Warning - This article contains spoilers for Black Widow.
After nearly two years, the MCU has finally returned to theaters with the release of Scarlett Johansson's long-awaited solo film — Black Widow.
Set in the wake of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff is on the run and coping with the split of her Avengers family until she reunites with her former "family" from a '90s Russian spy mission. Together, they set out to bring down the Black Widow program and the Red Room where Natasha grew up and her sister Yelena grew up.
Originally set to release in May 2020, Black Widow suffered multiple COVID-related delays before finally debuting in theaters and on Disney Premier Access on July 9, 2021.
Despite the film's positive reception and its impressive opening weekend at the box office, Marvel fans were confused and even frustrated by several aspects of Natasha Romanoff's final bow within the MCU.
5. THE CONFUSING EVENTS OF BUDAPEST
During the Attack on New York in 2012's The Avengers, Natasha quips that their fight was "just like Budapest all over again" to Hawkeye, who responds with, "You and I remember Budapest very differently."
Naturally, fans have wonderedjust what went down in Budapest since then, and even more so after the two commented on the experience again in Avengers: Endgame. Not only was Black Widow the most obvious film to dive into this story, but it was also the last chance to explore this plot point since Natasha sacrificed herself in Endgame.
Granted, the movie did visit Budapest, and the event was acknowledged, but it was never fully explained and left more fans with more questions than answers. Many wondered if Black Widow's own creators knew the lead character's MCU lore.
For instance, what exactly transpired between Hawkeye and Natasha leading them to team up? Did Clint know Dreykov's daughter was caught in that explosion? How is a Chitauri invasion of New York comparable to their attempt to kill Dreykov? And, due to the violent nature of events, why was Budapest treated like a lighthearted, inside joke between them?
4. THE WASTED CHARACTER OF TASKMASTER
Does the MCU have a reputation for sticking to the comics? Not at all. What fans struggle with is when the films make a change that fails to justify the change or that fails to serve the story being told.
Due to the heavy promotion for Black Widow villain Taskmaster, fans expected comic book character Tony Masters behind the mask or a new, truly relentless villain with next-level fighting chops.
Neither was the case. Instead, Taskmaster was the disfigured, weaponized daughter of Red Room leader General Dreykov — Antonia — the little girl who Natasha thought she killed in Budapest along with Dreykov.
In theory, this change better served the story since Antonia had ties to Natasha's past and was female, just like the film's two strong female leads. Also, what better threat to Natasha than the source of her own guilt while employing the Avengers fighting skills against her?
The problem was that most, if not all, of the character's most impressive moves were shown in the trailers and teasers, and the complex connection between Antonia and Natasha's relationship wasn't used to the fullest. This left fans feeling that Marvel wasted the character of Taskmaster in more ways than one.
3. BLACK WIDOW'S SOLO FILM IS ACTUALLY AN ENSEMBLE
Even though Black Widow is Natasha Romanoff's solo film, unfortunately, she's not the film's most interesting character. As Natasha's younger "sister," Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova is simply more human, relatable, and dynamic than Natasha Romanoff.
However, this critique has nothing to do with Scarlett Johansson's performance. The fault lies with Marvel Studios.
Natasha Romanoff hasn't been the studio's most consistent character. Throughout her ten-year tenure in the MCU, Marvel didn't seem to know who or what they wanted her to be. Apart from the fact Johansson plays the character, she's very different from her debut in Iron Man 2 to her supporting role in The Avengers to her nearly co-starring role in Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Actually, it's only at the end of her run in Captain America: Civil War and then Avengers: Infinity War that she truly finds her stride.
Her one consistent trait throughout her span of films is her aloofness; and while her relationship with Hawkeye and Bruce Banner allowed her to finally show her true self and some vulnerability, the latter was never revisited after Avengers: Age of Ultron while the former was never explored as thoroughly as fans wanted.
Johansson delivered a solid performance in Black Widow, but the film chose to do more than explore the other sides of her character's personality.
2. REDEMPTIVE ARCS WERE AN AFTERTHOUGHT
For a film about a character determined to wipe the red from her ledger, the redemptive arc for the film's supporting cast seems to have been an afterthought.
The most glaring example is David Harbour's Alexei Shostakovich/Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz' Melina Vostokoff, as the two appeared to have a real bond with Natasha and Yelena in that gut-punch of an opener.
Flash-forward to Alexei's prison break sequence, and he proves to be hilarious, but also pompous, detached, and self-absorbed. Of course, there are reasons for this; but they're never fully explored apart from him singing "American Pie" with Yelena. In fact, his moment of confession is played more for laughs and neither Natasha nor Yelena are present to hear it.
Considering Black Widow touches on women breaking free of a man's control, the Red Guardian's half-hearted arc failed to contribute to the message of the film. A moment of true regret and admission could've been a powerful moment for both his character and the sisters. The lack of it feels like a glaring missed opportunity.
Unfortunately, Melina Vostokoff had even less of an arc. Her scene with the pigs she controls was painful and uncomfortable instead of humorous, and that pretty much sums up her character presentation.
Upon learning that the mind control she developed was used on Yelena, Melina is startled, but there's never an apology. Instead, her redemption comes in the form of a Mission Impossible-style face swap with no explanation for how she arrived there morally.
1. THE CONVOLUTED ENDING
While MCU fans had their doubts on whether Loki would stick the landing, the latest MCU project to stumble at the finish line was, in fact, Black Widow.
The first half of the film was grounded both emotionally and action-wise from the heart-wrenching Ohio flashback to Yelena and Natasha's brutal hand-to-hand skirmish. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for third act's mission to bring down the Red Room.
Marvel fans know a bit of the Red Room's brutality and the grim childhood the film's two female leads experienced. However, the weight and significance of Natasha returning to destroy the source of her abuse suffered from its reveal as a James Bond-ish secret base in the sky to Dreykov's wearisome diatribe to humorous quips from the "parents" partly responsible for her having grown up there in the first place.
Then there's climactic action set piece of the crumbling Red Room falling to the ground. Again, on paper, it sounds awesome.
The problem is that it was harried, difficult to follow, and unbelievable even for a Marvel film considering Natasha doesn't possess super soldier-like abilities.
To finish things up, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha doesn't escape with the other widows or her family. Instead, she waits amongst the wreckage as General Ross arrives to seemingly arrest her. But then, the audience doesn't see her being taken into custody, but only what happens after she had escaped? It's confusing.
All in all, the film's third act was the antithesis of its first half and rather disjointed — a surprising conclusion since MCU action is great for serving the characters and their conflicts, not there simply for the sake of being there.