Black Widow, 2021.
Directed by Cate Shortland.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz.
Disney brings Black Widow to home video on a high-definition Blu-ray disc that comes with a code for a digital copy. The film is good but not great, and the bonus features on the disc are unfortunately lacking.
I think Black Widow is evidence that we’ve reached Peak Superhero Movie, at least in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Take a batch of Marvel characters and throw them up against one or more villains. Use several exotic locations and make sure there’s plenty of snappy banter. If possible, open the movie with a flashback that lets you nod to something retro (in this case, a tepid cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) while giving us a glimpse into why the main character is the kind of person they are today.
That’s not to say Black Widow is a bad movie. It’s fine. It’s a perfectly serviceable chapter in the MCU, albeit one that’s really just a coda for Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, as opposed to a story that moves the next phase forward in a meaningful way. Sure, there’s a post-credits scene that sets up a future for Natasha’s sister, Yelena (played by Florence Pugh), but the bulk of the story takes place after 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, so the film is really just an extended flashback that helps round out the main character.
I’ve never been a big fan of Johansson, although I wish her well in her current lawsuit. (I don’t think anyone will be shocked if it turns out that actors and screenwriters have been getting short-changed on their royalties payments in today’s streaming era.) She’s in the same form as she’s been in past Marvel movies, and the rest of the cast does a good job of supporting her, although Pugh and David Harbour, who plays super soldier Alexei Shostakov (aka the Red Guardian), seem to lose their Russian accents sometimes. I did find it odd that all of Black Widow’s “family” has a Russian accent when she doesn’t.
I put “family” in quotes because – and I don’t think this is a spoiler – it turns out that Natasha grew up with a sister, mother, and father who were actually all undercover Russian agents. Family thus becomes the main theme of the film, with Natasha and Yelena reuniting after 20 years and enlisting the help of their adoptive parents in stopping Dreykov, whose Red Room has been churning out Black Widows for many years. The family element is laid on a bit thick at times, although there are some nice moments, particularly when Harbour gets the chance to play a kind of befuddled dad; he has some good comedic chops.
The story builds to a climax that’s a great example of the “And then what?” principle that screenwriters like to talk about. It’s all about taking a situation and pushing it as far as you can, which is what screenwriter Eric Pearson does here as our heroes try to escape a flying fortress that’s crashing from the sky. (To be fair, I should note that Jac Shaeffer and Ned Benson have “Story by” credits, so I don’t know how much of the climax came out of the drafts they wrote.)
In the end, Black Widow is an enjoyable thrill ride that I don’t necessarily feel the need to see again, especially since it doesn’t seem to do much to set up the MCU’s Phase Four. Yes, it does introduce Yelena as a potential recurring character, along with Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz’s Melina Vostokoff, but that’s it. It feels like it exists because Johansson’s agent lobbied for a solo film for her.
This Blu-ray includes a code for a digital copy, along with a light smattering of bonus features. Director Cate Shortland provides an optional introduction to the film, and two featurettes totaling about 14 minutes offer thoughts from the cast and crew, along with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. Marvel also threw in 14 minutes of excised footage and a gag reel.
Unfortunately, there are no commentary tracks, nor are there any bonus features that dig into the history of the character in the MCU as well as in the comic books. If Black Widow was going to get her own movie, you’d think Marvel would have at least wanted to put together a retrospective of her history as a comic book character, especially since she’s been around since 1964. In general, I wish the MCU’s home video releases did more to celebrate their characters’ rich histories in the print medium.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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Blu-ray Review – Black Widow (2021)