After 12 years of a Marvel movie or three hitting theaters every year, it’s felt strange to go two years without at least one Avenger hitting the big screen. But the wait is finally over, and Black Widow will soon be in theaters. Directed by Cate Shortland, with a story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson and screenplay by Eric Pearson, the movie finds Scarlett Johansson back in her role of the longtime Russian spy-turned-loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Avenger.
It may come as a surprise to see a standalone story about Natasha Romanoff considering the events of Avengers: Endgame, but her solo film is set immediately after the events of Captain America: Civil War and tells the story of what Natasha did in the aftermath of that movie before meeting up with Steve Rogers’ team that had gone underground. Thanks to her letting Steve and Bucky Barnes go free, Black Widow is now a fugitive herself but, when she gets a mysterious package, it sends her back to her motherland of Russia. She reunites with her “family” of fellow spies: sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), mother Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and dad Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), a.k.a. Red Guardian, Russia’s answer to Captain America. When she discovers the Black Widow program is still alive and well and more horrifying than ever, Natasha and Yelena vow to take it down together–if they can get their dysfunctional family unit to work together.
It’s a major piece of storytelling in the MCU with significant consequences beyond merely giving Natasha Romanoff the fitting end to her story that Endgame denied her. But is it a great Marvel movie to kick off a return to theaters? Read on for three big reasons to see Black Widow when it hits theaters.
It’s The Most Heartfelt Marvel Movie Yet
It may sound odd that a movie about a bunch of ruthless spies and assassins would be heartwarming and heartbreaking, but Black Widow is both at times. Sure, there are still plenty of Marvel action set pieces (more on that in a moment), but the movie shines brightest in the quiet moments between Natasha and Yelena or with their parents. It’s a family drama with the trappings of an action-thriller, lending further evidence to the idea that Marvel movies are at their best when they are one thing on the surface but telling an entirely different story underneath. There’s arguably more conversation in this movie than any other Marvel movie, and it works to Black Widow‘s advantage as it anchors the film in genuinely emotional bedrock.
While Weisz and Harbour are always great, it’s really Johansson and Pugh’s movie. As two young girls who were ripped from their families and given to strangers before being brainwashed and trained as Black Widows, Natasha and Yelena carry a lot of damage. Pugh’s Yelena hides it behind deadpan commentary and sarcasm, but there are revelations in the movie that cost her dearly, and her devastation at learning how few people she can trust is real. Across multiple movies, Johansson’s Natasha has seemingly made her peace with what had been done to her in the Red Room. But in Black Widow, Johansson taps into the deep well of pain that has always resided in Natasha, not only for what she endured, but also that she escaped and left Yelena behind. The world isn’t always kind to women, especially not to lost girls, and the story of Black Widow will resonate with women and girls in a way that the overtly “girl power” Captain Marvel somewhat failed to do. There is a lifetime of physical and emotional damage, both inflicted and received, between the characters, and untangling that surprisingly makes Black Widow arguably the most heartfelt Marvel movie to date.
Natasha Finally Gets Her Chance To Shine
In any Avengers movie, Black Widow was always the coolest head in a fight. Nothing fazed her, nothing stopped her, and if something blocked her path, she simply found a new one to complete her mission. She has always been the glue that’s secretly held the Avengers together; her pragmatism, her compassion, and her common sense kept the team and team members afloat when they needed it most. So many key Avengers moments in the MCU have been because of her, from her being the one to figure out Loki’s plan in The Avengers to making the wise decision to let Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes go in Civil War, even knowing the cost to herself, to sacrificing herself to gain the Soul Stone in Endgame. Despite that, and despite her having been the de facto co-leader or sole leader of the Avengers longer than any other member, Natasha Romanoff has never gotten her proper due.
Black Widow remedies that and it illustrates exactly why she was always the most competent Avenger. In other team-up movies, Black Widow has always had to play second fiddle to the other Avengers who had their own franchises. Not so here. With the focus squarely on her, we finally see why Natasha was the best of the best of the Black Widow program, with her scaling walls with ease, falling multiple stories and shaking it off, jumping out of crashing planes, and more. The MCU has never confirmed her having enhanced human abilities as she does in the comics and it makes Natasha all the more impressive. She accomplishes nearly superhuman physical feats not because she’s been dosed with super-soldier serum or because she has billion-dollar tech or because she has the powers of a god, but because of her training and athleticism, her unbreakable will, and her utter fearlessness. Her deep sense of compassion and justice also shines through, belying the ruthless assassin she was programmed to be. Fans will finally get to see why Clint Barton made the choice to recruit rather than kill her all those years ago: Natasha Romanoff is remarkable, and Black Widow finally puts that on full display.
Incredibly Inventive Action & Combat Sequences
As much fun as Marvel movies are, the action can often be, well, generic, with too much CGI and not enough invention. And Black Widow certainly suffers from that at times. But there is a freshness to the fight choreography and an unexpected viciousness that is lacking in other Marvel films. Particular credit goes to fight coordinator James Young for the fight scene between Natasha and Yelena in a Budapest apartment as neither super-spy holds back. Where most Marvel fights seem designed to incapacitate an opponent, Natasha and Yelena have the feel of two people going for the kill as they battle with improvised weapons, and their fight has a realistic edge that is sorely lacking in other MCU combat scenes.
Though slightly more elegant, Natasha’s fight with Taskmaster early on in the movie is much the same. Natasha is bruised, bloodied, and battered, and there is a brutality to the fight sequences that finally truly gives the audience a feel for what fighting a superhumanly enhanced person might be like. The CGI-fest spectacle creeps into the third-act battle on the crashing ship glimpsed in the trailers, but in fairness, it’s such a huge action set piece and such an inventive setup that it would be impossible to pull off without lots of obvious CGI trickery. Even so, it’s thrilling; despite knowing how Natasha’s story ends, you’re never entirely sure who will survive and who won’t as it unfolds.
The true shame of it is that Black Widow is so good, it just underscores the fact Natasha Romanoff deserved this movie ten years ago. But while her story is over, others will take up the torch. In the meantime, we can celebrate the fact we finally got to see a little bit more of Natasha as a complex character and her story before the end.
Black Widow is in theaters on Friday, July 9th.