Black Widow

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Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow.
Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow.
Photo: Disney/Marvel Studios


Black Widow


Now showing in cinemas


3/5 Stars


Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy, and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.


It's been a journey for Black Widow to make it to the big screen in South Africa. It would have been a hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster in pre-pandemic times, but today, many might have completely forgotten this movie still exists.

The oft-overlooked Avenger that's been on the sidelines in more MCU movies than most other characters, most fans would agree that Natasha Romanoff more than deserved her own stand-alone movie in the franchise. In what felt like a last-ditch effort for the comic book universe to do more justice to its female superheroes, we finally get a Black Widow movie - that still somehow sidelines our favourite spy.

Set after the events of Civil War and before Infinity War, Romanoff is on her own and in hiding after the Avengers split. Instead of taking a much-needed break, she gets pulled into her past and has to deal with those she left behind in her former life, including the organisation that moulded her into the spy she is today.

If Black Widow had come out when it should have - anywhere between Civil War and Infinity War - I would most likely have loved it. There's nothing particularly wrong with the story - the cast is superb with their deadpan Russian humour. We have a woman director in tune with her characters, and Marvel fans finally get a peek at our red-haired Avenger's backstory. The action sequences are also almost methodical in choreography and cinematography, with a clear focus on the movement of female bodies that appear more natural and less to appeal to the male gaze.

However, we have a film floating untethered to the Marvel universe, the audience lost in the timelines and none of the thrilling stakes of the other films in the franchise. I appreciate that none of the other Avengers is in the film to give Romanoff more of the spotlight, but despite that, she still felt like a side character in her own damn movie. Instead, it's the origin story for Yelena - Natasha's youngest sister played by the endlessly charming Florence Pugh - who is being primed to take over the role for Phase Four of the MCU.

While I can go on about how much I love her dry wit and the whole demented wholesomeness of her character that I can't wait to see more of, what I wanted was more Romanoff than anything else, especially her turn from KGB to Shield. Going further back in time rather than slotting it into the franchise's recent-ish timeline would also have made its foundation as a solo film much stronger.

Instead, they just recycled MCU's most generic villain trope, sprinkled some pseudo-feminism on top and said 'good enough'. Much of the storyline was also written during the height of the #MeToo movement, and its influence permeates throughout the themes of the film, from women must stick together and 'abused women are strong women' (gag). If it had been released in 2020 as originally slated, it might have still held some of that power, but a whole pandemic later where women globally are generally over the shallow platitudes of 'change' in a patriarchal society, it rings hollow. Outside of Scarlett Johansson and Pugh's hilarious and deep sisterly chemistry, the whole 'we are women, hear us roar' thing was overplayed, and we're tired of it almost as much as using rape as a plot point in movies.

In another life, I would have loved Black Widow, but the world has changed a lot since Endgame, and so too has Marvel's audiences. Unfortunately, time and circumstance robbed what would have been a blockbuster darling in the before-times and will soon be forgotten as MCU's next Phase Four movies usher in the new era of cinema.


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