The beautiful thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is how every corner of the shared continuity has a part to play, or a story to tell.
However, the older I get, I notice the films featuring my favorite heroes from the panels of childhood euphoria begin to take hold and find semblance, by ushering in a method of symbolic storytelling that is prevalent in our reality.
This leads to my point of how phase four of the MCU is off to an excellent start, and Natasha Romanov’s Black Widow solo film rekindles the undying passion of why I love comic-book and cape-related media. Now don’t get me wrong, the film was a little messy at points, but it was also raw and quite dark at moments for the Marvel brand.
I enjoyed seeing Marvel peel back the fragile and broken layers of what makes Black Widow tick. She clearly carried herself with a sense of pride, able to disconnect from others till she found placement among the ranks of her surrogate family in the form of the Avengers.
However, the film does come off as a few different genres. For example, the first 30 minutes is a full-on character study, and director Cate Shortland channels a level of expertise among the ranks of Todd Philips from the Elseworlds film “Joker” (2019).
This thought is perfectly supported by the opening credits reminiscent of James Bond with a dark-found footage filter. The film’s opening undertone with a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by singer Malia J, is terrifying and utterly haunting. It showcases the dehumanization and trafficking of children, in this case, young girls. You witness the selection of defects and the indoctrination process and reconditioning of the Red Room, which was eye-opening.
It was terrifying to see Natasha so innocent trying to keep her composure while Yelena was clinging to her in absolute fear and hysteria about to ensue from the horrors of the future on the horizon. Then the pieces align with why she never felt she belonged from her first appearance in “Iron Man 2” (2010). The balance of character development was profound.
The opening credit scene helped me better understand why Romanoff, throughout the entire MCU series, seems so closed off to everyone around her. Even when she appears to have a romantic connection with someone (like Steve Rogers or Bruce Banner), it only goes so far. She even says in this film that she has lived many lives. She never had an identity of her own because it was taken from her. Hence why she yearned to find placement among the Avengers and resented her past.
This is a cool introductory scene to the film because it reveals more about the bleakness and tragedy of Romanoff’s entire life. The exposition from the make-shift family detailing the lies and sacrifices of human tragedy makes the viewer question the comics we once perceived as childhood joy.
I enjoyed the family dynamic and welcomed it as a running theme. The first act and beginning of the film showcase the fragility of the nuclear family, while a higher cause of espionage tests the mystery of actually belonging. The best way to paint the first act of this film would be “The Americans” (2013 FX Series) and “Mission Impossible” flair with a layer of Marvel paint. The second act slows down a bit and features heart-wrenching confessions, but the third act is a little clunky, and it sets up the Infinity War looming threat a little quick, in my opinion.
Though General Dreykov’s (Ray Winstone) machinations and realistic ideal of dehumanizing humans, especially young girls crushing the balance of free will was eye-opening, and spine chilling. Dreykov is probably the most purely evil character in the entire MCU. A truly disgusting monster at times, he scared me during the opening credits. However, I wish he had more to do for the rest of the movie because his presence wasn’t felt till the latter part of the film.
It was pretty mature to see the entirety of the red room and what indeed occurred in the broken atmosphere. The scene with the old cartoons and the girls just staring at the computers was haunting. They were just brainwashed. The first time I watched it, I was literally at a loss for words. This extremely traumatizing thing was showcased amazingly. With the song choice, the editing, and the young actresses, I could feel their fear and sadness inside me. It made me feel things I just haven’t felt during any other MCU movie.
I feel the shivers to this day. It makes me long to want a red room movie about her trying to escape as a kid with the right kid actor who can steal the show. It would be exciting or even just her as an adult trying to escape and flashbacks to her life in the red room. I think the red room is one of Marvel’s darkest things. If you think about it, it’s human trafficking. I even love how the line “recycling what the world has too much of, girls” was used in the movie. It shows that sometimes women are targeted just to be used and treated like nothing.
It was refreshing to see the Red Room in every aspect of its horror due to the longest time. It was only mentioned and touched upon briefly in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) when Wanda hypnotized Natasha, and the reveal is even more haunting for what Natasha endured. This brings me to the point this film does reference and acknowledge the events of past films in the universe.
“Black Widow” is the 24th film in the shared continuity and the first significant film released for Phase 4. I remember walking into the theater with the looming realization that the last major film I saw in theaters with friends was “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” and now after a two-year drought of memorable Marvel magic.
The childhood hesitation lying dormant inside of me would be awoken from slumber by witnessing the swansong for the human conscience of the Avengers. Of course, being honest, I was still a little conflicted about the purpose of this film because, in many ways, it felt like an add-on or a story retcon to fill in the missing gaps of what occurred from “Captain America: Civil War” ( 2016) and “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018).
I honestly feel that Marvel did a tremendous job with the side chapter solo film. The story was compelling, and every character was perfectly cast, and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and Red Guardian(David Harbour) were scene stealers. I even enjoyed Taskmaster and how the narrative ushered placement for the character. Scarlett Johansson poured every ounce of her soul into this performance, and it indeed showed. I hope director Cate Shortland will continue to direct these character-driven psychological studies.
The opening credits were thrilling and very dark for the MCU. Red Guardian from David Harbour was vastly unique. Rachel Weiss did well in her role, carrying profound exposition and weaving placement to make Natasha tick. The action was intense and subtly violent at times and reflective of Jason Bourne and Bond films. The story was full of heart, and integrity and the concept and drive of Natasha are slowly peeled back by excellent dialogue and strong development.
I feel the decision to let go and end Natasha’s story makes the weight and trauma of sacrificing herself during the events of “Avengers: Endgame” a lot more amiable and profound. Black Widow was a central member of the Avengers. However, she also carried her heart with every film and appearance. The looming thought of closure to make the choice she did from the Infinity saga conclusion by doing whatever it took was utterly human. The film gave the audience closure and Natasha when we saw her in Endgame, especially after a rewatch of the 2019 film.
“Black Widow,” with its non-stop action and incredible heart, gets an 8.5/10.