Scarlett Johansson has been a part of the MCU for over 11 years after first appearing in “Iron Man 2.” That’s a long time for a character as prominent as “Black Widow” to go without a standalone movie or TV series of their own. The reasons (excuses) were the usual misogynistic fare. “No one will go see a superhero film with a female lead.” A claim that 2017s “Wonder Woman” feature dashed to pieces. But now that Black Widow is officially dead in the MCU, is this standalone too little, too late?
After a rousing preamble that establishes Natasha’s faux family, the film jumps forward 21 years to the year 2016. The events of “Civil War” have just transpired and Natasha is on the run from the relentless Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). She has just settled into one of her many safe houses when a mysterious package arrives from her estranged younger sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh). In close pursuit of the package is the even more relentless Taskmaster, an apparent cyborg who can perfectly mimic the fighting style of anyone it has studied. Natasha decides to track down her sister and the rest of their fractured family in an effort to make sense of it all.
From this point forward the plot is on autopilot. Nothing happens that we haven’t seen in various other movies before. There are no real character arcs, no real surprises, nothing that elevates Black Widow over her appearances in other MCU entries. A few moments of action may thrill, but even those feel oddly familiar. (Especially the Arya Stark knife drop from the “Game of Thrones” final season.) The script contains multiple awkwardly inserted references to the Avengers in an attempt to tie this into the larger narrative. While staying at a safe house in Budapest, Yelena asks “What kind of bullet leaves holes in the wall like that?” “Arrows” is Natasha’s reply.
Offhand comments like these are meant to make the movie feel like a part of something bigger but instead have the opposite effect. The world feels pretty tiny when the Black Widow Sisters visit only a couple of spots in Budapest and each has some reference to Hawkeye. This is perhaps the biggest problem with “Black Widow.” It seems small, disconnected, and insignificant as a whole. We already know Natasha’s fate, so there are no real stakes here for her. Even when the big baddie reveals he holds the fate of the world in his hand, we don’t really buy it. Especially since we know Thanos is arriving within a couple of years of these events.
“Black Widow” isn’t a bad movie, but the character deserved better. The best thing about it is being able to see one of the lost Avengers back on the big screen again. The performances of David Harbour and Florence Pugh are an absolute delight. Maybe if this had been released before “Infinity War” it would have felt bigger? Receiving the Disney+ MCU Series treatment would have been even better! At least ScarJo finally has her own standalone movie. Too little, too late, but still better than nothing!