion.

The cast in Black Widow is superb from top to bottom.

Johansson has perfected the role of Black Widow, which is sad since this is likely her swan song for the MCU. However, the good news is that Florence Pugh stole the show as Yelena. She brought innocence and vulnerability to Yelena that allowed her to steal the movie from Johansson. That is good news since Pugh is sticking around as the new Black Widow.

David Harbour, from Stranger Things fame, was fantastic as Alexei, Russia’s version of Captain America, a super-soldier known as Red Guardian. However, Alexei had been in prison for many years, serving a life sentence for disrespecting his superiors.

While he plays comic relief throughout the movie, he is much more than that to anyone paying attention. Yelena gives the movie its heart and he is there to keep that blood pumping as he tries to hold this fake family together, despite not knowing how.

Red Guardian with Black Widow and Yelena Belova
Red Guardian with Black Widow and Yelena Belova. Pic credit: Marvel

Finally, Rachel Weisz is Melina, the mother of the family. In the comics, she is the villain known as Iron Maiden, but that is not who she plays in the movie. Much like how Black Widow turned Alexei from Natasha’s ex-husband into her father figure, the movie turned the evil Iron Maiden into Natasha’s mom, who might or might not have the best intentions.

Sadly, the villains let the movie down.

The main villain is Dreykov, the man who runs the Red Room. While Ray Winstone is a great actor, he doesn’t really do much outside of seeming menacing and treating all the women in the movie like his toys.

There is also a surprise casting as Taskmaster, and I won’t spoil that here because even saying the actor’s name is a spoiler. However, be warned that the movie delves far away from the character’s Marvel Comics persona, so you won’t be disappointed when the reveal comes.

With that said, while you will either love or hate the reveal, it does make sense in the context of the story.

Taskmaster firing an arrow at Black Widow
Taskmaster firing an arrow at Black Widow. Pic credit: Marvel

The action is also well shot and there are some amazing fight scenes in the movie. Director Cate Shortland is not experienced with big-budget action movies, but she holds her own here with great edits and shots, allowing the fights to play out brutally and emotionally. Marvel knows how to shoot action scenes and that is on display here.

The soundtrack is also great, and I want to give some high praise to the opening credit scene, which has Think Up Anger covering Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit spectacularly. It is similar to a James Bond opening song and works so well here.

Black Widow final thoughts

Black Widow is a movie that should have come out before Avengers: Endgame. Seeing Natasha’s tragic past and the relationship with these people would have made her death mean even more when it happened.

As it is, Black Widow is a movie that came out a little too late but is still a great theatrical release for Marvel in 2021. There are few stakes here, as everyone knows what happens to Natasha, but honestly, it is Yelena Belova that fans can follow here and see where it could lead in the future.

There is a post-credit scene that explains that and shows where you will see this fantastic new Marvel character next.

There might be a letdown in action and stakes in this movie after Avengers: Endgame, but don’t let that deter you. There is a lot of heart in Black Widow, and it is about family and what a hero will do to protect those that they love.

The year-plus off probably helped this because this is a return to what Marvel does best and if you liked what the studio has done so far, you should love Black Widow.

Black Widow hits theaters on Thursday, July 8.

Shawn S. Lealos has been a freelance writer for 25 years, starting with magazines and newspapers before moving to the internet. He has been published in Inside Sports Magazine, The Daily...read more

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