- The Magazine
The family that slays together does not necessarily stay together. The dysfunctional superhero family known as the Avengers learned as much when they came to blows fighting out their politics in the 2016 blockbuster Captain America: Civil War. That film, besides offering peak-MCU action and excitement, also provides the perfect alibi for the Avengers’ super-spy Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow, to slip away for a solo adventure.
Thus, arriving two years after we watched her die in Avengers: Endgame, at last there’s Black Widow (★★★☆☆), a Natasha standalone story that slots neatly into the character’s post-Civil War exile, spent on the run from authorities for violating the Sokovia Accords. Natasha, ably embodied as ever by Scarlett Johansson, is also running from her past, but it catches up to her in the form of her other family — the mother, father, and sister she’s spent decades trying to forget.
Forgoing much exposition about those damn Sokovia Accords, or the foes and catastrophes Widow and the Avengers faced in previous films — you’d just better know — the movie, directed by Cate Shortland, dives deep into unexplored avenues of the former Russian agent’s complicated origins.
Of all places, we find adolescent Natasha (Ever Anderson) growing up in Ohio, with dad Alexei (David Harbour), mom Melina (Rachel Weisz), and younger sister Yelena (Violet McGraw), living a peaceful domestic ruse, until the parents’ secret cover is blown, like a souped-up scene from Little Nikita. Spying runs in the family it seems, as little Yelena grows up to be a lethal agent trained by the same covert Russian program, the Red Room, that shepherded Natasha. Estranged, but not at odds, the sister spies team up on a mission to take down the Red Room’s erstwhile leader Dreykov (Ray Winstone), before he unleashes the nest of Widow agents he controls.
The script, by Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok), uncoils stiffly at first, before the plot finally snaps into lean, muscular motion. Once Natasha and Yelena are clued in on Dreykov’s evil plan, built around the heartless exploitation of girls and women around the globe, it’s full-steam ahead, driven by explosive action, vehicular mayhem, martial arts combat, and the screen-searing star power of Johansson and Florence Pugh, joining the MCU as Yelena Belova. The Oscar-nominated breakout of 2019 drama Little Women and cult horror hit Midsommar, Pugh firmly establishes this wisecracking little sister as a formidable partner, and possible successor, to the Black Widow we know and love.
And, lest her magnetic performance soak up too much of the spotlight, Harbour also shines as proud pop Alexei, who gets to reunite with his girls and relive his own super-soldier glory days. An overflowing source of comic relief, Harbour carries much of the fun, while Johansson, Pugh, and Weisz lift the heavier emotions, adding dramatic tension to the suspense of Bond-style midair fights and mid-avalanche rescues.
The movie is cheeky enough to reference Bond directly, with a snippet of Roger Moore’s 007 facing off against his nemesis Jaws, but it doesn’t come up with anything really clever to do with its own super-villain, an intimidating adversary known as the Taskmaster. Given an unconvincing origin story here, the Taskmaster likely won’t be the character audiences are clamoring to see return for the next Black Widow adventure — although the Marvel signature, post-credits coda does offer a strong indication of which Black Widow we will see… and when.
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