Well… it’s been a minute, eh? Turns out a global pandemic brought the movie industry to a halt, and although we had a smattering of streaming options along the way, I chose to wait until the movies were back before I started reviewing again. Technically, this isn’t the first movie I’ve seen in the theaters since I was able to safely return, but it’s the first MOVIE, if you know what I mean.
Look, I’m an MCU fanboy shill. Let’s just be honest. I haven’t hated a single MCU movie, not even Thor: The Dark World (though it was easily the worst of the lot). I realize this track record may make it hard to take my opinion on an MCU movie entirely at face value. But based on some early reviews from my most trusted critics, I was worried, y’all. I went into Black Widow expecting it to be a disappointment, and you won’t have to look far to find a critic who thinks that. But I’m not one of those people. I loved Black Widow, and I highly recommend it.
The stakes are small, sure. You know Natasha’s gonna live (since the movie is set after Civil War and before Endgame). But until Endgame, I would have argued that knowing the hero will survive is just par for the course. We almost always know that going into a movie, so it’s hardly a argument that detracts from what Black Widow has to offer. So don’t think that just because this movie is set between a start and endpoint we already know that it means it won’t be exciting. She’s a spy, and this movie is an action spy movie, as it should be. Natasha doesn’t have superpowers (though I’m pretty sure she consistently defies the laws of physics), so things don’t get too crazy, but they get just crazy enough to remind you we’re dealing in superheroes here.
Really, though, it’s not the action that brings this one home–it’s the characters. Both Florence Pugh as Yelena and David Harbour as Alexei/Red Guardian absolutely steal the show. There were times when I forgot Black Widow was even in the movie because I was so taken with those two. Part of that is because both serve to provide a constant stream of comic relief, but also a mirror on Natasha’s life; the life she had before defecting to the Avengers. And that’s key to this story. To us, she’s a hero, but to them, she’s a traitor. The movie felt short because I simply didn’t get enough time with either Yelena or Alexei.
There’s also the villains. They’re fine. Nothing to write home about. Taskmaster is a popular character to comic fans, but I don’t have any particular attachment to him. They certainly took a different route here that seemed natural to the story, even if it did venture far from the comic origins of the character. Taskmaster’s whole deal is that he can mimic the fighting styles of those he’s studied, and it was pretty fun watching him tick through moves we’ve seen from such heroes as Captain America, The Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and even Black Panther. A lot of them are so subtle that I didn’t even pick up on’em until I watched a YouTube video.
Black Widow has been around in the MCU since Iron Man 2, yet never really allowed the spotlight. It’s nice to see her get it, and in such a personal story. Unlike some other Marvel movies, it is nice that we know exactly why she has to go at this one alone. There’s never the question of “Why didn’t Iron Man help?” because we know exactly why. The Avengers have just split up, with some in jail, some on the run, and some under the thumb of the Sokovia Accords. This small place in time allows for a more total immersion into the story that I appreciated.
Some may say this is too little, too late. And I do agree Black Widow deserved her own movie before now, but this is what we got and I’m entirely pleased with it. It’s hard to top the more recent team-up movies we’ve gotten, but if you compare this movie to other Marvel solo films, it holds up quite well. I’m eager to watch it again, and even more eager to see some of the characters make their way into other areas of the MCU. The post-credits scene certainly teases a big one.
So, is Black Widow good or have I just missed the movies? Probably some of both, to be sure, but I think Black Widow is one of Marvel’s most personal stories with a quick, coherent plot, great characters, and a beautiful coda to Natasha Romanoff’s decade long journey through the MCU. If you like Marvel movies at all, you’ll like this one.
Should you watch it? Yes (if it’s safe in your area)
Should you take your kids? It’s standard Marvel action, with a few cringe-inducing fights. Red Guardian is a brawler, and the movie doesn’t shy away from the consequences of a super soldier punching people.
What you should watch first: You could probably go into this blind, but the more you know about Black Widow, the better. If you haven’t watched all the movies she’s in, checkout the Marvel Legends episode about her on Disney+.