MOVIE REVIEW: Belated “Black Widow” Marks Marvel’s Return To The Movies ★★★☆☆

Better late than never?

Eleven years after her introduction in Iron Man 2 and two years after being killed off in Avengers: Endgame, Scarlett Johannson’s Natasha Romanoff finally makes her solo debut in Black Widow  or, “How Marvel Learned to Stop Worrying and Make a Female Jason Bourne.”

Continuity-wise, Black Widow is sandwiched between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War and traces Natasha Romanoff’s life as a fugitive following the Avengers’ disbandment. But when unexpected circumstances strike, Natasha is forced to reconcile with her estranged family and tie up a loose end relating to her past as a top-secret KGB assassin.

Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz compose Johansson’s onscreen family and prove the narrative glue holding together an otherwise boilerplate superhero flick. Harbour, in particular, emerged as a highlight for me — I found him immensely entertaining as a past-his-prime, defunct Soviet-era answer to Captain America. Pugh and Weisz are likewise enjoyable and form a fun dynamic (which is encouraging, as the former is clearly being groomed to be a Marvel mainstay).

The biggest problem to be found within Black Widow (save for a smattering of egregious deus ex machina in the third act) is its maintaining of Marvel’s typically breezy, inconsequential thematic cadence. It would be silly to suggest that Black Widow’s plot is at all groundbreaking — Eric Pearson’s screenplay owes a wealth of gratitude to several other spy thrillers — yet the film could’ve coasted by on the charisma of its cast if it simply treated its material with the warranted level of gravitas.

Black Widow, on paper, tells a story about international espionage and a human trafficking cabal bent on transforming kidnapped youngsters into anesthetized killing machines. But Black Widow ultimately emerges just as quip-filled and fluffy as say, Iron Man or Captain Marvel; any semblance of darkness disaffectedly nibbles at the margins. Furthermore, Black Widow reveals the shortcomings of a producer-driven, grossly overseen franchise forced to adhere to an insular creative vision: even the hypothetically idiosyncratic entries will emerge as artistically nondescript.

However, considering that Black Widow is the first Marvel film to be released since the COVID-19 pandemic, most audiences will likely be elated at the chance to reconnect with their favorite superheroes. The action sequences are, by and large, engaging; Johannson is very good and David Harbour boasts a genuinely indelible turn as the feature’s key male character. A superhero fan would probably appreciate this one, provided they don’t go in expecting a mid-credits tease for the newest Spider-Man film.

Ratings Key:

★ – Bad (e.g., Transformers, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League

★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Super 8, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)

★★★ – Good (e.g., Pretty in Pink, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)

★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, Do the Right Thing, Toy Story, Parasite)