In some ways, Black Widow is an exciting addition to the Avengers-verse. In others, it’s a tiring reminder that the tone and feel of the endless slew of Marvel films has become as formulaic as possible. In either case, we finally get a second woman-led Marvel movie (after 2019′s Captain Marvel), and Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is in it and easily becomes the best part of something that also has the ever-brilliant Rachel Weisz and a pretty funny David Harbour. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson, too.
We pop into the story at some point after the second Avengers film during which time the supers of the world are on the run from Secretary Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and his Sokovia Accords, a legislative act that would require Avengers types to register with the government (it’s the lead-up to that Captain America: Civil War movie). Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) is not down, so she flees to Scandinavia to watch James Bond movies and sulk. But when the sister we never knew she had (Pugh) reappears to remind everyone the evil Dreykov (Ray Winstone as a vague amalgamation of Cold War-era Soviet maniac and boogeyman) is still raising up lady assassins—also called Black Widows—Natasha is forced to reunite with the only non-Avengers family she’s ever known (Pugh, Weisz and Harbour) to do back flips and punch throats and stuff.
If you’ve seen the Bourne movies, you’ve seen the bulk of this one, and Black Widow feels particularly silly given its place in the Marvel timeline—y’know, since regular viewers already know everything that happens to Natasha down the line, which ultimately dials back the thrills and chills and makes any dangerous situation feel moot. She will survive this movie. We know that. What are the stakes again?
Jet-setting to locales like Morocco and Budapest, our heroines get into crazy car chases and close combat brawls and pseudo-philosophical conversations about what’s right or wrong, what made them not wanna assassinate anymore and whether there’s, like, a soul or whatever. You half expect Matt Damon or Franke Potente to be driving the car.
Ironically, the action bits in Black Widow begin to feel tedious while the quieter and more human moments are what ultimately make the movie almost worth watching. Well, that and Pugh’s pitch-perfect Russian accent and combo of badass and funny. Oh, sure, it’s great to see an explosion or a motorcycle chase, but we’ve seen those all before. SO MANY TIMES. Dipping into ideas of humanity, family, responsibility and love are the real draw here, even if they’re glossed over repeatedly for that thing Marvel movies do wherein a single, mildly funny joke (for fans only!!!) is beaten into the ground.
Anyway, you already know if you’re going to see this or not, so the best I can ask is that you not be one of those “Actually...” misogynists who believes their scorn toward a woman-led comic book movie is anything other than hate. It’s summer. Theaters are open again. What the hell else are you doing on a Sunday afternoon?
+Pugh; quieter moments
-Nothing original in any way whatsoever
Directed by Cate Shortland
With Johansson, Pugh, Weisz, Harbour and Winstone
Violet Crown, Regal Santa Fe Place, Disney+, PG-13, 133 min.