Black Widow, by Albert W. Vogt III

Finally, Black Widow arrived.  A film that we have been seeing trailers for, what, two years?  It seems longer, but that is what the pandemic and lock down did to people.  From everything that I read, I thought it would explain some things from Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).  As it stands, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) seems to be at a crossroads, and I do not feel Black Widow did anything to give it a direction forward, despite rumors.  I should really stop trusting the internet.  As for the films that came before it, I feel like it raised more questions than it answered.  Sure, it was great to see the title character, or Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), get her own feature-length movie.  Maybe it was the years’ long build-up or comic book fatigue, but I did not find anything all that special about the film.

Ever wonder how Natasha Romanoff can sound so American and yet also be thoroughly Russian?  Black Widow sort of answers this right away by having her be a part of a sleeper-cell family with which she grows up in Ohio in the 1990s. One day, the person who acts as their father, Alexei (David Harbour), comes home and tells everyone that they need to flee.  He apparently has some secret information, but their cover has been blown.  In the process of escaping to Cuba, their supposed mother, Melina (Rachel Weisz), is injured.  Alexei is also separated from them, and young Natasha (Ever Anderson) and the little girl she thought was her younger sibling, Yelena Belova (Violet McGraw), are all taken from her.  Natasha and Yelena are put into the program that will turn them into trained assassins, though they are all called “widows,” so I guess that takes away some of the uniqueness of Natasha’s codename.  I guess you know what happens to Natasha, but Yelena carries on working for the mysterious Red Room, the organization that runs the all-female group of highly trained killers.  In more modern times, Yelena (Florence Pugh) is on a mission when her target sprays a mist into her face.  The substance apparently counteracts the mind-control she had been under, and she is now free like her sister.  Speaking of Natasha, because of her acts in helping Captain America in a previous film, she is on the run from Secretary Ross (William Hurt), who wishes to lock her up for breaking the Sokovia Accords.  She gives them the slip and goes into hiding from a long-time friend of hers (who we had never seen before) named Mason (O-T Fagbenle), who is also able to seemingly obtain anything for her.  She also has a bunch of unopened mail, and among the various parcels is set of vials Yelena had taken in her last mission.  It soon becomes apparent that some powerful people are after these glowing red tubes, and they send an implacable enemy going by Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) to retrieve them.  Natasha barely gets away from their encounter, and makes her way to Budapest where the package had originated.  Waiting for her in her own safe house is Yelena.  After a brief fight because why not, they are attacked by other widows that are on both their tails.  Together, they are able to evade once more, but now they decide it is time to get to the bottom of their shared past.  This means springing Alexei out of prison (who had been put there for reasons), and then going to see Melina.  At first, they believe Alexei would know where to find the Red Room, but it turns out Melina is the one with this knowledge.  She knows because she is still working for the Red Room, though seeing her one-time fake family back together apparently makes her switch loyalties.  With Alexei, dressed in his ill-fitting Red Guardian uniform (oh yeah, he is also a kind of super-soldier in the mold of Captain America), and Yelena left in the dark, Melina and Natasha hatch a plan to take down Dreykov (Ray Winstone).  He is the shadowy man behind the Red Room.  For decades he had been taking women and turning them into his own personal army of unwilling lethal assassins.  With them, he can topple any government anywhere with a simple command.  Anyway, there is some punching, kicking, shooting, and explosions.  The Red Room, which is a floating city, is brought down and Dreykov with it.  Hooray, I guess.  Alexei, Melina, and Yelena leave to do other things, and Natasha is now free to join the cast of Avengers: Infinity War.

Maybe this is unfair of me, but I expected Black Widow to be more along the lines of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) in quality.  That one, like all the Captain America (Chris Evans), is great because there is not some mustache twirling villain with his finger on the button of a device that is going to destroy the whole world.  And while the plots of Black Widow and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are similar, the former pales in comparison due to lack of originality.  With the latter, at least for a time, there is the notion that the only bad guy is the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and that Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) really is a good guy.  In the logic of Black Widow, that would make Dreykov the Pierce of the film, though we know he is evil from the start.  Captain America: Winter Soldier also benefits from being part of a franchise.  Black Widow is a stand-alone, one-off film, a rarity in the MCU.  It also has to backtrack a bit, or would it be “forward-track” since it is technically a prequel?  Whatever the case, the interactions between Natasha and Mason seem to suggest that they were quite close, and yet there is nothing about him in any of the previous movies.  He had the appearance of a key figure in her life, too important to simply appear just for this film.  I have other questions.  Why would Yelena, Alexei, and Melina not be helping out in Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame?  Yelena, based on the post-credits scene of Black Widow, certainly did not decide to retire to a camper on the Baltic.  Finally, in the aftermath of the destroyed Red Room, Secretary Ross rolls up on Natasha with a fleet of cars.  She tells the others that she will take care of them, but then we do not get to see how that goes down.  Instead, it cuts straight to her with blonde hair all of the sudden, getting one of the Avengers jets from Mason, and apparently flying off for Avengers: Infinity War.  Maybe these details are not important, but I was left wondering.

One of the weightier themes in Black Widow is how Natasha deals with her past.  If you followed her character in previous films, there is the suggestion throughout them that she had been running from it, somehow.  Whatever.  For this film, though, reuniting with the people she once called family gave her closure.  Much like what therapists will tell you, Faith also suggests that people must deal with whatever it is that once happened to you.  Oftentimes, these are wounds that are tied to our families.  For Natasha, part of her healing process was by becoming an Avenger and doing something bigger with her life than being an assassin.  Apparently, this was only part of the process.  She also had to come to terms with her fake family that she came to see as having abandoned her.  Doing so took a piece of her heart, and that is unfortunate because that is where God resides in all of us.  Luckily, it is not really possible for us to lose our hearts, but instead the Enemy makes us think such things in order to turn us away from a relationship with God.  Only He can mend such wounds, though that is not exactly the method pursued in the film.  Still, it is nice to see a Marian prayer card on Natasha’s tombstone in the end credits scene.

There is nothing new about Black Widow.  If you have seen any other MCU film, you have basically seen this one.  I half-expected, particularly with all the alternate dimensions the MCU has been getting into lately, for the film to find some way of bringing the character back to life after her plummet in Avengers: Endgame.  Guess not.  See Black Widow if you must.  If you can ignore its lack of originality, it is okay.  I just expected more.  Silly me.


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