Words: Joey Passmore; pictures: Marvel Studios/Disney
As the sole female on the original avenging team, Natasha Romanoff started out as one of Marvel Cinematic Universe's most popular characters, particularly with female and LGBTQ fans.
But as time went on and newer (particularly non-male) heroes were introduced, the OG poster girl for Marvel girl power started to feel a little left behind. More screen time, more detailed backstories, and more exciting superpowers meant fans began to cheer on the likes of Wanda, Gamora, and Captain Marvel instead.
Black Widow’s death in Avengers: Endgame came at a point where it felt as if viewers had somewhat outgrown her, which was partly down to writers seemingly not knowing what to do with her anymore. A shame given Natasha did have her handful of iconic moments and still lots of unlocked potential.
Whispers of a Black Widow solo movie had been doing the rounds for years, so finally giving Natasha her long-overdue solo movie 11 years after her first appearance and two years after her death is a strange choice, especially at a point where so many new and exciting things are happening in the MCU. But is the film good enough to warrant this very late entry?
Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow (Photo: Marvel Studios/Disney)
Thankfully, a lot of Natasha’s past highlights came from 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which Black Widow shares more of its DNA with than any other superhero film. But really, this probably feels less like a Marvel film than most of what we have seen up until now. The franchise already knocked it out of the park once this year with the riveting and unique debut Disney+ show, WandaVision.
But there is no magic here. No time travel or big monsters or visits to outer space. Black Widow is a much more insular movie that feels like more of a female-lead James Bond than anything Avengers. And thanks to director Cate Shortland’s (The Secret Life of Us and Lore) deft vision, it really works. The action sequences are dynamic, exciting, and brilliantly choreographed. And despite a slightly slower first act, it soon picks up pace and brings us to a thrilling and rewarding climax.
Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow (Photo: Marvel Studios / Disney)
The main overarching issue here is the fact that the leading character is, as mentioned already, well… dead and (not really) buried. It makes the overall stakes feel a little lower than they could have been, as there is no logical reason why this story could not have been told five years earlier (specifically between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, when it is set). Having this film in sequence would have made it even more exhilarating and would have made Natasha’s death in Endgame far more hard-hitting. It does, however, set up Marvel’s newest recruit, Yelena (Natasha’s sister, played by the always scene-stealing Florence Pugh), for a hopefully exciting future in the MCU.
Florence Pugh in Black Widow (Photo: Marvel Studios / Disney)
The rest of the casting is also pitch-perfect. Rachel Weisz and David Harbour do not waste a single moment of screen time as Romanoff’s bumbling super-spy mother and father figures. And although Pugh’s Yelena is bound to be an instant fan-favourite, it does not take away from Scarlett Johansson’s performance, which is the emotional glue that holds everything together in an adventure that has a surprising amount of tenderness without ever feeling too corny.
There is no good reason why we got even two Ant-Man movies before a solo chapter for Natasha, but although this is a badly timed entry into the series, it still works. It is heaps of fun with tonnes of action and its own strong identity. Even though it sadly does not have a huge amount of competition, Black Widow is easily one of the best and most satisfying female-lead superhero movies ever.
If you have the opportunity to see this on the big screen, do. Marvel and especially Black Widow fans won't be disappointed.
Black Widow is in cinemas 7 July 201 and will be streaming with Disney+ premier access from 9 July.
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