by Ian Morton
Black Widow marks the long awaited return of the MCU since Spiderman: Far From Home in 2019 and while Marvel machine keeps moving with the plethora of TV series, the latest film in the franchise is a look back at the titular hero, even if it comes a little too late to make any grand changes to the wider universe.
Set somewhere between Civil War and Infinity War, Black Widow delves into the past of Avenger Natasha Romanoff, unpacking the mysterious legacy behind the character and exploring the jump from ruthless assassin to Shield agent. At the start of the film Romanoff is on the run from Thadeus Ross (William Hurt), the military man at the front of the Sokovia Accords but just as she starts finding her place of peace, our heroine receives a message from her sister that draws her back to a time before Shield, confront her forgotten family and challenge a haunted past involving the infamous Red Room.
Much like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s clear to see where the film draws its influences, even if it’s only a somewhat surface exploration into the back story of one of Marvel’s most mysterious characters. Tentpole espionage films are pasted all over the place with our hero at one point literally watching a Bond movie, an irony not lost on the audience and one that sets a solid tone for the rest of the film to follow. Director Cate Shortland is no stranger to this style of storytelling – 2017’s Berlin Syndrome will leave you on edge – and her skills are once again utilised here to full effect in creating a solid atmosphere and shaping the scene.
You would assume that being indoctrinated at a young age into a Russian training program would be rife with content to explore, whether you go down the route of 2018’s Red Sparrow, starring Jennifer Lawrence or The Bourne franchises infamous Treadstone experiments, there are many directions you can go, but instead Marvel keeps things on theme by exploring dysfunctional family dynamics within a spy cell – it is Disney after all. While it may seem like a strange approach, it makes sense when you look at the wider Marvel narrative, in an effort to sidestep potentially plagiarising CA: The Winter Soldier, it’s a clever option to push, setting itself apart from what has been before while also giving time to one of the forgotten Avengers.
Luckily for the film, this on-screen family, while dysfunctional, has an immense chemistry that instantly gets you involved in their plight. Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) is Widow’s little sister, a wet behind the ears assassin desperate to be part of her older sisters life and scorned at being left behind, Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), the genius mother figure behind the pair is great as the matriarch and Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), the warm-hearted super soldier is the loving buffoon of a father figure. Together, there is a warmth to their performance that is believable, almost anti-Incredibles that carries on the basic familial formula that has made the Marvel universe so successful in the process.
Now where Black Widow sits in terms of the wider canon is anyone’s guess; it’s a well rounded, enjoyable feature that is easily worth the entrance fee and even worthy of a sequel, but it feels a little lost now that the series has gone into space. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have had a Black Widow movie nearly a decade ago and this proves it would have worked, particularly when you consider just so-so the first two Thor films were received – let’s hope Marvel don’t make this kind of oversight again.
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