READER’S REVIEW – FILM
Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, has one of the most captivating arcs in the MCU, and Black Widow presented an opportunity for her story to be explored more extensively. While fans have been craving a solo film for years, Natasha’s heroic death in Avengers: Endgame made this film a much more anticipated release. After almost a year of delay due to the pandemic, the action-packed spy thriller is finally here, but it may fail to meet some fans’ expectations.
The movie is set following the events of Captain America: Civil War and tells the story of Natasha’s time in Budapest. The story of her time there succeeds in explaining much of Nat’s character development between Civil War and Infinity War, delving deeper into the trauma and guilt she carried from her time training, and working as a spy.
The movie excellently demonstrates Nat’s growth through her time in Budapest, from being haunted by her fractured past to reclaiming her agency and finding purpose. It expanded on her childhood and family. While it significantly added to the Natasha Romanoff we know, some things were simply mentioned in passing which could have been explored more. Her Red Room training life, how she was used as an assassin, why she decided to defect and how she ended up with S.H.I.E.L.D. and as the Avenger’s tech expert, or how she and Clint became friends, for instance.
The Black Widow has one of the most gripping arcs in the MCU, thanks to her conflict with identity. Much of her story is about her confronting her past and finding purpose. During the course of the movie, we see Nat reconcile with her little sister, forgive her old family, and find purpose in saving other young women from the horrors that had traumatised her. She faces her past — both figuratively and literally — and her worst sins, which have dictated her identity all her life. By the end, she finds absolution in making things right and reconciling with her first family, which allows her to hope that her second family can be reconciled too — that is, the divorced Avengers. If there was one aspect in which the movie didn’t fall short, it was in beautifully displaying Nat’s internal transformation.
Yelena Belova, Natasha’s younger ‘sister’, makes her debut appearance on screen as one of the protagonists of Black Widow. As a child, she was assigned by Dreykov to play the role of the younger daughter of two spies, with Natasha playing her older sister. They both trained in the Red Room. Yelena and Natasha’s stories tie again in Budapest, where they share a common goal — to destroy Dreykov and dismantle his training programme.
By the looks of her in the movie, Yelena is poised to have a huge role in the MCU moving forward. The movie shows enough of her cynical, sarcastic personality to make her likeable, while also showing enough backstory to set her character up for an interesting arc.
In typical Marvel fashion, the post-credits scene leaves a loose end. It sees Val use Yelena’s love for Natasha to her advantage, and recruit her into the Thunderbolts, assigning her the mission to kill Clint Barton. So, it’s safe to say that we will be seeing more of her.
New comic characters
The movie introduces a few new characters from the comic — in varying degrees of success. Melina Vostokoff, i.e. the Iron Maiden, appears as Natasha and Yelena’s pretend-mother. Initially an antagonist, her character goes through a rather abrupt and extreme redemption arc which feels too fast-paced and thus out of place. Alexei Shostakov, i.e. the Red Guardian, appears as their pretend-father. He’s funny and interesting character was an enjoyable addition to the story and was pretty well-executed.
My biggest qualm is about the Taskmaster, or Dreykov’s daughter, Antonia. While she played a significant role in Natasha’s character arc, her character failed to do the original comic, Taskmaster, any justice. Her character was, frankly, an opportunity wasted.
From forgiving her first family to finding hope for her second, family is a major theme throughout the movie. From the dysfunctional family unit that is Natasha, Yelena, Melina, and Alexei, we get this film’s central thematic conflict – forgiving family. Since the main events of Black Widow are set right after Civil War, we initially see Natasha feeling the loss of family. During the course of the movie, set in the interim period before the Avengers’ reunion, Natasha learns to both forgive and seek forgiveness from her past family, and finds hope for healing the family that she chose.
Disappointing solo film
As good as the movie was, Black Widow falls short of outshining other marvel movies. It felt, at times, like a lazy attempt at giving the fans what they wanted — that is, a Black Widow solo film. It also felt like the sole purpose of the movie was to introduce Yelena. Except for Natasha and Yelena, most supporting characters seemed dull. The espionage genre made it feel like a Black Widow movie version of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and compared to fans’ expectations, especially after Natasha’s death in End Game, was not up to the mark. Black Widow deserved a more well-told story, and Scarlet Johansson deserved a more striking swansong than this.
Despite its flaws, Black Widow is a Marvel film, and Marvel films are bound to be good. It has the well-known Marvel formula, and if you want to enjoy an action-packed spy thriller, this movie is for you. However, a Marvel fan, especially one who loves Black Widow’s character, will probably be a tad disappointed.