BLACK WIDOW Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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No spoilers to be found as Black Widow finally arrives in cinemas. Here's our review...
Cinema is back!

Well, to be fair, cinema has been back for a short while now. But given the backdrop it reopened against, no recent release had tempted me to return to the multiplex. The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe however? The first solo outing for a much loved character? The first film in Phase 4 of the MCU? Well, that was quite some lure.

And I'm pleased I went. I have to say, my local Showcase cinema felt very safe. I'm double-jabbed and masked-up (and unlike the madness on offer from July 19th here in the UK, I have no intention of dropping the mask for the foreseeable future - you're not just wearing a mask for your own sake people!), so I felt more comfortable booking in advance. Once at the cinema, there were at least two seats between every group or individual booking. Staggered entry plus a one-way system in place throughout both the auditorium and entrance foyer/exit added to that comfort and feeling of safety. And whilst I suspect that we will be living with Covid for a long time and nowhere can guarantee to be 100% Covid secure, this particular cinema did seem as if they were doing their best to minimise any possible chance of transmission. Good work Showcase!

But what about the movie?

I'll be as spoiler-lite as possible as, in a nutshell, if you're a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or superhero/espionage films in general then you'll be wanting to see Black Widow as cold as possible. Especially because it does follow an espionage-style theme which depends on a few twists and turns along the way. Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow finally lifts the lid on Natasha Romanoff's life only hinted at in her multiple appearances throughout all three previous phases of the MCU. It's a solitary existence, in the large part, although that's compounded by the placement of this film. As we find out more about her past, though, it's quite understandable why she keeps most people at arm's length.
The movie itself works both as a standalone film explaining Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff's origins whilst simultaneously allowing the character to make amends for some of that red in her ledger hinted at in her previous on-screen appearances, and offering a sense of perspective as to the logic behind her sacrifice during Avengers: Endgame. Of course, as nothing within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ever really 'standalone', even if scenes and dialogue do not connect to something as yet there's the sense throughout that they likely will in the future, and there's more than enough established here to comfortably think that the character of Black Widow will still feature prominently within the MCU, in Phase 4 and beyond, but absolutely not played by Johansson. The mantle may well be taken-up by her on-screen sister, Yelena Belova, played with a mix of energetic sparkle and profound sadness by Florence Pugh.

I can't help but think some inspiration has been taking from The Americans (which, given that it is one of the best long-form television series' of the last decade, is no bad thing), and if I had to compare Black Widow to another film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe then it's thematically close to Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which again, given that it's routinely considered one of the best within the MCU, is also no bad thing). And it's a good mix of the two. The larger plot seeing events from the past coming back into prominence, and also like The Winter Soldier there's an element of mind control being used. Like The Americans, the pull of the nuclear family, no matter how dysfunctional or false that family might have been, is a greater pull than the 'job'; the undercover mission that saw Romanoff & Belova adopted by David Harbour's Alexei Shostakov and Rachel Weisz' Melina Vostokoff. The pair are a welcome addition to the MCU, Harbour's aged Red Guardian offering some genuine comic-relief moments, and Weisz delivering one of the key twists to the plot. Given the benefit of hindsight perhaps it wasn't an overly surprising twist, but it was one which had me fooled until the reveal.
Although set moments after events within Captain America: Civil War, I don't think Black Widow could've been made in 2016. It's a very 2021 movie, feeling very much within the zeitgeist of now with themes of gender inequality referenced and less than subtle commentary about women being both controlled and treated as disposable by men who feel themselves superior and powerful. Sexism in Hollywood and Johansson's overly-sexualised early Black Widow persona is also addressed, with her famous pose knowingly, and wonderfully, put into perspective.

It's a big budget superhero film and so you'd expect some big budget action sequences. And they're there. A good mix between smaller hand-to-hand combat sequences and larger set-pieces are liberally included throughout. Black Widow does veer more to the first type, but given the character that feels very apt. Some of the best examples of this is in the wonderfully choreographed fight scenes with Taskmaster, who can mimic fighting styles of others. The start of a particularly powerful fight scene scene on a bridge made me jump in my seat and was very well realised. Making exceptional use of the cinema sound system. During the third act, when Ray Winstone's Dreykov properly joins proceedings, the action certainly steps up a gear, with the final sequence rivaling any blockbuster popcorn movie you'd expect to see at the cinema.
So, with all this said, should you watch Black Widow on the big screen or via Disney+ Premium Service once it drops there this Friday? Well, that's really your choice as to if you feel comfortable enough at your local multiplex; if they've put enough measures in place to leave you feeling safe for the two-plus hours you'll be there. There's certainly enough action sequences and lush cinematography that look all the better on the big screen, but the story and shadowy-espionage-style plot, although global, sorta feels like it could've worked well as one of Disney+'s MCU shows in an episodic format. In some ways, it's not that far removed in beats from The Falcon & The Winter Soldier.

Which also leads us nicely into just how, given the timeline of the majority of the events of Black Widow plays out in, it actually fits into Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It doesn't! In the large part that is. At least at this stage it doesn't appear to have that much connection to anything like the multiverse or other suggested/rumoured major Phase 4 themes. Black Widow would've really fitted within Phase 3 quite nicely. A couple of throwaway lines from Red Guardian hint a potential unmade (so far) 1980s period piece movie featuring another Avenger, and those comments wouldn't have made sense prior to Endgame, but aside from that you'll have to wait until the post-credits scene (oh, you knew there would be one, right?) and a cameo which both ties in with an existing, and seems to be hinting toward a future, Phase 4 Disney+ small-screen series.

On final verdict, Black Widow is a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the MCU. Whilst not essential viewing, when compared to, say, Infinity War or Endgame, it's a great footnote for a character who always hinted at more throughout her many, many appearances to date. And that does make this quite bittersweet as we know Natasha Romanoff is now no longer alive within the cannon, and there is no magical reprieve for her here. As good as I can imagine the potential future holder of the Black Widow moniker to be, on the strength of this film it's a shame we're unlikely going to get more from Scarlett Johansson in the role, and that's sad. It's not that she brings anything different to the character here, she doesn't have to as her performances have all been strong (yes, even Iron Man 2), but Johansson has been such an integral part of the entire Infinity Stones saga that it was hard enough to say goodbye to her character once, having to now do it again is doubly tough after seeing just how good she is carrying her own movie. I'm pleased I saw her swansong as Black Widow on the big screen, it made me realise just how much I have missed the cinema experiences, but wherever you choose to experience this film I think you'll find that, at the very least, it will make future re-watches of Endgame all the more poignant.

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