Scarlett Johansson’s Avenger Takes a Lethal Final Bow for Marvel
DIRECTED BY CATE SHORTLAND/2021
Cinematically speaking, the summer of 2021 may be remembered as the summer of resurfaced siblings. The season’s prior blockbuster, F9: The Fast Saga saw the heretofore unmentioned brother (played by John Cena) of Vin Diesel’s Toretto turn up with a chip on his shoulder. Now, in Marvel’s long-awaited Black Widow, we learn that Natasha Romanov had a little sister (Florence Pugh) who is now back and looking for a piece of the action.
It must be stated, however, that the former is considerably more ridiculous than the latter. In the case of Black Widow, we have a lead character (played, of course, by Scarlett Johansson) who’s been actively looking to suppress her own tortured past. In this new film, which takes place several years prior to her cosmic fate witnessed in Avengers: Endgame, we learn quite a bit about that past, and about the top-secret Russian “Widow” program that initially groomed her to into a lethal warrior. We also learn that Little Sister was also a part of the same program, by then intensified with full-blown mind control.
F9 and Black Widow also share, among other things, a fixation on notions of found families. For Natasha, she comes to realize that her association with The Avengers (often discussed, never seen) is her own surrogate family. But there was once another family in her life, one considerably less heroic. It’s this “family” and its considerable and unique baggage, that is the focal point of Black Widow.
Making her very promising Marvel Cinematic Universe debut is Florence Pugh (Little Women) as the aforementioned little sister, Yelena Belova. Yelena, freed from her mental enslavement to the program and its diabolical leader (Ray Winstone), teams up with Natasha to liberate other Widow assassins. Along the way, they are reunited with their surrogate parents, who also find reason to suit up. David Harbour (Stranger Things) as the overweight Russian superhero Red Guardian provides much of the film’s considerably decreased (by MCU standards) lighthearted moments. Rachel Weisz is terrific as yet another Widow operative, Melina Vostokoff.
Finally giving Scarlett Johansson’s venerable hero her cinematic due, Black Widow does much to flesh out her backstory with appropriate dramatic weight. There is, however, reason to find the film’s brainwashed assassins plot rather uninspired. That said, Scarlett Johansson spares nothing in making her extended MCU curtain call resonate for all it’s worth. Black Widow sets the stage for the future of the Black Widow female operative concept, particularly with Pugh’s promising young character. Directed with dark panache by Australian director Cate Shortland, it should be noted that Black Widow lands with a hard PG-13, rife with moments that may prove too intense for younger viewers.
For multiple reasons, there’s a better-late-than-never inevitably about this long-delayed and even longer requested MCU outing. While no fan of the overall Marvel franchise will want to miss Black Widow, and the big screen is by far ideal, one can imagine this film experience would not be left wanting for much if experienced via Disney+. This espionage action/drama is not without scope and has plenty of well-staged fight scenes but can’t help but register as middling MCU. But don’t be surprised if it resonates in the consciousness, slowly reminding us that freedom from inflicted trauma is possible, and that found family and sisterhood can still be tightknit.