REVIEW: Deviation from spy genre breaks ‘Black Widow’

The concept of family was brought up so many times, I thought I was in the wrong room watching “F9.”

“Black Widow” takes place between “Captain America 3” and “Avengers 3,” when Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) was on the run from the American government because of the Sokovia Accords conflict. Romanoff manages to go into hiding, but it’s not long before her past life catches up with her.

It turns out Yelena (Florence Pugh) who posed as Natasha’s sister in an undercover family, needs Black Widow’s help. The organization that created the Black Widow program, known as the Red Room, has developed a dangerous mind control system and Yelena is hoping to put an end to it. Knowing they need some additional help, the duo recruit other members of their undercover family, the father Alexei (David Harbour) and mother Melina (Rachel Wesz).

“Black Widow” is a character with a complicated history that deserves to be explored and the spy genre is full of potential. Unfortunately, this solo film for the Avenger doesn’t deliver the adventure she deserves.

What knocks this film down is its entire approach. Rather than have a serious espionage story that deals with the consequences of Romanoff’s past, this movie opts for a more lighthearted and overly humorous take.

Yes, it’s a Marvel movie and they have a formula, but with the Infinity Saga ending, it feels like the right time to make a bold move. Plus, this movie deals with things like toppling governments and little girls being kidnapped to become assassins.

That is serious stuff to include in a movie, and it could certainly provide strong drama. But other than an opening sequence highlighting the Black Widow training program with a melancholic cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the film never captures the gravity of what’s taking place.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Much of these complaints are tied to how prominently Black Widow’s spy “family” is featured. What could have been a darker, solo thriller for Black Widow turns into a flick with a good chunk of family squabbles.

Yelena complains about Romanoff’s chosen path in life and Alexei reminisces about the glory days of being the Soviets’ answer to Captain America, the Red Guardian. It’s like somewhere along the line the movie took a sharp turn into becoming a lesser “Incredibles.”

It’s a shame, too, because a good cast was selected for this. Johansson has done great work in making a super spy have a down-to-Earth nature at times, while being able to turn on the warrior mode at a moment’s notice.

Florence Pugh is solid in her role, too, as are David Harbour and Rachel Weisz, who really make the most out of the material they’re given. Each of them do commendable work in the emotional scenes.

The issue is the material isn’t exactly that strong. It was like half the script was filled with self-referential humor and mentions of the Avengers. One joke about how Black Widow has a certain pose is repeated way too much.


As for the action, there are a few highlights. A well-made chase sequence in Budapest and a moment where Romanoff takes on several other Black Widows certainly entertain. However, the battles with the main villain Taskmaster feel underwhelming.

“Black Widow” is not only a disappointment, it also feels disrespectful to the character. Marvel waited until after the entire Infinity Saga, and Romanoff’s death in “Endgame” for that matter, to finally make a Black Widow film, and put it out as a placeholder until Phase 4 starts.

It already means that the writers were blocked in because what happened in this movie had to be consistent with “Infinity War.” With all that playing a factor, this should have been one hell of a send off.

But it wasn’t. Because of the family characters, Black Widow almost gets sidelined instead of being in the spotlight. It doesn’t help either when there are scenes like one where Alexie talks about how good it is that Romanoff has so much “red in her ledger.”

Not only did it not really make sense in that context, it also tries to put a comedic tone on one of the key parts of Romanoff’s entire character arc throughout the MCU. Only its acting talent and entertainment value push it up to a 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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