'Black Widow' is a welcome palate cleanser for Marvel - MrLiambi's blog


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Tuesday 29 June 2021

'Black Widow' is a welcome palate cleanser for Marvel

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Alexei (David Harbour), and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW.

If the interconnectedness of the Marvel movies is key to the franchise's appeal, it can also feel like a barrier: Films like Avengers: Endgame only really work if you're invested in this universe already, while shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are basically gibberish unless you've got a decent handle on these characters to begin with. Even ostensibly standalone stories like WandaVision can feel too much like a game of connect-the-dots, with splashy cameos or undercooked plot twists meant to lay the groundwork for some other story to be told later.

Which is why it feels like such a relief that the series' latest, Black Widow, isn't super interested in any of that. Sure, there are references to the Avengers, and Black Widow's reintroduction makes more sense if you remember it's a prequel that takes place just after Captain America: Civil War. And yes, obviously we are going to see at least some of these characters again.

But for long stretches, it's almost possible to forget Black Widow is a Marvel movie at all, and that's a good thing. It's the palate cleanser the franchise needed after the intense cross-pollination of the Phase Three films and Disney+ shows: a self-contained, back-to-basics adventure that works just as well for newbies and casual viewers as it does for longtime fans. With Black Widow, we finally get a deeper understanding of a fan-favorite character who's been popping up in supporting roles for a decade. We also get a pretty solid action thriller about a weird little family of Russian spies. You can choose which half of that description appeals to you more.

That Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is one of many women who've endured the brutal Black Widow program â€" meant to mold little girls into elite spies and assassins â€" was already established in earlier films. Black Widow opens by reaching even further back, to when she was an ordinary American kid in suburban Ohio. Or at least, what looked like an ordinary American kid. In truth, her "father," Alexei (David Harbour), was really the Russian equivalent of Captain America; her "mother," Melina (Rachel Weisz) was really a Russian scientist; her "sister," Yelena, was set up to be unwitting fodder for the Black Widow program; and all of them were only pretending to be a family as part of a years-long deep-cover mission.

The idyll is broken when the family is forced to flee Ohio for Cuba, where they're split up, absorbed back into different arms the sinister intelligence program that threw them together to begin with. Decades later, in 2016, they're reunited when Yelena â€" now a grown-up Black Widow defector played with irresistible punch by Florence Pugh â€" ropes Natasha and the others into an attempt to take down the program once and for all.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh as Yelena in Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW.
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh as Yelena in Marvel Studios' BLACK WIDOW. Credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios

As directed by Cate Shortland and written by Eric Pearson, Black Widow is blessed with both muscular action and endearing warmth. With relatively few superpowers or even super-gadgets in play, the action sequences tend more toward the kind of vehicle chases and hand-to-hand combat you might see from a Mission: Impossible or James Bond movie, as opposed to the more overtly fantastical displays of a Thor or Spider-Man movie. It's for the better. The (comparatively) grounded choreography leads to some of Marvel's most thrilling battles since at least Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Actually, an early sequence involving a plane might even be better than anything in that movie.

But if the action is what make Black Widow soar, its heart is what makes it land. Though the film never fully leans into the tragedy of Natasha and Yelena's predicaments â€" you know, the whole thing where they're conscripted as children into a horrifically abusive program that stripped them of all agency and autonomy â€" Natasha's cool self-assurance takes on a more poignant shade when she's surrounded by the family that was never really her family. Johansson and Pugh shine brightest together, when Yelena's hilariously blunt kid-sister energy pokes up against Natasha's big-sister authority. (We might think Natasha looks cool fighting alongside the Avengers, but Yelena's not above needling her about how silly her signature landing pose looks.)

The comparatively grounded choreography leads to some of Marvel's most thrilling battles since at least Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Harbour takes the extreme dad energy he brought to Stranger Things in a broader, goofier direction as Alexei, who serves as both the muscle and the comic relief of the movie, and Weisz softens her character's harder edges with just a touch of maternal tenderness. You can just make out the shape of a family if you squint, which of course is the part that hurts enough to make you care deeply about what becomes of all these people and their relationships in the end.

But Black Widow was never going to let these people just hash it out over the dinner table, no matter how amusing it is to hear Natasha scolded about her posture or watch Alexei scrutinize a pet pig. After a relatively lean 90 minutes or so, Black Widow goes full Marvel in its third act, climaxing as just about every Marvel movie or Disney+ series does: with an enormously expensive but disappointingly generic set piece that flattens any nuance or complexity into a simple good-versus-bad framework. (Truly, this is the franchise's most consistent, and most frustrating, habit.) Coming at the end of a movie that had been working just fine doing its own thing in its own little corner of the universe, it's a letdown.

Still, credit where it's due: By the time the film reached its requisite end credits sequence teasing the inevitable sequel, I felt it had actually earned one. Not by leaving a bunch of plot holes to be filled by some future spinoff, or by promising to slot into some grand plan for an even larger saga, but simply by showing me a good time with characters I wouldn't mind seeing again. Technically, Black Widow is a retreat into Marvel's past. By delivering a story that satisfies on its own terms, however, it makes a compelling case for moving ahead with this franchise into the future.

Black Widow hits theaters and Disney+ (with Premier Access) July 9.

Source : http://feeds.mashable.com/~r/Mashable/~3/gimjoXD0HrM/black-widow-movie-review

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