“Black Widow” (Rated T)
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour
Where to watch: In theaters/ Disney+ Premier Access
There’s no need for me to run on much here; you’ve likely already made up your mind.
As we’ve been hearing about this project for more than a decade, you probably decided years ago whether you’re interested in watching “Black Widow”, the latest film involving the origin story of a Marvel character.
We’ve been watching Scarlett Johansson as Black Panther, aka Natasha Romanoff, in numerous pictures, including “Iron Man 2” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, and especially “The Avengers” and all its sequels, and the many other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films that had these characters crossing over so much between various origin flicks and sequels and prequels that it would make your head spin.
And more than likely, you know “Black Widow” is a prequel, as you likely recall what happened to Black Window after “Avengers: Endgame”. (If you’re one of the three people who didn’t watch that movie, I won’t spoil it for you – other than to say the name kinda says it all.)
So, here we go, back to the past, to see how young Natasha Romanoff became the Black Widow. Along the way, she confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy, and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.
Most of the action takes place in the time period just after the Avengers broke off into warring factions in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”, and before Thanos causes all heck to break loose in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018).
As an action film, we get a lot of the usual: a wacky villain hoping to do something mindbogglingly stupid to the world, and scenes of massive destruction with staggering amounts of property damage in cities all over the world. We also get copious unnecessary and protracted fights designed to showcase just how tough all these folks are. And everybody’s afflicted by the invincibility scourge sweeping through today’s action flicks. Nobody gets really hurt at all – not by getting stabbed with a knife, shot by a gun, hit by a vehicle, falling off a multi-story building, falling out of the sky – nada!
But hey, as opposed to movies about a makeshift family of car racing criminals turned crime fighters (looking at you, you know who!), it’s easier to accept these shenanigans in a movie in which there are actual “superheroes” and exceptional beings.
What makes “Black Widow” watchable and stand out over the typical action movie, though, is the back story, the characters and the performances.
Johansson could deliver an Oscar-caliber performance while half-asleep and reading the phone directory. She’s a proven and credible action star, and gets to combine this with her well-established drama talents, in what is, at times, a surprisingly sweet family drama.
She’s surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, including Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Emmy nominee David Harbour (“Stranger Things”). And she’s got palpable chemistry with actor O.T. Fagbenle, who plays an agent who supplies Black Widow with a lot of her special equipment.
But even beyond Johansson, the real joy (and the real reason to watch!) comes from British actress Florence Pugh. The 25-year old Oscar nominee (last year’s “Little Women”) steals the entire movie. In every scene, her humor and sarcasm, an intoxicating “Russian” accent, and her badass-with-a-heart spirit, is simply enthralling.
Additionally, Director Cate Shortland and Screenwriter Eric Pearson have subtly crafted a female empowerment tale that may actually be more effective than what we saw overtly in “Wonder Woman” or “Captain Marvel”.
(Also, look out for The Bahamas cameo – even if we’re standing in for another country.)
With their fun blends of action, adventure and humor, most – but not all – of the previous origin Marvel stories have been “interesting”, with “Iron Man” and “Black Panther” being arguably among the most memorable and successful examples. But it’s the sequels that have often presented the most challenges and concerns.
However, “Avengers: End Game” marked a turning point for the MCU, which has now entered Phase Four. And many of the “follow-ups” won’t be on the big screen. While “Black Widow” is the first of the theatrical releases as part of this new era, Phase Four actually began with the Disney+ television series critically-praised “WandaVision”. And quite a few more TV series are in the pipeline.
With “WandaVision” just this week earning a whopping 23 Emmy nominations, the third most of any series this year, and with a very intriguing extra scene at the very end of the seemingly endless credits of “Black Widow”, and based on what I’ve seen here, I’ve already made up my mind – I can’t wait!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.