Friday, July 9, 2021

Black Widow


Ohio, 1995. A family of four uproots their make-believe suburban life as they are chased by US security forces. Landing their plane in Cuba, they are received by General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) who takes the two children in to be part of the Red Room, a Soviet training program that turns young girls into assassins. 21 years later, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run for violating the Sokovia Accords in the aftermath of Civil War while Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) is on a mission to hunt a defector in Morocco and unwittingly breaks free from mind control after getting in contact with a gas agent. The two cross paths after two decades as they find themselves hunted by Taskmaster, a masked mercenary who can mimic enemy fighting styles. They realize that the Red Room is still active and decide that they must bring it down for good with the help of their “parents” Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei (David Harbour) a.k.a. the Red Guardian, the Russian counterpart of Captain America.

This is NOT an origin story. The closest we get to that is the 15-minute opening sequence that serves as a brief backstory. Marvel probably realized that such a storyline is just a decade too late. Instead, what we get is a filler focusing on Romanoff’s life between Civil War and Infinity War that also serves as a worthy swan song to the Avengers’ OG heroine. The narrative is inconsequential to the main timeline given how the character already died in her last MCU outing but for fans who have lobbied for a standalone film since her first appearance back in 2010, this is good enough a closure as it is.

There are a lot of one-liners alluding to the Avengers. The movie also answers some questions integral to Black Widow lore such as what really happened in Budapest, Dreykov’s daughter, the red on Natasha’s ledger. All of these references don’t just provide some glimpses of Romanoff’s backstory that we’ve been curious about all these years, they also serve as a good plot device for her story to come full circle. If you are bothered by the placing of the film in the bigger MCU chronology, just wedge it between Civil War and Infinity War in your MCU movie marathon.

This action subgenre of exploited young girls turned cold killing machines is nothing new. Red Sparrow. Hanna. Atomic Blonde. Surely, there are more movies to add to the list. What makes Black Widow different is the advantage of a decade’s worth of character fandom along with the pent-up demand for a standalone film. The timing of the release during a pandemic as well as the feature’s placement in the chronology of films in the MCU have proven to be detrimental but hey, we’ll take what we can get.

Most of what you have already read in other reviews as to how this seems to be the MCU’s answer to the Bourne franchise are accurate. The plot follows your time-tested formula of spy thriller tropes, that of chasing after a big bad or an evil organization and needing help that leads to shoehorning more characters. The fight scenes, despite being few and far between, are reminiscent of choreography you’ve seen in John Wick. Every stab and punch just feels painfully legit. The overall ambience harks back to Civil War but feels more grounded and isolated, perhaps due to the scarcity of characters with superpowers.

True to Marvel post-credit scene tradition, there is indeed one in the middle that serves as a clear indication of Belova’s future in the MCU along with a direct reference as to which Marvel project she will appear in next. Set post-Endgame, it no longer comes as a surprise given some online leaks a few months ago. In any case, this decision to pass the Black Widow baton to Pugh is exciting. Given her rendition of the firebrand character, we defo want more of her moving forward. I guess we'll just see you later this year on Disney+, Yelena.

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