19 months after its first teaser trailer debuted, Black Widow has finally made its way to theaters.
The Scarlett Johansson-led solo flick has been through the wringer, to say the least. While it was initially penciled in to kick off Phase 4, the film was pushed from its original May 2020 release date three separate times due to pandemic precautions.
This uncertainty surrounding the previous release dates forced Marvel to have a start-stop relationship with the marketing campaign, as promotional posters and frequent TV spots didn't truly materialize until the July 9, 2021 drop was solidified. The theatrical release comes paired with a streaming alternative, as Black Widow will become the fourth film to also drop on Disney+'s Premier Access.
Delays aside, the wait for a solo Black Widow adventure has been materializing for over a decade. Fans were first introduced to Natasha Romanoff in 2010's Iron Man 2, where she quickly became one of the most popular soon-to-be Avengers. Johansson would play a supporting role in four future Avengers movies, teeter between allegiances in Captain America: Civil War, and star opposite Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Even as one of the leads in The Winter Soldier, fans still clamored for Natasha Romanoff to one day receive the solo spotlight.
The setbacks seemed never-ending, but as Natasha says, "nothing lasts forever."
Like many MCU installments before it, Black Widow puts its foot on the gas the second the Marvel Studios fanfare hits.
Director Cate Shortland wastes no time in getting the story moving. Even though this is Natasha Romanoff's first solo adventure, Shortland is well aware of how familiar audiences already are with the character. This not only allows for the movie to stand on its own but avoids falling into the origin story trap.
AN IMPORTANT MCU STORY
The Marvel Cinematic Universe's lore is what keeps fans coming back. Ever since a billionaire philanthropist was confronted about a certain initiative, audiences have been salivating to find out how the MCU goes forward.
Black Widow goes in fighting an uphill battle as its story takes place between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.
Prequels often find themselves at a disadvantage because they're bookended by familiar territory. Even with the magic of mystery somewhat absent, Black Widow avoids feeling like an afterthought because it proves itself to be a story worth telling. While it doesn't drastically progress the greater MCU narrative forward, it retrospectively enhances past Natasha Romanoff appearances.
Oddly enough, the glimpses into Natasha's past and the overall lore of the Red Room is what carries this film rather than the narrative itself. The storyline is nothing ground-breaking and feels a little generic at times, but it is flavored with enough intrigue that it doesn't stall momentum.
MARVEL STUDIOS' GRIT IS BACK
The MCU has grown astronomically in scope since 2008, pairing its heroes with alien invasions, robot wars, and time heists. This film brings the larger-than-life universe back down to earth in the best way possible.
Similar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Black Widow's narrative is rooted in reality. It possesses the same gritty and oftentimes uncomfortable tone as the aforementioned comparison.
The trademark Marvel humor is present, but it is used both sparingly and appropriately. Jokes are not cracked at the expense of any tension or emotion but rather come at welcomed places that ease the audience into comfort before flipping the switch back to high-octane action.
Speaking of action...
Natasha Romanoff has much more than head scissors in her arsenal.
Audiences will leave Black Widow breathless from an action standpoint. In a cinematic universe that unleashes sorcery spectacles and cosmic clashes, Black Widow brings the combat back to a ground-and-pound standpoint. Not since Captain America: The Winter Soldier has Marvel's hand-to-hand combat been so profound.
Like all great fights, just about every sequence is coupled with emotion. Each strike is delivered with a purpose, giving some brawls a sense of intimacy. The emotionally-driven one-on-ones illuminate so brightly, however, that those fights without it do suffer a bit.
The MCU has its fair share of iconic antagonists, but its solo installments don't exactly have the strongest reputation when it comes to adversaries.
Like Malekith and Darren Cross before him, Taskmaster is in the unfortunate category of forgettable foes. His mirror-image fighting style is a fascinating concept but left a lot to be desired.
Ray Winstone's Dreykov plays an integral role as well. He possesses an appropriate intimidating presence, but his aura felt more told than shown.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Florence Pugh is a rockstar.
The 25-year-old actress delivers an MCU debut performance for the ages. Her chemistry with Johansson is palpable, and their dynamic makes the Yelena Belova/Natasha Romanoff relationship feel not just authentic but lived in.
Pugh was tasked with the tall order of portraying a new MCU character that is supposed to have an intimate history with one of the franchise's most tenured figures and absolutely knocks it out of the park.
David Harbour's comedic timing adds a much-welcomed loose layer to what is a mostly serious narrative overall. Similar to his vibe in Stranger Things, Harbour's humor comes both naturally and unintentionally.
A WORTHY EPILOGUE
With eight appearances behind her, fans know what they're getting when Scarlett Johansson suits up. She's been long praised for her performances as Natasha Romanoff, but Black Widow pushes her into that ever-illusive inner circle of 'born to play' roles.
As a supporting player for her entire MCU tenure up until now, some may overlook Johansson's strength in the role. With the full spotlight on her, Natasha Romanoff takes every inch she's given and runs for miles. Johansson leaves it all out on the field in what might be her final MCU appearance.
Overall, Black Widow is a strong installment that hits the Marvel Studios gold standard. It may not crack a top ten list, but there is still a wild amount of enjoyment to be had. For diehard fans that have been waiting for Natasha to get her due, this film delivers.
Black Widow hits theaters and Disney+ via Premier Access on July 9, 2021.