It’s been a minute since I’ve written a review so what better film to come back to than the latest entry in the biggest film franchise in the history of the universe, the MCU. On a side note, keep an eye out for our next podcast, where Tuaine and I rank the 23 films preceding this one.
But enough chit-chat. The MCU finds itself at a point that it hasn’t been since it’s inception; a crossroads if you will. Since Endgame, and the demise of Thanos, the opportunity is there for Kevin Feige and his cohorts to go in any direction they want to. One of the biggest, and most legitimate complaints about the films in the MCU is that they became quite formulaic. So with a chance to “reset the formula”, Marvel have to take it, don’t they? The films still make a ton of money, but you can only do the same thing over and over again so many times before people get sick of it.
The so-far-announced films of Phase four seem to tell us that yes, Marvel are taking the chance to go in a different direction. With new entries like Shang-Chi and Eternals, as well as upcoming sequels from Spider-Man and Doctor Strange seemingly leaning into the cosmic side of things, all signs point to an exciting new direction. But did they start the trend with Black Widow?
Short answer; no. This feels very much like your typical MCU film. There are great action scenes, hit or miss one-liners and a villain that should’ve been a bigger deal. If you are unfamiliar, this film is set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Black Widow is on the run from Thaddeus Ross after she went against the Sokovia Accords by assisting Cap in Civil War. Her being in hiding leads to some events and the introduction of an iconic Marvel villain with a unique twist, and eventually she lands back with her family in Russia.
Now, before I go any further, allow me to address the elephant in the room. This is not a spoiler unless you haven’t seen the trailer, but this film brings about the introduction of Taskmaster into the MCU. Now, in the comics, Taskmaster is an iconic villain, appearing in some of the biggest storyline arcs in all of Marvel Comics. They are also a beloved character, so I will give Marvel credit for being willing to take a risk and try something different. Did it work for me? Not really. I won’t reveal who the character is, but I thought that part worked, and they were a part of some solid fight scenes. But I guess I just wanted more. It feels lackluster, and a bit of a waste.
Speaking of action sequences, there are some great ones in here, my personal favourite being a prison break sequence that involves a helicopter, rappelling and an avalanche. The family dynamic between Natasha and her family is pretty good. Rachel Weisz and David Harbor do a good job, the latter basically being comic relief, but the standout for me is Florence Pugh as Yelena Bolova. She gets the best lines of dialogue (but also the worst; a quip about how the Widows have their reproductive organs removed at a young age…not the best time for a quip) and holds her own in her action scenes.
I think there are two big, big flaws with this film. The first is that, because this is set in the past and we know Black Widow makes it to Infinity War, we know she will survive any and everything in this. This means there are no stakes. Like, for the most part, the superheroes survive their films, but there is always that 1% chance where you can be like “holy shit, are they gonna kill of this hero,” but that’s not possible here. It’s a shame as it wastes some genuinely tense scenes.
The second big flaw is that this plays it so, so safe, with the exception of Taskmaster. The stuff I was talking about up top with them going in a new direction, doesn’t happen here. They took the script for this, jammed it in the MCU formula machine and spat out a familiar-feeling movie. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it is certainly a wasted opportunity.