Black Widow: Marvel Does It Again With Spy Thriller

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh as Yelena in Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

It’s been a long time coming for Black Widow but the Marvel spy thriller is finally hitting theaters and Disney+ Premier Access.

Before I dive into my thoughts on the film, we need to talk about the end credits. Because the film displays the credits during an opening montage, there is no mid-credit scene. Instead, the scene comes at the very end of the credits. If you’re watching at home, a lot of people worked on this film so if you could please hold off on fast-forwarding, they’d appreciate it. I won’t give away any details but I have my thoughts about what this scene means for the MCU.

Previous films as well as Agent Carter have offered a glimpse into the Red Room. What we’ve seen before isn’t much. Hell, the opening montage barely even picks up on Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) training in the Widow program. We knew that things went down between her and Clint Barton in Budapest but not all of the details. What exactly was on her ledger, well, that has rarely been seen on screen. And now, the gloves can finally come off.

In telling Natasha’s backstory, the filmmakers are essentially painting on what was a blank canvas. Her origin story is the one in which the audience has very little knowledge. Bits and pieces, yes, but we didn’t know much about her childhood other than training to be a Widow. While we’re all the better after watching this film, I cannot stress enough that it should have come a long time ago. It makes you wish that they brought in a minor character nobody cared about just to kill them off to get the Soul Stone. Tonally speaking, we get a Marvel film we haven’t seen before. That’s the beauty of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course. It goes without saying that I trust Kevin Feige when it comes to the long-term vision of the MCU. With this film, Marvel does it again.

You can certainly argue that Natasha more or less kept to herself. But it’s that background that comes back to haunt her when she’s also trying to evade the American government. It’s a background that sees her reuniting with Yelena (Florence Pugh), Alexei/The Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Melina (Rachel Weisz) after Taskmaster attacks her. We learn who they are to her as she knew them long before she ever became one of the Avengers. But why has she never mentioned them? Mason (O-T Fagbenle), a fixer, is also a MCU newcomer. General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) lurks behind the scenes from the comfort of the Red Room. For Natasha to take care of him once and for all, it’ll mean having to come to terms with her past. Ever Anderson and Violet McGraw portray Natasha and Yelena as children.

Eric Pearson’s screenplay draws on a story by Schaeffer and Ned Benson. Cate Shortland, handpicked by Johansson herself, splendidly directs the film. There’s no shortage of action or humor. Most of the humor comes from Florence Pugh and David Harbour. It makes you wish you could see more films with them working together. Honestly, if it weren’t for Natasha Romanoff dying during Avengers: Endgame, I’d think this film could have led to more team-ups between them. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any more as I assume that Scarlett Johansson has put on the costume for the last time. But never say never–there’s a lot of time between Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. This film is set on the heels of Civil War. As such, William Hurt is on hand to reprise his role as Secretary of State Ross.

Behind the camera, Shortland works with director of photography Gabriel Beristain to set up the action. The cameras allow us to get up close and personal. Throw in the film’s quick pace and the action keeps us on our seats. On a bigger scale, the production takes us to a number of countries. Marvel veteran production designer Charles Wood has a big playing field but finds a way to make the film stand out. For a film of this nature, you could never really recreate several cities on a studio set or backlot. All in all, there are some 64 different sets that we see before our eyes. Watching Black Widow on the big screen really allows you to take in the scenery. The Norwegian scenery alone is gorgeous!

I love Lorne Balfe’s work in this film. If you loved what he did with the score in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, you’ll enjoy what he does with this one. Honestly, Lorne Balfe delivers one of the best scores of the year. He draws on Russian folk music as inspiration for the score, which makes sense given Natasha’s background. The score works on both an intimate and epic scale. In addition to a female choir for Natasha and a male choir for Yelena, Balfe also quotes Alan Silvestri’s theme for Black Widow from the Avengers films. There are other themes that Balfe created for the film and they play rather nicely. Will we see them again? Who knows.

Fans have had a lot of patience–some more than others–in waiting for this film. It works as a standalone story even if it does leave you wanting more after the fact. In watching what takes place in the film, you’d have had no idea that this is what Natasha did in between a pair of movies. This film also adds another layer to both Civil War and Infinity War in terms of storytelling. But in the end, our patience pays off. We go all the way back to when Natasha was just 12 years old. A lot happens between then and the time she defects to join S.H.I.E.L.D. There’s a lot more that I want to say about the film but obviously, that would go into spoiler territory.

Black Widow might be better late than never but Marvel Studios does it again and delivers the goods.

DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland
CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, with William Hurt, with Ray Winstone and Rachel Weisz

Marvel Studios releases Black Widow in theaters and Disney+ Premier Access on July 9, 2021.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.