Black Widow (Spoiler-Free Review)

Black Widow (2021)
Dir: Cate Shortland

When is Black Widow set? 
Set directly after the events of ‘Civil War’, Natasha is on the run with no specific purpose except evade Thaddeus Ross, until her past catches up with her and pulls her into a very personal mission.

What is her mission?
The Red Room, briefly seen in ‘Civil War‘, where Natasha was trained, is still in operation, and their methods have become even more abhorrent than ever before. Natasha is compelled to track down the elusive head of the organisation and finish them off completely.

Who does Natasha team up with?
Often with an MCU film the question is raised ‘why didn’t they just ask the other Avengers for help?’ but this film perfectly positions itself to answer that. The team is fractured, she’s off the grid and this is not a world-ending mission, it’s deeply personal. So, instead of those she now considers her ‘family’, she’s somewhat reluctantly reunited with ones she used to consider family, including younger sister Yelena (Florence Pugh, who as always, is fantastic), father-figure Alexei (David Harbour) who wants to relive his glory days as Russia’s super-soldier, and Melina (Rachel Weisz) an older Black Widow and skilled scientist still linked to the organisation.  

Why is it so enjoyable?
Opening with an impressively dramatic and emotionally intense sequence, I was drawn into the backstory and the intricacies and depth of it. I was struck by the feeling of wishing I didn’t know what the film was, as if I’d seen those few minutes not knowing it was Natasha and with an understanding of her background it would have heightened that intensity, but my mind was already filling in the blanks and answering questions. Throughout, there’s a theme of family, developed more adeptly than the meme-fest that the Fast Saga has become, with the two female leads particularly effective in sisterly roles, complete with a convincing mix of care and fighting that felt familiar from observing my own sisters. While exploring personal relationships and the weight of past decisions, the film is also full of big action scenes featuring incredibly strong female characters who at no time use their sexuality to accomplish their goals, nor do they have supernatural powers, it’s all highly-trained skill that’s shown off in close combat and skilled shooting. It felt a lot more like the action you might expect in a ‘Mission Impossible’ movie, and that’s a good thing, it added something different to the MCU’s history of great action set-pieces. It’s also surprisingly funny, lots of lines and moments where the characters poke fun at themselves and each other, often in service of the emotional development, resulting in a really refreshing atmosphere that included lots of laughter in the cinema, which made the experience of watching it with other people all the more enjoyable, reminding me how much I’ve missed that. 

How does it tie in with the rest of the MCU?
I recently watched ‘Age of Ultron’ when it was on TV, and was struck with how much, with the hindsight of ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’, it laid foundations and depth for everything that was to come in the next few movies, more than we could’ve understood on initial release. This film feels like it has a similar effect, it fills an interesting gap in the timeline but more than that, it helps us really get to understand what Natasha has been carrying around emotionally for all this time, why she makes the choices she does, and also explains a few things she’s referred to. I think if I was to now rewatch those films again her scenes would hit more intensely. There’s also a ubiquitous post credits scene, which is the reassurance we’ve all been waiting for that the Disney+ shows are really significant to the MCU and will have consequences from and on the feature film releases. Despite the delays and rearrangement of releases, this scene is as originally planned, but it lands differently from how it was intended as a little of the development of what it sets up has already been seen. 

Where is Black Widow available to watch?
Available to see in cinemas in the UK right now, released on July 9th in the U.S. both theatrically and on Disney+ Premier Access for an additional fee, there are good options to watch this, though I recommend seeing it on the big screen if you’re safe and comfortable to do so. This is not filler or fluff, it’s an integral and worthwhile part of the MCU that fans of the franchise will really enjoy, so much so I’m going to watch it again tomorrow when it’s available at home. 

 

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