Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone
It took seven previous movies for two-time Oscar nominee Scarlett Johansson, playing Natasha Romanoff, dying in the most recent Avengers film, and the #MeToo movement, to get her own Black Widow film. The male superheroes are on their third (Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man) or even fourth (Thor) stand-alone flick. In her eighth and final outing as the character, Johansson, also an executive producer, proves that a stand-alone “Black Widow” film is every bit the equal to other Marvel films: too long, repetitive, action-packed and forgettable. The prequel gives Romanoff a complete arc and backstory, while expecting audiences to either refresh before viewing or remember previous Marvel films to understand the post-“Captain America: Civil War” timeline. Black Widow’s name might be on the poster. It’s Oscar-nominee Florence Pugh (“Little Women,” “Midsommar”), however, who infuses the superhero movie with its most entertaining elements.
When Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) allows Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes to escape during a civil war between The Avengers, her actions to aid one friend while going against another lead her into exile. Her time away from The Avengers team isn’t a vacation, as her past needs her expert skill set. The Widows program that Romanoff thought was destroyed is still extremely active. Her sister, child assassin Yelena Belova (Pugh), reaches out for aid in dismantling the operation that continues to rob so many young girls of their childhood. Their violent reunion is bittersweet as they search for fake parents Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), who are the links to stopping Widows mastermind Dreykov (Ray Winstone).
Pugh’s comedic wit and snarky behavior isn’t unlike her performance in “Little Women,” but it’s revived with great success.
Much of the film’s first 30 minutes is trying to figure out the timeline and where these events are supposed to take place. “Black Widow” throws hints, but for those of us who passively watch these movies a single time, it isn’t quite enough. Once you get caught up and Pugh and Johansson share the screen together, the film starts to work. Pugh’s comedic wit and snarky behavior isn’t unlike her performance in “Little Women,” but it’s revived with great success. Pugh even manages to make fallopian tubes hilarious. This is an action film, however, and while most of the scenes are certainly on par with a Marvel-sized movie, there are no battles, fight sequences or set pieces that feel original with the excess of superhero movies.
“Black Widow” is no “Logan,” as director Cate Shortland’s vision for this film is adequate but never takes cinematic risks — or isn’t allowed by the powers that be. Disney+’s decision to release the film on streaming will further deplete its effectiveness, as big-budget action sequences are designed for large screens with great sound — just don’t go to Regal Edwards Greenway looking for great sound if you are in the Houston area. The prestige of having Johansson, Weisz and Pugh on screen together carries more weight than the fighting or explosions. “Black Widow” never once feels like an action film that’s been reformatted to include more female characters, and that’s props for the writers and Shortland.
It’s Scarlett Johansson’s movie, but Florence Pugh steals the show.