Disney Studios is getting back into the full swing of the Marvel cinematic universe, this time with the release of the long-anticipated Black Widow. Directed by Cate Shortland (Lore) from a screenplay by Eric Pearson (Godzilla vs. Kong), the movie provides a complete but imperfect backstory for the popular Avenger.
Natasha and her sister Yelena live a comfortable life with their parents in Ohio. Unfortunately, this life is a lie, as they are quickly pulled from their happy home back into the Russian spy network which employs their parents. Fast-forward twenty-five years, and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is now the Black Widow, hiding to avoid capture by General Ross (William Hurt). But a parcel from Yelena (Florence Pugh) draws Natasha back into the first world she walked away from. This puts her at risk of being captured by both worlds she has occupied. Natasha must prevent either from happening by rekindling alliances with her sister and her father, the disgraced Red Guardian (David Harbour).
The story gives all the details, but the delivery doesn't work. There isn't enough interplay among characters to make the end goal seem organic. Filling in the background for a popular character takes a lot of careful effort. Pearson gets the details right but sacrifices emotion in getting there. The result is a film that, with very few changes, could have been about any four characters instead of ones specific to the Marvel universe.
Shortland works with what she has, directing the actors through brief scenes designed to bring the characters together and the audience along for the ride. This still isn't enough to make it reach the heights that most MCU films do. By now, Johansson knows what to do to keep her character in play, and Pugh's performance as Yelena is as good as the script allows. Harbour stands out above the rest, though, as the middle-aged Red Guardian. Most of his scenes are funny and entertaining. Sadly, this is more testament to the script's shortcomings - that an action-adventure's best scenes are subordinate humor.
As with all Marvel films, the action, visual effects, and fight sequences are spectacular. The choreography is exceptional, respecting both the need to keep track of who is who and the time limit that such scenes should have but often exceed.
Black Widow is a fun film to watch, but it falls short of other entries in the canon. Despite exceptional acting, adequate direction, and top-notch choreography, the script doesn't have the bite that audiences have come to expect from a Marvel movie.