'Black Widow' (2021) Review: Marvel Gets Mature
When on the run from the United States Government for her crimes in ‘Captain America Civil War’, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff takes some much needed vacation time. Camping out in hiding doesn’t last long though, as she’s soon under attack by a living weapon, Taskmaster. An enemy with the capability to perfectly mimic its opponent. To survive, the Black Widow will need to confront the past she’s been running from her entire life.
That past includes a contentious family reunion, and a reckoning with Natasha’s past sins. Sometimes at the same time. Florence Pugh plays Yelena, Natasha’s estranged and adoptive sister, who is an assassin herself. Their relationship is the most compelling aspect of the movie, with Florence Pugh almost stealing the limelight from her co-star. The movie brings humour in their sibling rivalry, but ultimately finds its way back to a heartfelt tale as they set out to confront their shared childhood trauma, and try to put a stop to it ever happening to anyone else.
‘Black Widow’ doesn’t try to make light of its story, and makes that clear from the beginning. The film opens in 1995 as a young Natasha Romanoff is taken from her idyllic family life into one of pain and suffering. A hard cut to 21 years later and ‘Black Widow’ sets the audience up for a film that puts away childish things.
For the most part, Marvel films are disarming. Even ‘Avengers Endgame’, which explores the tragedy of half the world’s population disappearing, culminates in a gleeful fashion. As dire as the stakes get, audiences can rest assured: There will always be a hefty supply of humour and eye popping visuals to balance things out. These lighter elements are essential to the Marvel films, but are often the source of their limitations. With ‘Black Widow’ however, the approach has been altered. While humour is an important part of the film, it’s used to serve the tragic story rather than undercut it.
When Natasha sits down with her family, it’s as funny as any actual family reunion. Old habits resurface, parents awkwardly flirt as their children cry foul, and the kind natured ribbing goes a bit too far resulting in an outburst. It’s hilarious to see this pretend family fall into the same trappings as a real one, but it reveals the harrowing truth of the film. Their family has a real connection, one that’s forged in trauma and pain. ‘Black Widow’ makes no attempts at shying away from that fact, and forces the characters to come to terms with their past in excruciating detail.
As an action film, ‘Black Widow’ pulls no punches. For a film about a hero that’s been seen fighting aliens and robots, the film manages to have a compelling story to tell while still feeling grounded. The action is gritty and uncomfortable to watch, and makes for an entertaining mix of spy and superhero. The film shifts between fight scenes, car chases, and culminates with a free falling showdown, keeping the action diverse and interesting the whole way through.
For what is likely to be Black Widow’s grand finale, the film is a fitting send off for the beloved character. It doesn’t shy away from the dark history that’s been referenced for years, and instead embraces it, taking the heroine on a path to redemption as she finally clears out the red in her ledger.
Rating: Big Screen Watch