Black Widow is an MCU also-ran that only kinda works


Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow in this MCU movie set after the events of Captain America: Civil War. It’s enjoyable enough, writes Daniel Rutledge, but feels very much like an also-ran in the MCU.

Black Widow is enjoyable enough on the big screen, but feels very much like an also-ran in the behemoth Marvel Cinematic Universe. A prequel set primarily between the thirteenth and nineteenth films in the series, it isn’t filling a gap in the storyline that needed to be filled, but rather finds one of the few tiny crevices where a tale could be shoehorned in and goes “this’ll do”. From it we learn more about Natasha Romanoff—but not quite enough for her to resonate as well as other Marvel characters have—with action sequences that are totally fine but also totally forgettable.

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Where the film works best is as a family drama, weirdly. The opening scene takes place during Romanoff’s childhood and shows how her family was torn apart before she was forced into the Black Widow program. It’s well done and later as they get back together and work out how their relationships function as adults is where the most interesting parts of the film lie. Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh have fantastic chemistry with each other and this shines throughout, but David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are also highlights.

The fight scenes are mostly solid and this does have some harder edged violence than many of the Marvel films. Despite the stakes of the fiery climax being predictably enormous, this is a much, much more grounded film than most of the recent MCU entries. The last time we saw Black Widow on the big screen she was chatting with an immortal Nazi on a hellish planet called Vormir. It’s a bit weird then, having the big bad in this film be just some dude in Russia who runs an operation of brainwashed female soldiers.

Of course, one shouldn’t spend much time thinking about plot holes and realism issues in comic book movies, but there are a few quite major things this adds to the MCU timeline that surely would’ve come up. Like, why has no one ever mentioned the Red Guardian, basically the Russian Captain America? Then the whole sky fortress destruction in the climax is an enormous event the other Avengers would probably at least acknowledge, but whatever. If the film delivered better action thrills or emotional oomph I wouldn’t care to nit-pick about such things, but the mind starts to wander when it’s underwhelmed. That’s definitely a harsh way to describe a film as good as this actually is—but it’s simply not as good as most of its siblings.

The MCU has done extraordinarily well at adding in new plot points and characters in an enjoyable way, replacing the older ones with updated models as the franchise has progressed. Like Black Widow, Captain Marvel was a prequel, but that introduced a whole new character in a way that really worked—Black Widow marks the eighth film we’ve seen Romanoff in. It only kinda works. I look forward to the next few MCU films where the exciting main thrust continues and hope this fun but fairly pointless excursion is just a one-off.