July 8, 2021

CINEMA | Scarlett Johansson Chases Ghosts – 'Black Widow'

"People who have friends don't call me."
Scarlett Johansson Cate Shortland | Marvel's Black Widow
Marvel Studios
Scarlett Johansson returns as the eponymous female superspy and Avenger in a big-budget Marvel Studios solo superhero blockbuster prequel of her very own directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland. Black Widow takes a Jason Bourne-style approach to its standalone action-adventure surrounded by a dysfunctional family drama while also adhering to the now well-worn Marvel formula.

It's Florence Pugh's Yelena that undoubtedly steals the film with a hilariously deadpan performance full of dry one-liners delivered superbly that even mock elements of the MCU. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow really soars with its first two acts as it fleshes out Johansson's Natasha Romanoff on the run and her tortured backstory alongside some fairly interesting new characters. From there, it gets way too concerned with fitting into its broader cinematic comic book continuity.

Co-starring David Harbour and Rachel Weisz as Alexei (aka Red Guardian, a Soviet-era super soldier version of Captain America) and Melina, the parental figures of Natasha and Yelena (think The Americans). Their surrogate (fake sleeper) family and the ghosts of their separation leading to dark paths all make for intriguing espionage elements. However, the evil James Bond-type plot gets too big yet needs to remain small and unseen to fit nicely into Marvel's dense continuity between films we've already seen.

Florence Pugh Cate Shortland | Marvel's Black Widow

Screenwriter Eric Pearson does his best to serve so many masters in what should be a fairly straightforward assassin drama in the vein of Red Sparrow. The sheer amount of hand-to-hand action and generic explosions gets kind of crazy considering the physical stature of both Johansson and Pugh. They take so much punishment to their bodies despite a lack of superpowers. By the third act, the action and drama get out of hand just as the barely spoken accents and selective Russian dialogue cloud the murky spy plot.

While Black Widow is certainly jam-packed with entertaining action and enough genuine humour, it all feels a little late. We've seen Johannson so many times as different incarnations of the character so finally getting to know who she really is and where she came from after dying and sacrificing herself so definitively on-screen in Endgame makes it still unsatisfying despite a mostly fun cinematic endeavour.

Black Widow is available to stream on Disney+ through Premier Access.

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