Black Widow: Marvel’s big return to the big screen

Black Widow’s release poster. Credit: Disney+.
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Black Widow digs deep into the past to set up the future of the Marvel franchise. Adam Virgona reviews the latest film in the MCU.
Black Widow: Marvel's big return to the big screen

*This review contains spoilers for numerous Marvel films*

After a two-year absence from cinemas, Marvel has finally returned to the big screen with Black Widow.

Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow is the 24th film in Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe (the MCU) and set directly after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016).

Assassin-turned-spy and hero Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), is on the run and must confront her traumatic past with the help of some unlikely allies.

Black Widow is the first film of MCU’s Phase 4, though its narrative sits between prior films. Those up to date with the MCU would already know Natasha sacrificed herself during the climactic conclusion of The Infinity Saga, Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Despite its position in the MCU timeline, Black Widow had to address how it would be moving the series forward while respecting and building upon the legacy of Natasha Romanoff following the character’s death.

Black Widow excitedly bridged the gaps in Natasha’ story following the Sokovia Accords and fleshed out her intriguing backstory. After appearing in multiple films for over a decade, fans have been left wondering why Natasha has only now gotten a solo film.

Black Widow: Marvel's big return to the big screen
Assassin to Avenger, Black Widow fills some of the gaps in Natasha Romanoff’s story. Image: Disney.

In an outstanding opening sequence, and possibly the film’s best sequence, audiences learn that aside from her at-odds Avengers “family”, Natasha once belonged to another, albeit fake, family.

Her “parents”, former Black Widow Melina (Rachel Weisz) and super-soldier Alexei (David Harbour), were Russian undercover agents. Her “sister” Yelena (Florence Pugh) also grew up to be a trained assassin, a “Black Widow”.

This opening sequence is action-packed and chilling to watch, though it takes some time for the film to find its footing and establish its place in the MCU timeline afterwards. However, it still manages to maintain the entertaining qualities fans have now come to expect of Marvel.

Natasha and her childhood family members have an interesting dynamic, particularly the relationship between her and Yelena, which plays a pivotal role in their dysfunctional family and team.

Black Widow is as much a farewell to Natasha as it is an introduction to Yelena, who will become a key player in the MCU. Unfortunately, for this reason, Natasha can sometimes feel like a supporting role in her own film among the large cast of new characters.

Florence Pugh, as Yelena, is ultimately the star of the film and is already confirmed to star in the upcoming Hawkeye show on Disney+ later this year. Though Johansson gives another strong performance in her decade-spanning role, Pugh often steals the spotlight in both dramatic and comedic scenes.

Black Widow: Marvel's big return to the big screen
Lead characters, Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh), L-R Credit: Marvel Studios.

Given that Black Widow is Natasha’s only solo film and a deeply personal story, the villain is entirely forgettable, despite the two sharing an emotionally intense history.

Their confrontation lacks depth and comes across as Natasha talking to any generic bad guy with an equally generic plan. The film failed to maximise a minimal presence and make it stand out in the limited screen time and was nowhere near as engaging as it should have been.

Black Widow was enjoyable but its time of release within the MCU significantly diminished its impact. Had it been released back in 2016, Black Widow would have felt like the next chapter in Natasha’s story, and her eventual sacrifice would have held greater weight because fans would know her backstory and who she was leaving behind.

Despite the 2021 release, Black Widow was still very entertaining, though its divided intentions ultimately excel at introducing fans to Natasha’s unlikely “family” rather than a worthy farewell for the character.