Disney Plus ‘Black Widow’ Series Is A Satisfying Detour For Marvel Studios (Review)
How fleeting world domination can be. It can disappear in the blink of an eye.
It’s been two years since the last Marvel movie, an unfathomable chasm for an ever-evolving cinematic machine. In between, Marvel has made its most ambitious forays into television, with the streaming series “WandaVision”, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Loki”. Marvel, of course, is not going anywhere.
But it’s also possible that the pandemic wasn’t just an incident in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even before COVID-19 delayed the release of “Black Widow” and subsequent installments by a year or more, “Avengers: Endgame” looked a lot like the conclusion of something. Can the most powerful juggernaut in the history of cinema just pick up where it left off?
- Related: Subscribe to Disney Plus to watch “Black Widow”
“Black Widow”, fortunately, is not exactly designed that way. It’s as close to a unique event as Marvel gets it. Set between 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” (when the superheroes fell out) and 2018’s “Avenger: Infinity War” (when they invented themselves), it doesn’t have a bigger and universal goal. for the franchise. prime goals than to give Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (who perished in “Endgame”) a good start after a decade of service dating back to 2010’s “Iron Man 2”. This is the second Marvel movie directed by a female star (after “Captain Marvel” in 2019 with Brie Larson) and the first to be directed only by a woman, Cate Shortland. (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck shared the helm of “Captain Marvel.”)
And I think that in part because “Black Widow” has to exist purely on its own, it works. It’s absorbing in itself. Less busy advancing a universe of films, the near-standalone film instead digs into slightly darker and deeper realms of the typically bright and shiny Marvel world. Shortland, an Australian indie director (“Somersault”, “Berlin Syndrome”), founds “Black Widow” in a more tactile and murky reality. Essentially a European spy thriller with all the shadows of the post-war era (WWII, I mean, not “Civil War”), “Black Widow” is, for much of its duration, more closer to “Bourne” than to “Thor.” And while it marks a farewell to Johansson, “Black Widow” is spurred on by a number of new faces – Florence Pugh, David Harbor, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone (all formidable actors) – who provide new verve in a cinematic world that has recently been addicted to many of its oldest stars.
“Black Widow” does not deviate radically from the Marvel formula. As usual, there’s a giant contraption in the sky, nods to the Avengers, and light banter mixed in with battle scenes. But it’s often in Marvel movies that the director has the best chance of building their own cinematic muscles early on, before the mandates set in. And “Black Widow” excels early on.
The film, written by Eric Pearson, begins with familiar suburban scenes of two young girls and their apparent mother (Weisz) getting ready for dinner. When the father (Harbor) arrives, he is distraught. They have an hour to flee, he whispers. They catch shortly before heading straight to a small airport. Through the window, while “American Pie” plays on the car stereo, entirely American scenes of families playing on the lawn, a ball game under the lights. This is a warning sign that “Black Widow” will be talking about a denied – or at least delayed – American dream and some sort of anti-“Captain America.” It’s only when the dad turns a car over to clear the track that we feel like they’re not your average Americans. And once they land in Cuba, we realize that they are not citizens at all, nor a family.
Harbor’s character is actually Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian, a Soviet-built super soldier designed to compete with Captain America. Their family was a cobbled together sleeper cell from Ohio. The four quickly split up, and on a melancholy cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the opening credits unfold with a montage of US-Russian relations over time, mixed with mixed images of Soviet brain Dreykov (Winstone ) and his The Red Room program of elite assassins – nicknamed “Widows” – all pulled from the streets as young girls.
Twenty years later, the long released and reformed Natasha – now an Avenger – is well beyond her painful beginnings. But not as much as she thought. Her conviction that she killed Dreykov is spoiled when she reunites in Budapest with her childhood false sister, Yelena (Pugh), who informs her that not only is the red room very operational, but that Dreykov has created a new method. scary control. of his widows. From afar he can actuate their movements and end their lives with a few computer buttons. It is an overt form of male control over female bodies with broad metaphorical significance that “Black Widow” seamlessly transforms into a comic book allegory.
Natasha and Yelena decide to overthrow Dreykov and the Red Room, a mission that forces them to reconnect with their former parents. Once released from a Siberian prison, Harbor, as the Red Guardian, gives the film a comedic feel, playing a cartoonish washed-out former super soldier who has long since moved away from pseudo family life.
As a unit, they form an emotionally damaged group, making their task beaten not only by revenge, but also by their own psychological healing. Pugh, the rising star of “Lady Macbeth” and “Midsommar” and an actor of fierce strength and poise, is particularly good as Yelena, the younger of the two and the only one in the Ohio clan who does not know that that was all. a trick.
They also owe all their powers to the crippling and cruel system that created them. For Natasha, it’s an uncomfortable truth still just below the surface. As played by Johansson, excellent here, every action for Natasha is tinged with acceptance and loathing for her own nature. “Black Widow” becomes, quite movingly, a film not about the expansion of the franchise but about brotherhood, improvised families and traumatic pasts.
Marvel movies, like the moon, are categorized into phases. “Black Widow” is supposed to kick off “Phase Four,” but it’s unclear whether the empire is growing or shrinking. Unlike any previous Marvel movie, this one will air at home, on Disney + for $ 30 as it lands in theaters – the fallout from the pandemic, of course, but also a once-unthinkable retirement for one. unstoppable box office strength. But if “Black Widow” is any sign of things to come – new director voices, rougher tones, feet (at least sometimes) on earth – it’s a promising new direction.
“Black Widow,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense violence / action footage, some language, and thematic material. Duration: 134 minutes. Three out of four stars.