Not even a pandemic can stop Marvel. Even with the delayed movie releases, Marvel seemed to be ready for any contingency. WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki have filled in the movie/television schedule that has otherwise been a giant void of nothing. Now, with things opening back up and more than half of Americans with at least one vaccine shot (the rest of you need to get on it), all of those delayed movies are starting to hit theaters and/or our homes. That means Black Widow.
(SPOILERS Ahead – Don’t worry, you can keep reading. It’s not like you don’t already know Widow lives at the end.)
Black Widow takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War. We pick up with Natasha, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), on the run from Secretary Ross (William Hurt), Widow having violated the Sokovia Accords. She and Captain America are the only two outlaw Avengers still free and Ross would like to change that. First though, we have to step back with the film for a glimpse of Natasha’s childhood. The opening scene of the film takes us to mid-1990s Ohio where Natasha lives with her mother Melina (Rachel Weisz), father Alexei (David Harbour), and sister Yelena (played later as an adult by Florence Pugh). Alexei returns home from work one night and says they have to leave. It is not clear what happened, but what becomes clear is that they were a Russian sleeper cell. At the end of the scene, Yelena and Natasha are returned to Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the head of the Red Room where all of the Black Widows are trained, including Natasha. Now, back to the almost-present.
Natasha is on the run and Yelena is a Black Widow on a mission for Dreykov. While trying to capture a scientist, Yelena is sprayed in the face with some red stuff and suddenly cares about the well-being of the scientist. This was confusing for a while because the spray doesn’t get explained any time soon and we don’t know much about the Black Widows aside from them being deadly assassins who take ballet and have all of their reproductive organs removed.
While on the run, Natasha receives a package from Yelena, so Natasha heads to Budapest (yes, that Budapest) and meets up with Yelena. And by meets, I mean fights with. Family, am I right? Yelena tells Natasha that Dreykov is still alive and the Red Room is still in operation and we finally get an explanation to the fabled Budapest that Natasha and Hawkeye always talked about, albeit a very abbreviated explanation. Natasha and Yelena decide to take down Dreykov once and for all and you know what that means. Vodka. Not for the Red Room, don’t be silly. Only a full nuclear family, one filled with trained assassins, can take down a room full of, er…trained assassins.
What I enjoyed most about the movie is the relationship between Yelena and Natasha. They definitely have some past demons, but they also have a respect for each other that mixes professional with familial. And if you have siblings, you will recognize the dynamics. Yelena is the younger of the two and is constantly poking at Natasha. One of the cleverest things about MCU movies is the way they show the audience that they are aware of themselves, but without coming off like morons the way the characters in F9: The Fast Saga do. One example is Yelena teasing Natasha about her superhero landings and poses, literally calling Natasha a poser. Later, Yelena will perform one pose herself, then remark to herself that it felt gross. It’s brilliant and is the reason why I’m perfectly fine submitting to the Marvel (Disney) overlords.
The film is not without its flaws. One flaw is that the story itself seems a little looser than most MCU movies. The film kind of flies past a couple of elements and kind of forgets to use some of the setup. The most glaring example is the use of Red Guardian, a.k.a. Alexei, or more specifically, lack of use. While Natasha and Yelena are reuniting in Budapest, we find Alexei in prison, bragging about being Captain America’s superior. Turns out, Alexei was given the super serum as well and we see him put it to use in the flashback scene by flipping a car and in prison during an…is this right? An arm-wrestling sequence? Huh. The rest of the film he is nothing more than comic relief. No more flipping cars and no more, uh, arm-wrestling, I guess. Just joke after joke after squeezing into his old uniform after joke. To be fair, the jokes were pretty funny. I just wish we got more of him in general.
At this point in time, we know what we are going to get from Marvel, including the intro music that, during these Covid times, is literally and figuratively music to our ears. Back are the quips, the action, the easter eggs, the fanboy winks, the post-credits scenes, and actors loving that they are in a Marvel movie now too. Harbour, Pugh, and Weisz were clearly enjoying themselves, as was I, since I really like Harbour and Weisz, and Pugh has definitely moved up my list after this film. I can’t say that it was an amazing movie because we are living in a post Avengers: Endgame world where every movie seems smaller now. But that’s okay. We need all of these movies and shows to be smaller so that whatever is the next big MCU thing feels big enough. Personally, I’m just happy that big movies are back, even if they are a step back in the universe we are watching.
Rating: Worth exactly what you paid for it. Home or theater.
At the risk of repeating myself, how is it that Marvel keeps making outstanding movies? I’m not really surprised by this anymore, but I am surprised that they continually top my expectations. At this point in time, the law of averages says they are overdue for a real stinker, but I’m happy to report that the new Captain America smells very nice. Wait…that sounds weird – let me start over. Captain America: Civil War knocked my socks off. No, that’s weird too and makes me sound like someone’s grandmother. Alright, I’ll figure out a better way to say it by the end of the review, but you get the point – Civil War is arguably the best movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.
