Black Widow Movie Review - This MCU spy thriller thrills a little too late

Despite its not-so-subtle similarities to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Black Widow feels more in line with the Bourne films than a typical MCU movie. There's less superpowered hijinks here and more beautiful female assassins with guns and knives which, for Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), probably feels like home.

It's fitting then that a constant thread in Natasha's character in the Russo-era Avengers is her search for a place to call home, and it's a string that finds itself at the core of Black Widow. In the wake of the fallout to Captain America: Civil War, we learn that the Red Room, the Russian program that creates brainwashed Black Widow assassins, is very much operational despite Natasha's earlier attempt at proving otherwise, and her adoptive "little sister" - slash - Red Room graduate Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) needs her help to take it down from the inside.

What comes next is an unexpected family reunion with Yelena and their "parents" Alexei and Melina (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz, respectively), undercover Soviet spies who both groomed the girls for and have a bone to pick with the Red Room's master, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone in a menacing performance). The faux family dynamic is the source of much of the movie's laughs as well as its heart-tugging moments, but oftentimes the captivating ensemble cast leaves little room for Johansson to shine. It often felt like Natasha was a passenger in her own movie, driven by forces outside her control towards the final act.

Don't get me wrong, I loved Johansson in this. She ironically found her stride in her first and last solo movie, and she carries the weight of both dramatic and action-packed scenes with ease. But a big part of what makes Black Widow so much fun is Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, who's equal parts innocent and savvy and whose sardonic take on everything around her is the highlight of every scene she's in (and arguably of the entire movie). If the future of the MCU needs a new Black Widow, I welcome Pugh with open arms. 

Unfortunately, Black Widow doesn't escape the ills typical of the Marvel formula. The Taskmaster character is criminally underused, more scenery dressing than what trailers would have you believe. And the depth of General Dreykov's character never goes beyond the namedrop he got in Marvel's The Avengers, despite the misogynistic implications of using girls, "the only natural resource the world has too much of," to consolidate his worldly power. In the end he's just another Marvel bad guy who really needs to get his ass kicked, and even if he did, it's not nearly as satisfying as the movie thinks. But to see Johansson kick so much more ass than usual is worth the price of admission alone.

It pains me to think that we got an answer to "Can Black Widow headline her own movie franchise?" after it's now impossible to do so. Black Widow is an exhilarating tour de force for Johansson, even it is too little too late. The only consolation us fans of the OG and OF (as in only female) Avenger have is having a memorable send-off to arguably one of the MCU's most fascinating characters.

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