Black Widow

 

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In her ninth tour of duty for Marvel, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow goes solo in a nuanced, complex and funny addition to the canon.

 

Black Widow
    

After the Endgame, the rebirth. Marvel has long been the preserve of the lantern-jawed, bulked-up all-male Caucasian superhero. But after the success of first Wonder Woman (from D.C. Comics) and then Black Panther, the times they are a-changin’. But unlike Wonder Woman, the centre stage here is occupied not by just one ballsy, high-kicking heroine, but a whole family of them. There’s the Black Widow herself, aka Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson); her adopted sister Yelena (Florence Pugh); and their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz). There’s also a seemingly unstoppable mercenary – Taskmaster – on their trail who also happens to be female, backed up by a swarm of female assassins.

 

Family relationships can often be complicated, but the house of Romanoff takes the biscuit. That’s because their idyllic upbringing in rural, leafy Ohio is a sham. Little Natasha and Yelena have been warned that they will, one day, go on “a great adventure.” That day arrives sooner than anybody had hoped for and the domestic dynamic is overturned in a torrent of adrenalin, gunfire and betrayal. That was 1995, today is 2016. Yelena is now a sniper currently working out of Morocco and Natasha, on the run, is in Norway where she meets up with Mason, an old contact from S.H.I.E.L.D. From there, the sisters are reunited in Budapest, where they kick the living daylights out of each other before coming to a familial truce. They love each really. And to combat the global threat posed by the egomaniacal General Dreykov, they must bring the family back together for one last supper.

 

The director is the Australian Cate Shortland, known for her independent, award-winning features Somersault (2004) and Lore (2012), who brings a nuance to the film that allows her characters to breathe and to bicker. She’s helped by a terrific, complex script by Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok), which is willing to pepper the dialogue with references to hysterectomies and pheromones, as well as propelling the specifics of the plot. This is grown-up stuff, artfully blending the mundane with the fantastical, while never losing sight of its central characters. And it is refreshingly self-mocking. Only a sister can take the mickey out of Natasha’s trademark action-ready stance, with her right arm in the air and her head flipped back. Yelena: “Why do you always do that thing? Your fighting pose. You’re such a poser! It’s like you think everybody is looking at you.” Florence Pugh is, indeed, a breath of fresh air, punctuating her dialogue with a perky “Ha!” In fact, there is welcome air of the international about the film, with four of the six names above the title being British. It’s a sensibility, along with Shortland’s individual voice, that lifts Black Widow above the often cacophonous and convoluted Marvel fare. There’s plenty of thunderous action and edge-of-the-seat thrills, but there’s a humanity and brain ticking along behind the utterly ludicrous.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Liani Samuel, Michelle Lee, Nanna Blondell, Ever Anderson, Violet McGraw, Simona Zivkovska, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

 

Dir Cate Shortland, Pro Kevin Feige, Ex Pro Scarlett Johansson, Screenplay Eric Pearson, from a story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson, Ph Gabriel Beristain, Pro Des Charles Wood, Ed Leigh Folsom Boyd and Matthew Schmidt, Music Lorne Balfe, Costumes Jany Temime, Sound Nia Hansen, Dialect coaches Helen Ashton and Ron Carlos.

 

Marvel Studios-Walt Disney.

134 mins. USA. 2021. Rel: 7 July 2021. Cert. 12A.