As the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) moves to Phase 4, this pandemic delayed movie details the backstory of fan favourite “Black Widow” aka “Natasha Romanoff” (Scarlett Johansson). The story fills a niche between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War”
After a rousing opening sequence set in Ohio circa 1995, two young sisters flee with their “parents” in a literal flight from US authorities.
The story moves forward in time, becoming more complex before pausing at half way to explain the who, what and why.
Sketching Black Widow’s background within a solo movie makes perfect sense with the inbuilt audience Marvel enjoys, whilst also allowing Johansson one last chance to farewell her character.
Like an old school Roger Moore era Bond movie, incidentally briefly seen in the film, the film jumps from one exotic location to another. One minute a deadly remote location in Norway, next an armoured personnel carrier creating vehicular destruction in Budapest.
Once Romanoff teams up with her long lost “sister” “Yelena Bolova” (Florence Pugh), the film kicks into another gear, following the obligatory first meeting fisticuffs. This is what Johansson is known for, kicking ass in consummate style, although Pugh matches her physical presence at every choreographed step.
Unlike the DC universe (Batman, Superman etc), Marvel have always managed to balance the superhero fight scenes with emotional heft. Adding in a sprinkling of self-deprecating humour to puncture the pomposity, this film proves no exception. This light touch extends to “Red Guardian” (David Harbour) squeezing into his Russian superhero outfit, Yelena mocking her sisters fighting “pose” or “Melina” (Rachel Weisz) reminding Natasha not to slouch at the table.
The largely incidental plot, revolves around Russian uber villain “Dreykov” (Ray Winstone), deploying a Russian accent via East End London. Dreykov kidnaps young girls to create an elite band of assassins brainwashed into doing his bidding, as part of the infamous “Red Room”, a place both Natasha and Yelena know well.
Director Cate Shortland ensures the fight and action scenes are well staged, albeit heavily CGI augmented but not to the detriment of the action. Basic rules of physics are largely ignored with fight sequences completed in mid air on falling debris, but comic book rules apply.
Johansson looks to be enjoying one last go around, seemingly more relaxed in the character than before. Pugh has screen presence to create her own adventures, which could well be on the cards. Harbour and Weiz as the only adults in the room make the most of witty banter, whilst remaining believable as emotionally bereft sleeper agents, forced to confront what constitutes a real “family”.
William Hurt as “Secretary Ross” is criminally underused, suggesting there were scenes left on the cutting room floor. TV star O-T Fagbenle as Natasha’s fixer, appears to be acting in a more lighthearted version of the film which jars somewhat but these are minor quibbles.
Yet another hugely enjoyable Marvel entry in the series and a must-watch for Marvel completists.
Whilst non essential to the overarching Avengers story thread, this neatly fills a few gaps and allows the character a graceful exit, whilst providing a silver screen opportunity for another Widow.