Writing a review for a Marvel film is like writing a review for the “Fast & Furious” franchise. No matter what I write you’ll still go see it. Not that I’m about to pounce on the “Avengers” spinoff, on the contrary, I found “Black Widow” to be a refreshing spy thriller that resembles “Mission Impossible” and on that note, Ethan Hunt wouldn’t stand a chance against Natasha Romanoff.
Now, wait a minute. Isn’t Romanoff aka Black Widow dead? I saw her pay the ultimate sacrifice in “Avengers: Endgame” after neglecting to read the fine print in that janky “soul for a soul” requirement that’s included with the Soul Stone. Yes, that is correct, but before you scream “Han Lue!” there is no “F9” sleight of hand tomfoolery that places egg on the face of Red Skull, sorry boys and girls Black Widow bought the farm.
You’ll be glad to know that Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” gives us one more kick-ass performance by Scarlett Johansson as the film, which begins as an origins story, resurrects the superhero by moving the timeline to 2016 just after “Captain America: Civil War” which explains the many Steve Rogers references in the film as he remains on the run, an outlaw for breaking with Tony Stark over the Sokovia Accords. Romanoff is part of Team Rogers, which makes her an outlaw, giving William Hurt an opportunity for a cameo as Secretary of State Thaddeus E. Ross looking to lock up an Avenger.
“Black Widow “opens in 1995 Ohio with a prologue that gives the impression of a typical American family on a summer evening. Adolescent Natasha (Ever Anderson) chases fireflies in the backyard with her younger sister Yelena (Violet McGraw), while mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) prepares dinner just as father Alexei (David Harbour) arrives home after a day at the office. We soon realize this is not your average family as they drop everything to flee America in an exciting sequence that involves a rural airfield, a small aircraft, and hundreds of bullets as the family of Russian spies heads to Cuba.
Malia J and Think Up Anger’s haunting cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is heard over the opening credits, once again departing from the Marvel norm as the sequence plays like the intro to a 007 film, as images of Natasha’s dark upbringing as part of the Red Room’s child trafficking program that turned young girls into lethal assassins, flash on the screen. Thanks to the film, Malia J’s cover sits atop of the US iTunes Alternative Sales Chart.
Fast Forward 21 years to 2016, as Natasha goes from living off the grid in a rural mobile home (where she enjoys watching old James Bond films) to being coerced back into action by her younger sister Yelena (an excellent Florence Pugh) who has also become a lethal undercover agent at the hands of General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), overseer of the infamous Red Room, which to Natasha’s surprise is still in existence brainwashing scores of young women known as Black Widows.
The object that everyone is after in this film is Red Dust, an antidote that releases the Black Widows from Dreykov’s control. Yelena was the first to be freed by the synthetic gas and so together with big sis Natasha, the ladies fight and shoot their way back to Dreykov’s compound while battling the Skeletor-looking nemesis Taskmaster who can mimic the fighting techniques of an adversary.
Eventually, the family that was separated in the mid-90s regroups as Alexei aka Red Guardian — Russia’s version of Captain America — and now brilliant scientist Melina join their faux daughters as the coolest crime-fighting family since The Incredibles.
This is a great cast with Harbour bringing the laughs as the past-his-prime superhero who suffers from Captain America envy, Weisz, one of today’s most compelling actors is a welcomed addition to the franchise, and Pugh as Yelena is fun to watch as she constantly ribs her older sister for being an “Avenger” while constantly making fun of Natasha’s fighting style, calling her out as a poseur. Pugh was terrific in 2016’s “Lady Macbeth” but it was her performance as Amy March in 2019’s “Little Woman” that put her on the radar of many moviegoers. If there is a baton to be passed here, then Pugh is the perfect recipient.
The hand-to-hand combat sequences coupled with the exhilarating car and motorcycle chases, shootouts, and effects-laden action sequences make “Black Widow” terrific entertainment, and we get to see Scarlet Johansson back in action one more time. The talented actress whose films have grossed over $14 billion worldwide, gave us a glimpse of her potential as the lethal super-agent in 2010’s “Iron Man 2” and now, a decade later, she has become one of the most cherished members of the MCU and my favorite Avenger.
(3 ½ stars)