After more than a decade of largely ignoring Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow, Marvel finally decided to give her a solo movie. The fact that it came out after the character had died in Avengers: Endgame (2019) made the whole thing seem pointless. But, at least Natasha was finally getting her movie. It would be a nice way to say goodbye to a beloved character. Better late than never, right? Well, wrong. What seemed like a farewell has in fact turned out to be nothing more than a platform to ruthlessly move the Marvel machine forward. Black Widow is dead. Bye bye. Please welcome Yelena Belova.
Yelena, Natasha's "sister" and fellow ex-Widow operative, is played by the supremely talented Florence Pugh. It is a half-baked character, but Pugh, 25, once again showed her calibre by almost salvaging it. The end credits scene has made it clear that the character will have a role to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) going forward. And that is the only takeaway from this movie. It is rather anticlimactic, given that, going into the movie, the only real pull, and what Marvel was most definitely banking on, was the chance to see Scarlett Johansson play the character she made iconic for one last time.
Of course, there was the possibility that she could be brought back; especially with the multiverse now set to dominate proceedings. But, that is now seeming next to impossible as Johansson and Disney are parting ways with a high-profile lawsuit. So, what seems certain to be Johansson's last appearance as the Black Widow, is also, arguably, her worst. The character was established in bits and parts over a decade, but, perhaps unexpectedly, rose to prominence. This meant that the solo movie had a strong platform, but this was completely wasted.
Johansson did justice to her role, but the weak writing greatly diminishes the impact of her performance. Ray Winstone, known for his hard man roles, was an interesting choice as the villian. Although he manages to bring his cold, puppeteer character to life, he seemed to struggle a bit with a Russian accent. The prominent supporting characters, portrayed by Rachel Weisz, David Harbour and former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, are largely forgettable. Pugh stealing Johansson's thunder was perhaps how the makers planned it, but it still felt odd.
The humour seems forced, almost as if someone remembered late that comedy was a vital part of the Marvel formula and shoehorned utterly uninspiring jokes into the script. But, one scene where Yelena jokes about how the Widows are sterilised, delving into the excruciating details, catches you off guard. The topic was handled with great sensitivity in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). And the approach here could have gone horribly wrong. But, somehow, perhaps because the director was a woman, it does not stick out too much.
The action is, at times, breathtaking. But, it is also disappointingly similar to things seen in movies such as the Bourne series. Perhaps the similarity to spy movies was because Black Widow reverted to being just a spy and assassin in this movie and not an Avenger. Although, the movie mentions her Avenger-status an irritating number of times. Fans cannot be blamed if they shout at the screen: "We know she is an Avenger." Some of the action set pieces would have benefited from being seen on the big screen.
Overall, Black Widow does a job for Marvel, as a messy passing of the torch to Pugh's Yelena. It does not do justice to Johansson's Natasha Romanoff and is a disappointing conclusion to the story of the only woman among the original Avengers. At the end of the movie, set after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), as Black Widow gets ready to go save some of her fellow Avengers from imprisonment, it just feels like that is when this movie should have been made. One can only hope that the women are treated better in the future, now that Marvel knows that female-led projects can also make money for it.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone
Director: Cate Shortland