Black Widow: Entertains But Doesn’t Dazzle

Black Widow actresses Scarlett Johannson & Florence Pugh as Natasha Romanoff & Yelena

Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland with the story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson and the screenplay by Eric Pearson, lacks the flow and magnetism of earlier Marvel outings. At over 2 hours long, the film is bloated with unnecessary scenes, meant to give Scarlett Johannson as Natasha Romanoff a proper sendoff. They also want to drive home the themes of family and sisterhood. We have the Fast & Furious franchise for the latter. That is not to say the film doesn’t have bright spots, just that the first half of the film drags. The second half is when the action and story truly become engaging. The film is good but faces pacing issues.   

The First Half Drags

The film begins with some back story when Natasha was younger with her manufactured family. Then the movie fast forwards to after the events in Captain America: Civil War. Here Natasha feels adrift, the Avenger family she thought she had is fractured, and she is on the lam. Unfortunately, the film feels flat because it’s coming out after Avengers: Endgame, and we already know Natasha Romanoff’s ultimate fate.

The first half is mostly Natasha Romanoff traveling and getting criticized for having no friends. They just drive the point home too much, and the runtime could be shorter. The fights are amazing but stretch believability. It was easier to believe the other Avengers’ abilities because they were more than human. Natasha has no magic, no god abilities, no super suit—compared to Tony Stark. But the action is still impressive in the latter half of the film. 

The Lead Doesn’t Stand Out But Other Stars Shine Bright

The acting is stellar, but Scarlet Johannson giving one of the least memorable performances. Everyone outshines her. David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov is hilarious. Although some of the jokes felt flat at the beginning, he becomes funnier as the film progresses. Not sure if that’s because of improvement or some Marvel form of Stockholm syndrome. The jokes about people’s weight are also tired. They made fun of Thor’s weight in Endgame, and it wasn’t funny then or now. It’s one of the grossest parts of both films. 

Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Alexei (David Harbour) and Yelena (Florence Pugh). Alexei is holding Black Widow and Yelena's wrists.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson), Alexei (David Harbour) and Yelena (Florence Pugh). Photo by Jay Maidment Courtesy of Disney

The relationship between Alexei Shostakov and his wife-not wife, Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), is primarily adorable, though gross for their daughters Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Florence Pugh also does a great job as the younger sibling who logically understands the family is not real but is pained nonetheless because, as a child, it felt real.  Rachel Weisz conveys both strength and vulnerability with her job and family. 

Particularly fascinating are her character and Florence Pugh’s considering how long they were still trapped and controlled, with Rachel Weisz’s Melina not even realizing that she could have chose. Society teaches us as children that we have limits. Then, as adults, we go on to limit ourselves based on those lessons. As such, sometimes it takes a younger generation to break all of us free.

Dialogue Feels Forced In Villains vs. Heroes

Conversations are mostly hilarious, especially between our heroes. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue from the villain feels straight out of an old comic book. You could picture a maniacal laugh following each statement. The villains are uninspiring. The message of freedom is impactful. It’s just unfortunate that dialogue doesn’t do it justice. It feels too on the nose, and the essence of the film could’ve spoken for itself. It’s as though the dialogue weakens the message of girl power and rising against the patriarchy. 

Black Widow is worth a view. However, it would’ve been better had the movie come out after Civil War or even after Avengers: Infinity War. Because knowing Natasha Romanoff’s fate deflates the film before it starts, as does the excessive runtime. They are trying to remind us why Natasha is a favorite. Many people do not need the reminder. Nevertheless, there is enough to entertain thanks to Pugh, Harbour, and Weisz as well as the magnificent action sequences.

Feature Photo by Jay Maidment/courtesy of Disney

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