Black Widow (2021) – Cate Shortland

The MCU roars back to the big screen with an emotional and action-packed thrill ride that gives Scarlett Johansson a long over due Black Widow solo film, set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War/Endgame, director Cate Shortland brings us resoundingly back into the big screen spectacle that is the MCU and defines the modern myth.

And like all great myths, the MCU films serve as stories filled with morals, messages, and lessons. Yes, they are wrapped in the trappings of big box office entertainment, but that doesn’t make their heart any less important, and this time around, we are given a film about female power, choices, patriarchy, and family.

It also does all this while riffing gently on arguably one of the worst Bond films of all time, Moonraker (seriously, watch for similar elements to pop up), while never losing sight of telling a rip-roaring spy story that shows Johansson is more than able to carry a film of this nature on her own, and is more than equal to Jason Bourne.

Marvel films continue to draw top notch talent in front of and behind the camera, and from the moment the film opened, I was a little weepy – a big screen Marvel adventure… could life be returning to normal? The pains of the past year and a half slid away, as I joined a friend I’ve journeyed with on an adventure that gives us a deeper insight to her character.

From its emotionally resounding opening to the post credits tag, this is Marvel doing it right, once again. Natasha (Johansson) is pulled back into her old life, when she learns that the training centre, known as the Red Room, that she escaped from, and thought she had destroyed along with the man who runs it, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) is still in operation, and is no longer using psychological manipulation, but chemicals to control their subjects.

Dreykov has an army of Widows under his control, a resource he feels that the world has too much of, so he has no problem throwing them at Natasha, and her adopted sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh). This leads to a reunion of sorts with the Soviet Union’s first superhero, the Red Guardian (David Harbour, whose character walks the line between comedy and cold operative), and the brilliant Melina (Rachel Weisz).

Featuring a fantastic score by Lorne Balfe, the story rockets along and doesn’t let up, featuring well-paced action sequences, and great character beats, this is a story that has proven worth waiting for, and ties in beautifully with the larger MCU events around it.

Shortland keeps the focus on the characters. That doesn’t mean she shies away from the big action sequences, not in the least, but she finds the moments in those set pieces to let the characters shine, and pairing Johansson with Pugh is inspired, as the pair have a real chemistry.

And speaking of chemistry, you can see the choices Natasha makes in her interactions with Mason, (O-T Fagbenle), and how she works to keep everyone away from her. To have her open up and reach out to Yelena, Melina and Harbour’s Guardian says a lot about her. And none of them are above taking shots at her.

I love the characters, and the themes at work in the story. The narrative reveals itself so well, delivering chills and thrills in equal measure. The only downside to this film is that Johansson can’t do a sequel, though there is a hint of someone else taking up the mantle.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to so completely lose myself in a film, and this one did it. And while I have loved the Marvel series on Disney+ over the course of the pandemic, it was an absolute thrill to be able to settle in for a two hour thrill ride, and know that I would love every minute of what I was going to see.

Black Widow opens July 9th on the big screen, and will be available for Premier Access on Disney+.

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