Black Widow (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Black Widow’s family reunion

“Black Widow”, the first film in the Phase Four of Marvel Cinematic Universe, is an entertaining product which finally puts its criminally under-utilized heroine at the center after many delays. While it is occasionally limited by its obligatory connections with other MCU movies and characters, the movie shines whenever it focuses on the humor and drama generated among its heroine and several other equally strong main characters, and that aspect puts the movie a bit above the average achievement rate of MCU products.

Since she appeared in “Iron Man 2” (2010), there had been some speculation on whether Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) would get her own movie like many male Avenger members during next 10 years, but she was constantly put aside without much spotlight for her, and then, as many of you remember, she was dreadfully wasted in “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) without much fanfare. At least, “Black Widow” was produced at last around the time when that bland and over-populated product came out in 2019, but, alas, its initial theatrical in 2020 was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and it had to wait one more year before eventually receiving theatrical release in this week.

Set at the time point somewhere between “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) and “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), the movie opens with the prologue sequence showing Natasha’s old childhood past in Ohio, 1995. Along with a younger girl who was supposed to be her sister on the surface, young Natasha had a pretty good suburban life under the care of their parents, but their parents were actually undercover Russian secret agents, and we soon see them hurriedly escaping along with their “children” once their covert mission was accomplished despite being exposed to the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the end. Shortly after the “family” arrived in Cuba, young Natasha and her “sister” were taken away from their “parents”, and that was the beginning of how she was turned into one of the most dangerous super-agents in the world.

Anyway, as many of you know, Natasha subsequently defected to S.H.I.E.L.D. and then became a member of the Avengers, but she now becomes a fugitive due to what happened in “Captain America: Civil War”, and she decides to hide somewhere in Norway for a while at least. Thanks to one of her hidden allies, she gets a remote spot where she can live alone without being noticed by anyone outside, and she soon begins her first day as a secret recluse, but, alas, her peace is suddenly disrupted by one unexpected incident.

Shortly after she goes to Budapest, Hungary for discerning what is really going on, Natasha comes across Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), who was her younger sister at that time and was also turned into a lethal super-agent as going through a series of ruthless training processes along with Natasha and many other young girls kidnapped from here and there around the world. Although their reunion after so many years is not exactly cordial to say the least, Natasha comes to learn from Yelena that her dark past is still very much alive, and she and her younger sister soon embark on their perilous quest toward stopping the evil mastermind behind the creation of not only them but also many other female super-agents under his diabolical mind control.

As bumping from one spot to another on their risky journey, Natasha and Yelena fatefully come to encounter two important persons in their past: their “father” Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian (David Harbour) and their “mother” Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a resourceful scientist who was also a super-agent just like her two “daughters”. The eventual “family reunion” of these two people and Natasha and Yelena later in the story feels pretty awkward to say the least because both Natasha and Yelena still have emotional issues with their “parents”, and the movie deftly swings back and forth between comedy and drama as these four main characters finally come to get a chance to be a little more honest to each other.

In the meantime, director Cate Shortland, who previous drew my attention via “Berlin Syndrome” (2017), and her crew members keep things rolling while serving us a series of well-executed action sequences. Most of these sequences sometimes look as preposterous as whatever we saw from those Fast and Furious flicks, but they are accompanied with enough physical and dramatic impacts at least, and you may be also tickled by when the movie makes a self-conscious fun of a certain unrealistic physical aspect of many MCU movies.

The mood becomes all the more bombastic as expected during the mandatory climax sequence in the film, but the movie is still anchored well by the enjoyable chemistry among its four principal cast members. While Scarlett Johansson holds the center as fully exploring her character’s untouched potentials at last, Florence Pugh ably complements her co-star during many key scenes between them, and it is evident that this exceptional British actress, who has enjoyed her rapid career advance during last few years since her chilling breakthrough turn in “Lady Macbeth” (2016), savors her every juicy moment as much as her co-star. In case of David Harbour, who has been more prominent thanks to his Emmy-nominated turn in Netflix series “Stranger Things”, he skillfully handles his several undeniably hilarious moments, and Rachel Weisz holds her own place well as another crucial part of the story.

In conclusion, “Black Widow” is an engaging superhero flick to watch for a number of good reasons including the game efforts from its main cast members, and, like “Black Panther” (2018) and “Captain Marvel” (2019), it brings some fresh air into the MCU franchise in addition to being a solid start for the Phase Four of MCU. I will probably get tired again as enduring heaps of next MCU movies during next few years, but I was certainly entertained as appreciating those uplifting moments of female empowerment in the film, so I will not complain for a while.

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