I found myself hooked on this movie – I went into it feeling like I was “over” Black Widow and ready to move on to other superheroes, and I left wishing I could get more MCU content about Natasha and Yelena.
It’s no secret that Marvel fans feel this movie should have been made many years ago. Black Widow is one of the original Avengers, after all, and they’ve all had their own films (except Hawkeye – and some of them with 2 or 3 sequels). Now that so much time has passed it’s hard not to feel like – why bother at this point? That was sort of how I felt going into this film. We’ve moved on to so many other new characters and plot lines, is there any point in seeing this movie?
To my surprise the answer is a resounding yes. I enjoyed the movie so much more than I thought I would. It’s just a good, entertaining film in its own right, and in some ways the fact that it took so long to come out enhances it a little because we have more understanding of Natasha and her struggles. I will admit that I think part of it has to do with the people you see a movie with – when you’re with someone whose company you really enjoy, and who is enthusiastic and excited about something it can rub off a little. And being able to see it in an actual movie theater made it so much more exciting as well. I’m not sure I would have loved it quite as much as I did if I was watching it solo on Disney+.
I was also a little skeptical about whether or not I would like the movie going into it because Black Widow has just never been my favorite character. While I liked having her around to see a female represented in the original Avengers, she’s not necessarily the female I would have chosen. Natasha is, due to her nature and background, very serious and frankly somewhat boring. She’s still very much like that in her own movie, but the good news is that she’s sharing the screen with a variety of great characters.
The theme of family
It’s no surprise that a major theme in this movie is the idea of “family,” since Natasha has previously indicated that she has no biological family and considers the Avengers her family. Turns out that may not be exactly accurate – though not biological, she has another “family” that she refuses to acknowledge. This is because they only acted as a family unit for 3 years until finding out it was all a lie. Through a series of events this family is reunited 21 years later and while there’s a lot of humor, there’s also a ton of emotionally charged moments, particularly for Yelena, the younger sister.
Their “father,” Alexei, was an old superhero known as the Red Guardian (kind of a rip-off Russian Captain America) who does have super soldier strength and was recruited by Dreykov (our villain who turns girls into assassins). “Mom” Melina is a scientist and much of the brains behind Dreykov’s experiments. Natasha is ready to dismiss all of them and forget the time they were a family, but for Yelena it was real. Much of the movie asks the question “What is family?” and it’s both sad and uplifting at times… and a good lesson that a family doesn’t have to look a certain way.
Florence Pugh steals the show
As Yelena, Natasha’s sister and fellow “widow,” Florence Pugh brings an absolute force to the screen that really makes this movie as good as it is. Her portrayal of Yelena is both laugh out-loud funny and absolutely heartbreaking, and she’s able to bring to life an unfamiliar character in a powerful way. She also brings out the best in Scarlet Johansson and helped to make Natasha’s character more interesting for me. The two of them are fantastic together, both in fight scenes and emotional moments.
Plenty of laugh out loud moments
I didn’t expect to have so much humor in this movie but it delivered. Pugh in particular is a bit snarky and sarcastic while still being endearing. “I doubt the god from space has to take an ibuprofen after a fight,” she mocks while in the drugstore with Natasha after a fight. Black Widow has not often been seen as one of the more humorous Avengers (though she’s had some great sarcastic zingers at times), but her verbal teasing with her sister is spot on. And Alexei is hilarious attempting to squeeze himself back into his old superhero suit and being generally pathetic but somehow still likeable (even despite the role he played in the girls’ lives).
Great action sequences and pacing
Unlike some Marvel movies, which I feel can get a little too heavy with the fight sequences and can be a bit repetitive, the action parts of Black Widow were cinematically interesting. Coming from me that’s a huge compliment because I’m not a big action person at all. There are certainly some scenes that are over the top and unbelievable in classic Marvel fashion – we spend a lot of time in the sky at one point for a movie with a bunch of superheroes who can’t fly. But the pacing of the movie felt tight and everything moved along well for me. I was never bored or wondering when we would get past a certain scene. There was a good balance of suspense and interest throughout.
Touches on some really serious topics… but doesn’t always go far enough
The opening scene of this movie was jarring and intense. Natasha and Yelena are shown as children, living what seems like a normal life in Ohio, when it turns out that their parents are Russian spies preparing the girls to become brainwashed assassins. The children are taken from their parents, drugged, and sent away during a montage that shows them and other young girls crying, screaming, and being jabbed with needles. It’s disturbing and dark… and while the movie addresses some of these themes throughout it doesn’t feel like enough.
For instance, there is a scene where Alexei asks Yelena if she’s mad because she’s PMS-ing, and she responds by describing how her uterus was forcibly removed from her. Weirdly this whole exchange feels like it’s almost played for laughs, but I promise you I was not laughing because the concept is so horrific. Pair that with the fact that Dreykov is specifically recruiting young girls as his assassins and naming them “widows” and the misogyny is strong. The way that he ensures his widows cannot hurt him is also disturbing and symbolic.
The villains are somewhat weak
Weird thing to say, given what I just said about Dreykov, but this didn’t feel like a movie with a really strong or interesting villain. Dreykov probably could have been developed into one if they wanted to, but it wasn’t all that necessary for this movie. He might be the brains behind the operation, but it still feels like he’s playing second fiddle to the real battle of the story, which is the emotional and psychological impacts that both Natasha and Yelena struggle with.
Speaking of second fiddle, in advertisements for this movie Taskmaster looked like they would be the true villain. And Taskmaster certainly does play an important and interesting role in the movie, but it again does not always feel like that role is to be the main adversary or conflict.
Black Widow is an interesting film because it many ways it feels much darker than other films in the MCU, but at the same time it had a lot more humor than I expected. I know people have been clamoring for a Black Widow movie for ages, but I actually feel like this might have been better as a Disney+ television show. 6-8 hours would have given more time to explore some of the really complex and interesting themes – themes that often feel a bit more serious than your typical Marvel movie, but the TV shows have been more willing to tackle.
I found myself hooked on this movie though – I went into it feeling like I was “over” Black Widow and ready to move on to other superheroes, and I left wishing I could learn more about her and Yelena. It seems clear Yelena will return in future Marvel endeavors so I definitely look forward to seeing what happens there. I’d probably give this one at least an 8 out of 10 – heck, let’s say 8.5 out of 10.
Have you seen Black Widow? What did you think of this movie?
Mike R. says
We’ll written and spot on! I saw it this weekend in the theatre (1st time in forever for me) and I went in feeling a bit unenthusiastic—my son really wanted to see it but I, too, felt over BW.
I was surprised by how funny and human it was given Natasha’s character throughout the Avengers’ saga. And I agree that, while the heroes were endearing and fun, the villains were a bit vanilla. (Villainilla??)
Great review, Becky!
Thanks Mike! It was definitely a good one to see being back in theaters for the first time 🙂
I can’t imagine going back in a theatre! It would be quite the experience I’m sure! I hope you loved the movie, it looks fun!!
It was so nice being back in a movie theater! Around here we have a place called the Movie Tavern, which also serves food. The seats are really big and there’s a lot of space which is nice too.
Kelsey Albert says
I’m not really into Marvel movies so I didn’t even know this was the next one in line! lol But! I love the detailed review and overall 8.5/10 rating! Maybe I will have to see this one…
I thought this was a really good one! And it felt a bit different than other Marvel movies so even if you’re not a huge fan you might like it!