It’s difficult to love the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Widow. She stands out like a sore thumb. She is part of a super-powered team (including Hawkeye) and fills the roles of “master manipulator” or “weird, sexy martial art flippity flips” in less cinematic films. The story of Black Widow was as complex and powerful as Smurfette’s. The storylines that she was given have been so severely criticized that they’ve become a punchline.
Age of Ultron saw her crammed into an awkward romance with the Hulk, which was mocked immediately in Thor: Ragnarok. Black Widow repeatedly mocks her big dive into oblivion during Endgame for her “boys,” The Avengers. Natasha Romanoff, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first heroine, often feels like a big laugh. This posthumous attempt to rehabilitate Romanoff feels far too small and too late.
Black Widow’s director Cate Shortland, and screenwriters Jac Schaeffer & Ned Benson clearly attempt to recontextualize Natasha Romanoff. They also try to find an interesting character that isn’t buried beneath a decade of sexualized junk. It’s not easy. This character has a lot more baggage than Wanda Maximoff, which Schaeffer rehabilitated in WandaVision.
Although Wanda may get a bad reputation in films, she is still alive at the end of each chapter. Wanda can become a dynamic character who has desires and wants beyond what a few male directors have forced upon her in a few movies. Natasha Romanoff does not have that luxury. Because her story is already known, she can’t be dynamic. We have already seen her endgame. Hawkeye is told by her that she is a not-great person. She says she will kill herself to let her “boys” live. Black Widow slumbers under the burden of this future. Her life is richly crafted by the filmmakers, and it doesn’t revolve around Avengers. This is meant to be a peek behind the curtain; an exploration of her personality and what drove her to plunge into oblivion. It feels more like a desperate, sweaty justification for , a much maligned move.
It is not the fault of the filmmakers that Natasha Romanoff has been called the “sexy Avenger”. They are not to blame for Spider-Man getting a movie before Natasha, or that the character was missing in so much merchandise that it inspired multiple hashtags. Black Widow has been a sluggish film for many years. A film that contained a few very funny jokes would always struggle to make up the difference.
The filmmakers try to repair what was done before they arrived. One of the most memorable moments in the film is when Natasha escapes a global manhunt and does absolutely nothing to alter her appearance. After doing an athletically-impressive feat, Natasha begins to mock her sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) for dropping some cash at a gas station. It’s a hilarious moment and a great character moment. A sister bragging on one the most humourless heroes in the MCU. The filmmakers speak through Yelena and criticize a decade of fetishization done by Jon Favreau, Joss Wodon and the Russo Brothers, while proving that Yelena is different.
Marvel seems to be saying, “See.” “We understand that we told women to wait a decade before they could get married. We are sorry for our mistakes and we ask you to forgive us. Pugh and Johansson share great chemistry.
The movie had me split between getting annoyed by the Marvel cookie and enjoying the flavor of the thing. The movie then embraces the gallows humor that one would expect a group of lifetime assassins or spies to engage, as Natasha and Yelena detail their forced sterilization as an amusing joke. Later, the movie descends into more militaristic MCU fare. But this moment, in which Natasha and Yelena brutally address a controversial plot point from Age of Ultron makes it almost seem worth it.
In Age of Ultron Natasha breaks up with Bruce Banner. She has apparently been in a relationship with him between films. Natasha tells him no when he asks why they aren’t together. It’s because is the beast. She was forced to have children and was sterilized in Red Room. Black Widow’s arc was criticized severely, especially her infantilizing relationship to the Hulk. Age of Ultron Director Joss Wodon reportedly left Twitter in order to avoid it.
Black WidowYelena and Natasha go on a black comedy routine over their barren wombs. This is to the dismay of the Red Guardian who, 20 years ago, acted as their father before turning them over the Red Room to be Black Widows. It’s funny to laugh about it with her younger sister, who is also affected by it. It’s more authentic and less maudlin than bragging about being a monster, then finding a facsimile motherhood singing lullabies of a giant green guy. This was the Black Widow comic, and the promise of Winter Soldier (and to lesser extent Civil War). She was an assassin with a dark sense of humor who used it to make her pretend spy father uncomfortable about her child soldier past.
It’s sad that Natasha is still alive and Scarlet Johansson has left the franchise. But for a few moments, we finally got what was promised to us 12 years ago, when Emily Blunt first became rumored to be joining the MCU as Black Widow. She spent more than a decade on this franchise, along with Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth. Each of them received a trilogy that questioned their character’s role in the MCU. A prequel was given to her in order to ease the shock of her sudden departure. Although the movie was enjoyable, there were moments that are truly exceptional. However, it felt like it was too little too late.
We know that Pugh will soon be appearing on the Disney Plus show Hawkeye. This is thanks to a post-credit sequence. Let’s all hope that her Black Widow will be treated more kindly by the MCU. However, she is already being compared to Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeyes and Hailee Steinfeld’s Hawkeyes. I wouldn’t be too optimistic.