3 out of 5 stars (Average)
This review originally appeared on The Illuminerdi on June 29, 2021.
The most memorable thing about Black Widow is how unmemorable it is. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have clamored for a solo film about Scarlett Johansson’s Soviet superspy, so it’s a shame the final product is so underwhelming. Black Widow is a sluggish sidequest enlivened by enjoyable action sequences that feels more like a throwaway 90’s thriller than a Marvel Blockbuster.
(Following Captain America: Civil War): With superheroes now illegal, Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run from the government when she’s attacked by a mysterious assailant just as skilled in the art of butt-kickery as she is. Investigating this leads Natasha to Budapest, where she finds her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), who’s on a mission to destroy the facility that turned them and countless other women into mind-controlled super assassins.
Black Widow is the first Marvel movie where the spectacle takes precedence over story and character. The first 45 minutes are wall-to-wall action with frustratingly little character development for the new players. Said action is energetic and well-choreographed, but it would mean more if we knew the characters. The film then realizes we’ve spent nearly an hour with people we don’t care about and grinds to a halt for a snail-paced “Character Development Dinner” that tries too little too late to invest us in the heroes And convey messages about familial bonding and reclaiming one’s autonomy. The climax is gleefully bonkers, but the film before it was a chore. Also, anyone not familiar with the franchise will be hopelessly lost. Black Widow is packed with well-choreographed set pieces, but a slow pace and underdeveloped characters make it a forgettable misfire.
PS: Any screenwriter worth their salt will understand the opening scene of a film should grab the audience immediately (Think Up, The Dark Knight, or Bridesmaids). Whereas those openings emotionally engage us by setting up the characters and themes that will drive their stories, Black Widow rushes through that stuff for an action beat and a drawn-out and flashy opening credits montage that gives us no reason to care about anything.
Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence/Action, Some Language and Thematic Material