If you don’t want to read my entire review, here is my three-word review of Black Widow, which finally arrived in theaters: Florence freaking Pugh.
If you don’t want to read my entire review, but want more than five words, here’s an extra word to make four: Top five Marvel film.
Yeah, I said it!
Before I get into it, I just have to say, Black Widow was the first time in gosh, 17 months? Maybe more? That it felt like the movies were truly, finally back because the theater on Thursday evening was largely packed! It almost made me cry at the beauty of it.
Black Widow follows Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson), who is on a quest between the films Civil War and Infinity War — that is, when the Avengers are split and some, like Black Widow, are on the run, and when she dies in Infinity War — to kill the original person behind her Black Widow status, General Dreykov, the head of the nefarious Red Room.
The film opens in 1995 with Natasha and her “sister,” Yelena Belova, also later a Black Widow (played by Pugh), running around in Ohio. Ohio! Unfortunately, at least in the perspective of Alexei Shostakov, aka Red Guardian, aka the Soviet Union counterpart to Captain America (played by David Harbor), who was stationed there as a spy, Ohio represented the worst assignment. Harbour was awesome in this role. He was hilarious, particularly in how he felt overshadowed by Captain America.
Anyhow, Alexei and his “wife” Melina Vostokoff, also a Black Widow (played by Rachel Weisz, who I think might be a vampire instead of a black widow due to her agelessness), take the two children and flee from Ohio. I loved the action sequence that ensued with Red Guardian trying to fight off the cops WHILE ON THE WING OF A SMALL PLANE. And then when the family gets to Cuba, I loved Natasha instinctively defending her “sister” against the thugs there. That was cool.
After that, we get an incredible title sequence of Cold War-like images with a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Malia J, which I’ve already listened to 30 times this morning:
Yelena is able to break out of her mind control at the hands of Dreykov, thanks to an antidote and eventually joins forces with Natasha. Their chemistry and dynamic is a show-stealer. It makes the entire movie. The action and story throughout are stellar, but the most memorable part for me will be these two’s chemistry. Top notch.
Pugh has been someone on my radar since watching Fighting with My Family, Midsommar and Little Women, all of which came out in 2019. She was incredible in each, all completely different roles. Extraordinary break-through year for Pugh, so it was a bummer that her break-through was sidelined throughout 2020 obviously.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, Johansson is great and born to play Natasha, but Pugh doesn’t seem out of place in the slightest as her sister. She also brought a lot of comedic relief, including mimicking Black Widow’s famed pose and poking fun at her Avengers fame.
I thought the villains in this film were exceptional. First, Dreykov was such a piece of crap you wanted to see get his comeuppance. The way he was controlling women. One of the most bad-ass scenes in the entire film is when Natasha breaks her nose to sever her smelling of Dreykov (that’s how he was controlling her up close) so she could pound his face in.
Then there was Antonia Dreykov, aka Taskmaster (played by Olga Kurylenko), who is Dreykov’s daughter and reformulated into basically an amalgamation of every superhero she’s fought against. She seems part Captain America, part Iron Man, part Winter Soldier, part Spider-Man, and comes across as nearly unstoppable. She kicks Red Guardian’s butt until Melina saves him.
One of the most exhilarating action sequences in the film comes toward the end when Natasha is battling people while falling off the Red Room structure in the sky and then diving fast toward the Earth to save Yelena.
I spoke about the beauty of the nearly-packed movie theater coming back, and another thing I find so lovely is how Marvel has trained a generation of movie-goers to stay through the credits. That happened here, of course. And I popped big for the appearance of Julia Louis-Dreyfus! She’s the handler for Yelena and wants Yelena to go after the person she flags for Natasha’s death, Hawkeye!
The only outstanding question I have is, why didn’t Yelena come help Natasha to fight Thanos? Thanos wasn’t just a global threat; he was a universal threat. I’ll be curious to see that explained, if at all.
In any event, Black Widow hit all the right buttons for me from acting, characterization, action, soundtrack and everything in between. The film has a runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes and I swear it felt like it went by in 14 minutes.
The only bittersweet aspect of the film is that given the after-credits scene, it seems like we won’t be getting anymore Natasha-focused Black Widow films. It looks like a one-and-done deal. Instead, the next film will focus on Yelena going after Hawkeye, which is the sweet part of “bittersweet,” because that sounds awesome! I’m happy for Pugh.
For those wondering, off the top of my head, the other four films in that “top five Marvel films” list would be, in no particular order: Infinity War, Iron Man, Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy.