Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has always been a mysterious figure in the MCU. More hints have been dropped about her backstory, and now – finally – we’re going to get a glimpse behind that curtain.
We start with a flashback to Natasha as a child, playing with her little sister – or, so it would seem, but the whole thing is a cover for her Russian spy ‘parents’ (Rachel Weiss and David Harbour). When their mission ends, the girls are sent back to the Red Room, the awful training ground for Black Widows – which Natasha eventually destroyed, as part of her proof of defecting to the US and the Avengers. Or at least, so she thought… and finding out otherwise also involves rediscovering her other ‘family’.
Set just after Civil War, we pick up with Nat on the run when she stumbles into a whole new heap of trouble surrounding her fake sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh). The stage is set for many fight scenes, some sisterly bonding, and a great deal of truly awful Russian accents 😉
When the movie was announced as a back story – well, if you’ve seen Endgame…! – I thought we were getting genuine backstory, rather than this slightly exposition-y version. My biggest ‘hmm’ about the whole thing was that I’m not sure we needed to see what Nat was up to in 2017, or indeed that setting it here doesn’t mess a bit with the narrative we’ve already got. If all of this has just happened, seems odd it’s never mentioned again. Or that characters here are conspicuously absent come the world-shaking events soon to take place? Hmm, I say.
There’s also a distinct lack of peril when the plot happens before events we’ve already seen, but that’s kind of par for the course with these kind of movies regardless, I guess.
Minor gripes aside, this is a decent enough entry into the MCU, I suppose. The action is – as ever – top notch, and there’s some decent humour particularly from David Harbour’s ‘Red Guardian’, and Florence Pugh’s Yelena. It seems like at least one of them is going to feature in the MCU’s future, so just as well it was such a strong intro here. Yelena also gets to have a much, MUCH better take on the whole horror of the ‘graduation ceremony’ than Nat’s gawdawful cringe speech in one of the previous movies (yeah, they all blend a bit…!). So, there’s that.
The found family and sisterly bonds and all of that are big themes here, but to be honest it felt a bit superficial to me – perhaps because the rest of the Widow Corp is so weirdly under utilised?
All in all, I’m glad I saw it, and yes, it is a decent MCU fill-in. And yet, I didn’t love it. Perhaps because we already know what happens to Nat, or because this doesn’t drive the overarching story forward any. It might well be too little too late in giving us the long-overdue Black Widow movie. Still. It’s well made, and well acted (accents aside). It’s a really good action piece, very grounded in reality compared to most of them, and will entertain if that’s what you’re after. I can’t quite put my finger on why it rang so hollow for me, unless it is just the ‘flashback’ nature of the whole thing, but – as ever – take from it what you will.
Released: 7th July 2021
Viewed: 9th July 2021
Running time: 134 minutes
My rating: 7.5/10