Today I’m going to be looking at black widow directed by Kate Shortland. For fans of Natasha Romanov this film is a long time coming. It suffers from its awkward positioning in the MCU timeline. So, hold your spider and hear me out.
Black Widow (2021) Film Review
This will be spoiler free but i will be referencing things revealed in the promotional material and in other MCU films. This film follows Natasha Romanov aka black widow who goes into hiding after the events of captain America civil war. Whilst in hiding she gets a package from her estranged younger sister Elena. This leads to a reunion of the family.
Natasha had before her avenger’s family they concocted a plan to take down the secret soviet program called red room, which trains young girls to become super spies also known as the black widow program.
This film’s release is both a year late because of the pandemic and five years late relative to the rest of the films. In the MCU timeline this is problematic because audiences know that Natasha has to survive the events of this film.
In order to feature in the other films and this means that all of the action lacks suspense because it is not life-threatening. In other words, it suffers the f9 problem where characters are too important to die.
In the case of the namesake of the problem fast and furious 9 there are even some characters that are so important that they are brought back to life.
Thankfully black widows steered clear of that level of ridiculousness and kept events in the past rather than trying to resurrect the hero. That said her immunity did mean that the action sequences had to be impactful in different ways. Relying heavily on the choreography, the cinematography editing and sound design to make the action less predictable and more engrossing in some cases.
They succeeded such as when Natasha fights Elena. This fight had a captivating pace to it. A palpable momentum fuelled by the Foley work which gave each of their hits real force.
They were less successful with taskmaster a villain who mimics the fighting style of his enemy. This trait has the potential for some pretty epic fights.
Unfortunately, all of taskmaster’s fights felt cut short. He uses Hawkeye’s bow once. Then Natasha and Elena escape he gets his black panther claws out. The scene cuts to something else during his and Natasha’s first fight.
He gets maybe 10 seconds of imitating her move for move and that’s it. There are a few captain America shield throws that are pretty good but again every single fight sequence ends with an anti-climax.
There is hope for taskmaster though without spoiling the twist. He is given the ability to appear in future MCU films and potentially have more impact. He is not the only character set up to do this more obviously.
Elena is set up as being the new black widow and in many ways, she is the more interesting and more important character within this film. Certainly, a lot of questions raised about Natasha’s past within the other MCU films are answered here.
What happened in Budapest who are her parents and what events led to her being recruited by shield. Simultaneously whilst these questions are being answered.
We are being given Elena’s origin story which although interlinked with her sister’s journey has a lot of its own nuance and intrigue. It is nice to see an MCU film that is firmly female-led. But to say that this is the standalone film that black widow deserved is an overstatement considering the far more personal and meaningful films that the other avengers have had.
In fact, anything potentially upsetting about Natasha’s past is quickly deflected with humor. In particular anything to do with the red room program at one point. Elena casually mentions that she had to have an involuntary hysterectomy and the way that the dialogue is written means that it’s delivered as if she’s telling a toilet joke.
She is a funny character and she definitely uses humor to overcome this past trauma. This humor needed to be balanced with moments where she accesses that trauma more honestly and painfully.
This almost happens during the family reunion but her surrogate father Alexei stops that moment and quickly once again deflected with humor. Though this suited his character it did ruin this moment that had the potential for some really great character growth.
Furthermore, it is revealed that Natasha did something bad in her past but this is ultimately resolved and her character is redeemed. I think this really did a disservice to the character. The action showed that heroes are not perfect and they can make mistakes and learn from them.
This was a shame especially considering the choice of director for this film Kate Shortland has previously made a name for herself on the festival circuit with her films somersault Lotte and berlin syndrome.
They all show a sensitivity to presenting trauma in an authentic way with the focus being on the female experience. In this respect she is a perfect fit for black widow but it feels like the script undermines most of what makes this character a product of her past and doesn’t allow the director or the actors to really delve into.
This is not a film out to show the brutal history of the real-life soviet spies, the sparrows who formed the bases of the black widows. For that you’d be better off watching the fairly decent Jennifer Lawrence film red sparrow.
No, this film is made to be entertaining. It fills a gap in the MCU timeline for one of the main characters within the universe. It is not out to unpack her childhood trauma and dare.
I say it also steers firmly clear away of anything remotely reminiscent of its competitor DC and their signature requisite darkness.
I did enjoy the humor which for the most part landed very well. If you treat this film as a light-hearted action about two sisters reconnecting with each other.
In order to save their brainwashed comrades. Black widow delivers the sisters have a really enjoyable dynamic with Elena as the younger fun sister and Natasha is the older and more serious one.
I enjoyed the performances from both actresses and look forward to seeing more of Florence pew. I also thoroughly enjoyed David harbour and Rachel vice as the two surrogate parents.
I would have loved to see them utilized a bit more. I think my favorite moment of the film is when Elena makes fun of Natasha’s hero pose. It was this perfect moment of playful satire bringing attention to a historically cliché feature of the genre.
It also just made me appreciate how far superhero films have come in the last decade. Nowadays the expectations are very high for what a film in this genre should deliver. My point is black widow is by no means a bad superhero film. Though it may not occupy a very important place within the MCU timeline.
It is important in showcasing a female superhero two of them. In fact, for young girls to look up to overall black widow serves up an entertaining story about a unique family reunion with ample helpings of humor and action.
It is less concerned with developing the villains and instead focuses on being a poignant farewell to a beloved hero and a great introduction to a new one.