Director Cate Shortland
Screenplay Eric Pearson
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, Olga Kurylenko
For those of us who have patiently waited for Phase 4 of Marvel to start, Black Widow is an unusual but effective step into the past. After a prelude that shows Johansson’s Natasha in 1995 (played by Milla Jovovich’s daughter, Ever Anderson), we move to just after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where Natasha is still on the run. In a safehouse in Norway, she gets a message from her long lost sister. another Black Widow, Yelena Belova (Pugh). That’s as far as I will go to describe the events.
The story and its twists are reminiscent of the 2nd and 3rd Captain America films. There are enough surprises to make the obvious moves less noticeable. Johannson is completely at home in her character, even if she’d moved back a few paces from her massive development in the last two Avenger’s films. Her story is told by Shortland and Pearson in an economical way, mixing in very slight elements of sentiment along with the hard truths about the lives of her scattered family. This is the right story for someone of Johansson’s ability, stature and sense of self.
That said, Pugh’s Yelena is the perfect counter for Natasha’s hard exterior. She’s equally ruthless, but she is also someone accustomed to playing a younger, more driven sister (i.e. her Oscar nominated performance of Amy March in Little Women). Physically, she is equal to the ability of Natasha, while even criticising her tendency to pose before she moves. Pugh is one of the best actresses in the business. I look forward to the character of Black Widow continuing beyond Endgame.
Harbour and Weisz play key roles in the lives of the sisters, and they give it every ounce of supporting ability they have. They manage to give some real gravity to their performances in such a way that my daughter recognized her own parents in their actions.
If there is a weak spot, it’s in Winstone’s one note performance as the bad guy. He’s a good actor, and here is just as bloated as one’s image of those who live off of the spoils of exploitation. They reserve him for a couple of scenes, and he steps right onto the rake of his destiny.
Shortland’s direction is crisp, and her understanding of character is spot on. She allows the obligatory “look what I can do” that is required of any spy thriller. She adds to it a touch of humanity through her the sheer talent and skill of her two leads. Her primary antagonist muscle is a nice touch, especially the way the final confrontation is resolved. There is a real confidence in subtlety from which this film benefits.
If this isn’t one of the best Marvel films, it’s up there near my top 10. The message resonates because we are not hammered over the head with the obvious. This is a film that helps us recognize Natasha as the glue that held together the Avengers for over 20 films. Lets see if it can last 20 more.
(****1/2 out of *****)