“My girls are strongest girls in the world.”
BLACK WIDOW (2021)
Well it’s finally here in theaters and Disney+. The long awaited Black Widow movie and the first movie in the MCU’s phase 4. After some amazing Disney+ shows and waiting so long for this movie to be released due to Covid, I think we were all excited to see what Feige and Co had in store for us as we returned to the sanctuary known as the cinema. Well I am glad to say MCU movies are back with a bang. Black Widow is top tier MCU and well worth the wait. Why’s that you say? Well let me tell ya about it, stud.
Okay, I will raise my hand and admit that I had never heard of Cate Shortland nor had I seen anything she had made before this movie. So it’s as if I was watching a debut and viewing it with a clean slate. Not fully knowing what to expect out of her. Shortland wastes no time trying to establish her style to the audience and she never takes the foot off the gas. Looking at her filmography this is clearly her first big budget action film and she did a damn good job not showing it. 90% of the action was well shot and composed. There were a couple instances of Jason Bourne style shaky cam that sucked. However, I can chalk that up to being a modern spy film style choice. I may not like it, but it’s the world we live in now. Luckily, most of the action doesn’t suffer from it. As good as she did with the action, you can clearly tell that her comfort zone was in the quieter moments between characters which are the strongest bits of the movie. She did a terrific job here. I also love the first 25 minutes more than most anything MCU. It really didn’t feel like the typical MCU-Disney fare. It was darker and more dire subject matter than what is usually tackled. The movie also gets 100 bonus points for not only having an opening credits sequence, but a kick-ass one at that. I can’t speak enough on how good the opening 15-25 minutes are. It’s a perfect short film on its own.
This may be a controversial statement, but I truly believe the future of the MCU will only truly thrive on a smaller scale. I know it is foolish to doubt Kevin Feige, but I honestly don’t know how you can go bigger than Avengers: Endgame. Even though I know he sure as hell will try in the future. But like I have said since Joker (2019) in a post-Endgame world we need comic films to be smaller for the time being. I think Feige has understood that. Black Widow follows this philosophy perfectly. This is not a giant bombastic story with end of the world implications. At its root, it’s a story of family and confronting one's demons. Black Widow’s main goal is to stop human trafficking. Not to stop an alien from using a sky beam to blow up the world. It’s pretty simple. But the nuance comes from her interactions with her family in the film and her coming to terms with who she is and what she has done in her life. Both villains are a reflective piece of her. She has a physical threat in Task Master and a psychological threat in Ray Winestone’s character. Both of them play into the themes of the movie itself. It’s nothing on a grand scale. That is okay. To quote the great Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, it was “Back to formula” for the MCU. It’s the same level of stakes of the first Iron Man movie. But unlike Iron Man (2008) Feige and crew recognized the need to separate the physical and mental threat in the climax and not make it the same person. It’s no great plot, but it was exactly what it needed to be.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The MCU has always had incredible characters and this is no exception. The core four characters are perfect and unique. Scarlett Johansson is as perfect in the role as she always has been. You can tell this movie means a lot to her and she did a great job playing the character for probably the very last time. Florence Pugh continues being the actress to keep an eye as she kills it her. Her future is so bright. Truly one of the more talented young actresses out there. She is phenomenal here. I loved how understated Rachel Weiez was in the film. She really is at the heart of the themes of the movie and the scenes of her and Scarlett Johansson just acting off each other are some of the best moments. But the standout is David Harbour. It’s really hard to contextualize how good he was in this film. In the opening 25 minutes his character is set up to be so reprehensible and loathsome that I had no idea how they were gonna make us like him when he reappeared again. Well due in part to great writing and a terrific performance, David Harbour not only has us laughing with him in the role, but made us love the character and want to see more of him. The later half of the movie works overtime to make us understand him and even somewhat sympathize with him. We truly feel he has real love for the people in his life. Harbour was amazing. Ray Winestone was delightfully sleazy. I know people are gonna problem hold the portrayal of Task Master to task. Yes, the portrayal is far different from the comics. However, I do like the interpretation the film gave us. I like how Task Master tied in deeply into Black Widow’s character. It was very Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Could Task Master have been in it more? Sure. But for what we were given, I wasn’t mad at it.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
First off, the special effects are fine. The costuming was fine. All of this was perfectly serviceable for a Disney funded project. I would like to use this to debunk some popular discourse found online about special effects in these MCU movies. There are people who knock on the overall quality of Black Panther due to some shaky special effects. I’ve also seen similar discourse about this movie due to a shot of Florence Pugh and a helicopter. Look, I am not huge on CGI. Never truly have been, but I have grown to accept it because that’s the world we live in. Let me state this right here and now. If the direction, story, acting, score, and lighting are on point. I could care less about shaky CGI. It doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the movie. It really doesn’t matter that much unless it’s overwhelmingly distracting. It’s not here. It’s perfectly fine.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score is actually really cool in this movie. I feel like a lot of the MCU runs into the trouble of having forgettable scores. Nothing awful, just nothing that sticks with ya. This one doesn’t suffer from that. In fact, most of the score is a bop. The bridge fight with Task Master is one example that comes to mind where the music is aggressive and intense. It gets the blood pumping. That sequence itself is terrific as is, but the score elevates it above and beyond. I also have to shout out that cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That has been my favorite version of that song ever since I heard it in 2015 during the trailer for The Gallows. That movie was trash, but that song kicks ass. So I’m so happy to hear it in a decent movie.
Look, I love the MCU. You love the MCU. We all know who we are and where we stand. This is another entry in a big time franchise that runs the earth. However, it never feels sterile or a product. It feels like a movie with a message, meaning and thought behind it. Yes, it’s like the 100th one of these movies. But, it really does a lot to make to stand out among the pack. The opening 20 minutes is some of the darkest stuff you’ll find in a Disney/Marvel movie. It’s a spy movie, but it doesn’t feel like a Winter Solider retread. It feels like it’s own thing. Is it maybe a few phases too late? Undoubtedly. But better late than never and I am absolutely thrilled that this was the proper send off to a character we have loved for ten plus years.