After two long years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally returned to the big screen, and it’s come back strong! The first film in phase four, Black Widow, is a mix of spy thriller and superhero blockbuster, which continues to be a powerful combo for the franchise, especially when it’s given one of the best core casts of a solo superhero film to date. While it hasn’t been as insanely successful with its TV shows, the MCU seemingly hasn’t lost a step when it comes to making great, feature-length movies.
After a brief – and shockingly dark – introduction, the bulk of Black Widow’s story takes place following the events of Captain America: Civil War, and centers on Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) as she reunites with both friends and foes from her past. She quickly learns that the Red Room, the amoral training facility that made her a killing machine, is still turning kidnapped children into unfeeling assassins against their will, and vows to put an end to the big bad behind it. There are a lot of twists and turns too, most of which I didn’t see coming, which is fairly uncommon for the MCU.
As I mentioned previously, the cast of Black Widow is phenomenal. Johansson is as strong as ever portraying Nat, and her performance here makes it that much clearer she should have had her own film – or films – years ago. David Harbour is outstanding as Alexei, A.K.A. “The Red Guardian,” Russia’s bigger, more brash, less classy answer to Captain America, and is one of the movie’s biggest sources of humor. The always wonderful Rachel Weisz, although underutilized, is unsurprisingly incredible every moment she’s on screen, playing her part to near perfection. The best performance, however, is Florence Pugh’s. Her character, Yelena, is arguably as much the heart of Black Widow as its star, is at the center of the majority of the movie’s biggest laughs, and a large chunk of its heartfelt moments too.
The action in Black Widow, while not quite as spectacular as the cast, is still some of the MCU’s best outside of the entries that prominently feature angry green monsters or a “god from space.” There are more than a handful of well-shot, marvelously choreographed hand-to-hand scuffles that are reminiscent of the Jason Bourne films, high-speed chases that feel almost in line with those of James Bond’s, and as you’d expect from the franchise, there’s plenty of more outlandish, epic, and explosive battles too. And while Pugh may earn my performance prize, the most fun combatant to watch was undeniably the Taskmaster. Most of the details regarding the Red Room’s most dangerous asset (like who is actually under the mask) have been kept under wraps by Disney/Marvel so I won’t spoil them here, but I will say that the direction they took the character is undoubtedly one of Black Widow’s biggest highlights.
For a few minutes after seeing Black Widow, I had thought that maybe I was a little higher on it than I should be just because it’s the first new superhero movie that I’ve seen on gigantic screen in the past two years. However, that’s not the case. It’s an excellent espionage tale and a wholly enjoyable superhero film with a legitimately fantastic cast that delivers on just about every front I could ask it to. While I’m still bummed that this will probably be Scarlett Johansson’s last time wearing the widow gauntlets, I’m glad that the character finally got the adventure she deserved, and that it assuaged most of my worries about the post-Endgame MCU.