Black Widow 2021
First off I just have to start out with holy crap it’s good to be back in a movie theater. Granted things are very different than they were when I saw Birds of Prey which I’m pretty sure was the last movie that I saw in theaters. We just survived a pandemic, at least everyone who has decided to get vaccinated has survived a pandemic but I won’t go further down that discussion right now. I’m living in the Atlanta suburbs after spending the previous six years in the Chicago suburbs, and this is the first Marvel movie to come out since Spider-Man: Far From Home back in the summer of 2019. So yeah, things are quite a bit different. But kicking off the theater going with the latest MCU movie felt like falling back into old patterns. It was definitely enjoyable with great action beats and enjoyable humor, but the climax felt rather uninspired and I just wish they could have done something a little bit different than falling right back into the MCU formula that I often like to think doesn’t really exist. And as this is the latest MCU movie, if you haven’t seen it yet from here on out there may be spoilers so be warned.
What this film does get right are the same things that Marvel movies always get right. The action is fantastic and the characters are great. The scenes with Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh as “sisters” from the Black Widow program are equal parts touching and comedic and that family plot line is really the glue that holds the entire movie together. Pugh’s Yelena has some of the best comedic moments of the entire movie and it seems clear that the film franchise is setting her up to basically be Natasha’s replacement in the Avengers and that’s perfectly fine. One of her better moments is when they bring back a detail that has become a criticism of Age of Ultron about how the Black Widows are sterilized and can’t have children. Here, it’s brought up after a sexist joke when David Harbour’s Red Guardian asks if it’s that time of the month and Yelena starts going into gruesome details about their involuntary hysterectomies, empowering herself through blunt humor rather than focusing on the fact that she’s somehow less of a woman because she’s unable to have children.
Cutting straight to the point, where the film loses its legs is in the climax. The entire film is about trying to find the mysterious and almost mythical “Red Room” where the villain played by Ray Winstone grooms all the stolen children to become mind-controlled assassins. It’s revealed that the mind control isn’t just psychological conditional like what happened when Natasha was trained, but now it’s evolved into straight up phone-app controlled chemical-based mind control. Not only that, but it’s revealed that there are hundreds of members of the Widow program placed throughout the world which starts to fall apart once anyone starts to put a little bit of thought into how it would ever be possible for all of these women to be controlled by a single person. Yes, the control is likely to be decentralized but the movie never gets into those specifics. Not only that, but the Red Room ends up being a giant technological station hovering in the sky only to be brought down in the same kind of giant explosion that we’ve seen over and over again in all of these Marvel movies. It’s like it can’t be a theatrical experience unless something massive is being blown up in the third act.
What works better is the pseudo family sub-plot with various twists and turns. They don’t always flow smoothly and some of the turns are a little too steep, but overall they work more often than not. Red Guardian starts off as a blustery and indoctrinated blowhard that resented the three years spent as an undercover family in Ohio when he would have rather been off fighting Captain America in hand to hand combat. The opening scene feels like a traditional family but as the members start coming back together it ultimately wasn’t just the parents who knew they were undercover. The photo album that Rachel Weisz’s Melina kept is revealed that most of them were taken in a single photo session where they recreated Christmas, Easter, and their summer vacation with various backdrops. But the fact that Melina still kept that album as a symbol of the time they spent together as a normal family helps sell how they ultimately come together to take down the Red Room.
The rest of the plot is difficult to get into, there were some oddities like the fact that Natasha is shown to be a child in the opening scene that takes place in 1995, but in the comics she is actually quite a bit older and there have been subtle hints in the movies that she was older than she looks but nothing concrete. The introduction of Taskmaster is an interesting one and the fight scenes were all well done despite a drastic change in the character from the comics. I honestly didn’t know much about the character but I can easily see how fans might be disappointed in how the character is treated here. The change from male to female is something that hopefully a lot of people could get past, but it’s likely more to do with the weird mind control aspect. She could still recover to become an interesting character more like a mercenary as long as the mimic ability was something that she retains even after being freed from the mind control. The look of the mask was great and the fights were some of the best fights in a long while, but just looking at the character in this specific movie it really felt like she got the legs cut out from underneath her before she could really become a force to be reckoned with. The same could be said for Natasha’s Black Widow as well. She did finally get her own movie after appearing in eight other films including Iron Man 2 way back in 2010 which was eleven years ago at this point, but she got her solo movie after her character died two movies ago. It’s like a backhanded compliment. But despite my complaints I’m still glad to have a reason to come back to theaters and it was absolutely a fun ride while I was there. It just happened to be a fun ride that didn’t fully hold up to the later scrutiny. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.