As I said in my review of Batman v Superman, I was really looking forward to Civil War if only to get rid of the taste in my brain from viewing BvS. BvS was always destined to fail at a story level because Superman could just throw a building at Batman and movie over. But the real reason it failed was because the reason Superman and Batman are fighting at all is murky at best and completely nonsensical and dumb at worst. Civil War is exactly the opposite and is more than Captain America v Ironman: Dusk of Avengers – they are fighting for reasons that actually make sense. Sorry DC fans, but the sooner you admit BvS and Man of Steel were just bad movies, the sooner you can start demanding that Warner Brothers hire some writers and directors that don’t suck, follow the Marvel formula, and start making movies worthy of DC’s source material.
The Avengers have always been a tenuous alliance of superheroes, not so much because they don’t get along, but because they have different ideas on how to achieve the mission – world peace and protecting the human race. The film kicks off with the newly reformed Avengers (that we saw at the end of Age of Ultron) chasing down some bad guys in Nigeria who were trying to steal a bioweapon. By the time the scene is over, some collateral damage has occurred including eleven civilians dead. The Secretary of Defense (William Hurt) informs the group that more than one hundred nations have come together to decide that The Avengers should no longer be a private entity and must start operating under the purview of the United Nations. Any crime fighting undertaken outside of that oversight is to be considered a crime. As the team digests the information and debates amongst themselves, sides start form. One side, led by Tony “Ironman” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), agrees that oversight is necessary because they are powerful and dangerous, but mostly out of guilt for the Sokovia incident (from Age of Ultron). This is understandable since it’s literally his fault that Ultron came to be. The other side, led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), believes the opposite – that the various countries and diplomats have their own agendas and the team would end up becoming a weapon to be wielded by the U.N. This is understandable because Cap didn’t trust what S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury were doing in The Winter Soldier (and rightly so, as it turned out). The conflict arises because they are both right – oversight is a good idea, but the decision makers are completely untrustworthy. Talk about art imitating life (*cough* Republicans v Democrats *cough*).
Side commentary – the logic of the SecDef mirrors the short-sighted-can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees thinking that we see in real life today. While making his case to the Avengers, he places the collateral damage blame on them for the following events: (1) the Loki-led Chitauri invasion of Earth (The Avengers), (2) the Hydra-led invasion of D.C. (The Winter Soldier), (3) the destruction of Sokovia (Age of Ultron), and (4) the eleven dead in Nigeria. Here’s how the team should have responded to those: (1) we stopped an alien invasion aimed at destroying/enslaving humanity, (2) we stopped Hydra from taking over America and the world, (3) yeah – that was our fault, and (4) hello – bioweapon. I find it stunningly narrow-minded to get upset about the collateral damage when, had they not intervened, everyone dies or the world is taken over by bad guys or everyone dies. My point is they could have come up with a better list of examples or just stuck solely with the Ultron incident. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
The part I really want to put emphasis on is that the competing sides didn’t just jump to punch-kick-shoot, like Batman and Superman did, they literally talked about their ideologies. Following their disagreement, another incident happens and they talk about it again. I know that sounds a little boring (trust me, it’s not), but it makes the battle royale later in the movie much easier to accept because it’s the logical result of the escalation that occurs during the film. And that, dear DC fans and Zack Snyder, is how you make a superhero v superhero movie.
On that note, the battle royale is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. I won’t spoil the who takes whose side, but here are your contestants – Ironman, Captain America, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Warhammer (Don Cheadle), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) – and all of them get their fair share of the camera. The scene also has great special effects, a very smooth escalation of fighting, and plenty of fun banter (at one point, Spider-Man is praising Captain America while simultaneously fighting him). Yes – Marvel and directors Anthony and Joe Russo handled a twelve-person superhero fight movie better than DC and Zack Snyder handled a two-person fight.
Aside from the main story, they even managed to give due diligence to the introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther, which is amazing considering how many characters were in this film. That includes the additions of Emily VanCamp as CIA Agent Carter (to be fair, she’s not new, but she’s given far more to do this time around), Daniel Bruhl as the one true villain of the film, Martin Freeman as another government higher-up (and doesn’t he have to appear in Doctor Strange opposite Benedict Cumberbatch?), and even Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. As incredible as it sounds, not one of these characters felt like a throw-in just to get a silly cameo for an upcoming sequel or standalone movie (seriously D.C. and WB – get your shit together).
So, yeah – Civil War was freaking awesome from pretty much every aspect you can think of. Great characters, great story, no obvious plot holes, tie-ins with previous movies to maintain continuity, great new characters (and a big thank you to Marvel for fixing Spider-Man), great action, great acting, great dialogue, and most importantly, great entertainment. See? I told you I’d figure out a better way to describe this film.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back for Batman v Superman again. Then, see Civil War again.