It's fun to see two very sharp young women navigating successfully what was a man's world!
You both have killed so many people. Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn't be more proud of you.’ Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour): [to Natasha and Yelena]
What helps me through the bombs and kicks of super-hero films is the consistent “family” theme. It may be whole families or individual members looking for parents or siblings. In Black Widow, Natasha (Scarlett Johannson) is seeking reconciliation with her sister and her parents. BW frames the entire adventure around the family dynamic. Notwithstanding the combative family of Avenger superheroes themselves, this version brings home the importance of real home.
Although Black Widow is historically placed between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, it has its own surfeit of mano-mano fighting and explosions. When the dust settles, Natasha joins forces with her sister, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) to find her mother, Melina (Rachel Weisz), and father, Alexei (David Harbour). Things are not as they seem when the daughters do catch up to join forces after some rocky initial actions.
The first forty minutes of the family’s escape from their idyllic Ohio home are as exciting an opener as you will likely see this summer. Then, as the formula demands, there is a Bond-like megalomaniac, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), whom the girls will target as he dominates other “widows” around the world with chemically-induced mind control.
Twenty-one years later, Natasha escapes a SWAT team to Norway, then briefly rejoining Yelena in Budapest before they both try to evade an armored vehicle and the menacing Dreykov soldiers who mimic the fighting techniques of their prey—even Avengers.
The vials of antidote Yelena steals were designed by Dreykov to erase free will of the world’s widows—a McGuffin-like device that is lost amid the chaos. The nice touch is that the sisters not only can knock off this world enemy, but they can also liberate strong young women, a gentle way of introducing the feminist motif without beating the audience with it. After quite capable director Cate Shortland and writer Eric Pearson allow the sisters to reconcile, watch for Yelena mocking Natasha’s balletic hair-toss pose. Not all the impact of the heroic epic is explosions.
Johansson and Pugh are in the Butch Cassady tradition of buddy bonding, a characterizing that promises future Avengers’ sagas to be more humane and endearing. BW is solid summer fun either at the theater or on Disney+.
Director: Cate Shortland (Lore)
Screenplay: Eric Pearson (Godzilla vs. Kong)
Cast: Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation)
Run Time: 2h 13m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com