While family dynamics add spice, Natasha’s swan song feels pedestrian

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | July 8, 2021

Black Widow
Theatres and Disney+ Premium
Opens July 9
3 out of 5

Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has spun in all directions, some promising, some dubious (looking at you, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier), Black Widow brings the main storyline back to the fore. Unfortunately, the 14-month delay in the film’s release due to COVID has sapped it of some of its lustre.

Black Widow takes place between Captain America: Civil War and the arrival of the Children of Thanos to Earth. The Avengers are in disarray. Left alone to deal with the aftermath, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) decides to drop off the grid. Her plans soon go awry when her path intersects with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh, cornering the annoying little sister market), who also happens to be a black widow.

Yelena only recently regained self-awareness after years of working for Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the Russian oligarch who created the super spy program. With time on her hands, and the ever present need to clean the red from her ledger, Romanoff enlists her “foster family” (namely, the Russian spies who pretended to be her parents) to take down Dreykov and free the other black widows from his control.

While this sounds like your standard Marvel solo outing (the hero must reckon with the past to defeat a villain they had a hand in creating), Black Widow benefits from the family dynamics: the sibling rivalry between Natasha and Yelena, the overbearing father figure (David Harbour), and the warm-but-shady mother (Rachel Weisz), to achieve something few MCU movies have — relatability. Director Cate Shortland (Lore) doesn’t leave much of a mark in terms of style, but her handling of domesticity is sturdy.

Here’s the problem. Perhaps if Black Widow had come out when originally scheduled (May 2020), it would have performed like any other MCU blockbuster. But since then, two Marvel TV shows — WandaVision and Loki — have blown up the format, and Natasha’s adventures feel pedestrian.

As much as one can applaud the audacity of having multiple visionaries shepherding Marvel properties, I’m struggling to visualize how they fit together. Given their current circumstances, it’s hard to imagine Loki and Black Widow ever shared the same space in a Helicarrier holding unit.