Dog’s Movie House: “Black Widow” A Superhero Movie With Soul!
“Black Widow” takes place between the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinite War” but the film opens with a prologue set during 1995 in Ohio. Young Natasha (Ever Anderson) and Young Yelena (Violet McGraw) are sisters playing in the suburbs with their doting mother Melina (Rachel Weisz). Things are normal until dad Alexei (David Harbour) comes home and says they all have to leave. Turns out that they are not a family at all, but a group of Russian spies put together as a “family” to spy on the United States. Alexei is actually the Red Guardian, sort of a Russian version of Captain America, but undercover here. They make their escape in an exciting sequence, only to be separated in Cuba, with the two girls being taken to the legendary Red Room, the Russian training facility that turns women into lethal assassins, or “widows.”
Cut to the present time and Natasha is on the run. During her undercover stay in Norway, she gets a message and a package from an adult Yelena (Florence Pugh) and attacked by a creepy dude in a skull mask who goes by the name of Taskmaster. Nastasha makes her way to Budapest where she and Yelena reunite and Natasha finds out that the Red Room is still operating and still run by Dreykov, the man she thought she’d killed. She and Yelena reunite with Melina and Alexei to find the location of the Red Room and destroy it once and for all.
The plot is pretty simple, but what infuses it with gravity are the details writer Eric Pearson includes in the story, including themes of loss and emotional manipulation and abuse, especially of women by powerful men. Dreykov (an effective Ray Winstone despite a dodgy Russian accent) is a monster who sees his Widows as a means to an end. Yelena and Natasha also have to come to terms with the fact that their family unit was a sham and whether or not any of the feeling they had and shared as children were genuine. Natasha especially has been a loner all her life and at this time she’s on her own again, separated by circumstance from the only thing that resembled a real family, the Avengers.
Now before you starting thinking “Black Widow” is the MCU version of a Lifetime Movie Of The Week, let me tell you that this isn’t the case at all. “Black Widow” is a thrilling film with all the requisite action scenes you can ask for. As there are very few actual “superheroes” in this film, most of the fighting and car chases are more grounded than your usual Marvel fare, but that only ads to the fun. Alexei gets to cut loose occasionally and the Taskmaster’s mimicking combat style is otherworldly, but for the most part director Cate Shortland keeps the action grounded and gritty.
Johansson is her usual dynamite self here, but her presence in the film is a little muted because of the strength of the ensemble. It’s not just Natasha’s story: it’s the whole history of the Widow program and how it’s affected individual characters. Pugh is a revelation as Yelena and her chemistry with Johansson is off-the-charts good. They may not be related, but the two “sisters” form a bond over the course of the film that develops into real family affection. Yelena is going to be the breakout star of this film (she’s already slated to appear in the Disney+ series, “Hawkeye, so get ready for a lot more of her). Pugh’s Yelena owns her role as a badass while at the same time showing the vulnerability of someone who’s been betrayed so many times that she doesn’t know who to trust. Plus, she’s really funny.
Weisz is in fine form as Melina, the head researcher for the Red Room who has a crisis of conscience. Melina plays her cards close to the chest but it’s clear that she has a great deal of affection for the “family” she had to leave behind. The comic MVP is David Harbour’s Alexei. Full of bluff and bluster with a thick Russian accent, Alexei turns out to be a big old teddy bear who’s protective instincts rise to the surface with their makeshift family is reunited. He’s also a part of the film’s funniest gag, inspired by “The Incredibles:” after years in prison and not enough exercise, Alexei has a hell of time getting into his old Red Guardian uniform. Bulging at the seems he jumps into the living room with the other three and says, without a trace of irony, “Still fits.”
“Black Widow” successfully walks the fine line between comic book fun and serious thematic dilemma and that’s a testament to director Shortland and her team. This type of story has never been told in a comic book film before and it’s nice to see that they hit it out of the park on their first try. While streaming for a premium on Disney+, this film has enough spectacle to be seen on the big screen. The first superhero foray of the summer is here and it’s a damn good one! 4 1/2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!