LIGHT SPOILERS FOR A RECENTLY RELEASED FILM
I’ve been going back and forth on whether to just go full spoilers when talking about Black Widow, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in two years. When I covered all the other movies earlier this year as part of MCU March, the assumption was that people had already seen those films so I gave a summary as a refresher then talked about all the plot points I wanted to talk about. But Black Widow comes out at a weird time, where on one hand people are cheering that COVID is finally over, while on the other the Delta variant is becoming more widespread. Not a lot of people are willing to spend two hours in an enclosed space with strangers and Disney+ is charging $30 to be able to watch the film in your house. In the end I went with very light spoilers because I’m betting a lot of people are waiting to see this, which is a shame since it was good.
But wait, someone might ask, isn’t Black Widow dead as of Avengers: Endgame? Well, yes, but this is a flashback movie set right at the end of Captain America: Civil War. Captain America is an outlaw, the Avengers that stood with him were arrested, and Iron Man is not returning Natasha’s calls. Being on her own is a weird feeling for her, because despite her skill at being a superspy and the solitary life that can entail, she’s more or less been defined by the people around her. She was Tony Stark’s assistant in Iron Man 2, she was Hawkeye’s best friend in The Avengers, she was Hulk’s love interest in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and she was Steve’s partner in crime in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She’s mostly been a supporting cast member, but even Hawkeye got a family storyline and an upcoming Disney+ show, so it was long overdue for her to get anything.
The film explains Natasha’s backstory in more detail than ever before: what her childhood was like, what she had to do to join SHIELD, and the revelation that her name actually is Natasha Romanoff (not Natalia Romanova like in the comics). Her childhood is where we first meet Yelena Belova (Ms. Florence Pugh), who acts as a little sister to Natasha. Both were Russian assassins trained in the Red Room, but Nat is the one who managed to escape. Thrown into this dysfunctional pseudo-family are Russian super soldier Red Guardian/Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) and former Red Room assassin Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) who are the closest to parents Natasha and Yelena got. It’s a mess made up of people with no actual blood relation, but part of the story is that a family is the people you surround yourself with. Just a bit awkward that at this point, Natasha is on the outs with just about all the Avengers.
Harbour and Weisz are fine in their roles, but the real breakout star was Florence Pugh. Not breakout as in this is her first big role–she was amazing in Midsommar–but that her character is the best, hands down. Which makes sense, as this movie’s real goal is to set up Phase 4 of the MCU by introducing new characters who will be in future projects. Natasha may be dead, but Yelena is already tied to an upcoming MCU project–after all, that’s what the post credits scenes in these films are all about.
One thing that really struck me about this movie is how little we know about the world the Avengers live in outside of the films. The events of this movie would’ve made front page news everywhere (assuming it wasn’t covered up because General Ross is back and an asshole), but no one ever mentioned what happened at this climax in any other film. A minor spoiler, but Red Guardian had an action figure made of him at some point in his career, but there has been next to no mention of any superheroes outside of the United States (unless they’re the villain of the film). What non-Avengers, non-American heroes are out there? I’ve been asking this question a lot since The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but what is the day-to-day life like of an average person living in a world where aliens invaded New York and a European city was lifted off the ground by an android? This movie–while still very good–raises a lot of questions like that, which I doubt will ever ben answered to my liking.
COMIC BOOK FUN FACT! Yup, still doing these, but this one will be mercifully short. Madame Natasha’s first appeared in Tales of Suspense #52 (1964) as a Russian spy working against Iron Man. But she had a partner, a big dude named Boris. Why bring it up? Because Boris and Natasha are also the main antagonists in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. So yeah, she started off as a parody character and eventually became one of the most recognized superheroes in the world. Hell of a glow up.
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