By: James H. Carter II
After having to wait a year beyond its original release date - or from the moment we saw Black Widow captivate the screen in Iron Man 2 back in 2010 - the long-awaited Marvel Studios’ solo film from the Avenger named after a deadly spider has finally arrived. BLACK WIDOW not only explores the Avenger's back story, but also fills in the gaps of what Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) was up to between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers Infinity War.
Oh, and if you think she was just laying low and taking a much-needed vacation, think again. Black Widow was on the adventure of a lifetime, facing the demons of her past. We learn that Natasha and her younger sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), were trained from a young age to be killing machines for the KGB. This training took place in what is known as the "Red Room," run by the evil mastermind, Dreykov (brilliantly portrayed by veteran actor Ray Winstone). Dreykov and his people would kidnap young girls, train them to be killers, and then inject them with a chip so they could have complete mind control over them.
Natasha was able to remove her chip and escape when she was young, but she left her sister behind. While trying to lay low after Civil War, some T2-like cyborg tracks Natasha down, and attempts to take her out. Since Natasha no longer has the protection of being an Avenger, her old master, Dreykov, tries to seize the moment to seek revenge, not only for her escape, but also for the assassination attempt she tried to carry out on him.
Natasha’s only lead back to the "Red Room" is her sister, Yelena, who up until very recently, had still been under Dreykov’s mind control. When the two sisters reconnect, it’s not exactly a happy reunion, since Yelena was left behind and forced to live out most of her adult life as a killer puppet for the KGB. The dynamic between the two sisters feels like an endless game of tug-o-war. Displays of sibling rivalry play out in the form of physical attacks and witty mockery. I loved the double meaning when Yelena refers to Natasha as a “poser." She's poking fun at the way Natasha always lands in the "superhero pose," and, of course, implying that she’s not a real assassin.
Speaking of physical attacks, there are some remarkable fight scenes throughout the film. The stunt performances were incredible, and the way they were shot and edited made you feel like you were right in the middle of the larger-than-life scenes. Natasha’s hand-to-hand combat has been impressive through all of her eight previous Marvel Cinematic Universe film appearances, but I’m glad director Cate Shortland upped the ante to truly showcase what Black Widow is capable of.
Between the impressive stunts and fight scenes, there is also biting social commentary on how some members of society view women. Dreykov kidnaps and abducts young girls so that he can train them to be his personal army, while also controlling their every move with the touch of a button. He views them as disposable tools to carry out his dirty deeds, while he sits comfortably and safe in his command center. He even goes so far as to say, “There are too many women in the world.”
The parallels between the fictional plot of this film and real-life sex trafficking are chilling, to say the least. In bringing these real-world horrors to life via a fictional superhero world, the filmmakers were able to bring awareness to an important issue, without things being so real that BLACK WIDOW can't still be a form of escapism. That awareness, however, could be the thing that shifts someone’s perspective for the positive. It’s a bold move by the filmmakers, but one that I greatly appreciate and respect.
To balance out all of the fighting and social commentary, BLACK WIDOW seamlessly blends in humor that not only breaks the tension, but also shows how absolutely hilarious David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame) is! Portraying the Red Guardian, the Russian super-soldier counterpart to Captain America - and a father figure to Natasha and Yelena - his need to constantly prove himself as a hero and a father organically produced many of the films laugh-out-loud moments.
BLACK WIDOW is a quality film from start to finish. With a solid story, stellar performances, incredible action, hard-hitting social commentary, and brilliant humor, BLACK WIDOW stands on its own in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, even if you haven't seen any of the other MCU films, you will still be able to enjoy BLACK WIDOW. You learn everything you need to know about how the previous MCU events affect what is happening in this film.
BLACK WIDOW is being released simultaneously in theaters and streaming on Disney+ (for an additional charge) starting July 9. If it is safe for you to do so, I would recommend watching this on the big screen. If not, it is worth paying the up-charge, because it is such a high-quality film. This movie lets Black Widow shine brighter than we have ever seen her shine before, and - SPOILER, if you haven’t seen Avengers Endgame - gives us fans a fitting farewell to such an iconic Marvel character!