Black Widow: Right Movie at the Wrong Time

When Black Widow (2021) came out only a few months ago, it was met by mixed reviews.  As someone who has watched every other MCU movie, I felt obligated to watch it at some point but the negative reviews didn’t enthuse me.  So, I didn’t go out of my way to see it but added it to my “to watch” list.  I just got around to watching it and now I regret waiting so long.  It is a good movie and I suspect the negativity of it isn’t the fault of the movie but an aspect of a broader studio issue.

The movie itself is set shortly following the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and opens with Natasha Romanov on the run from the law since she sided with the “illegal” group of heroes in that movie.  The movie then proceeds to go into her past and talks about the family of situation but not blood she had as a child.  This ad hoc family reunites to face a mutual foe and deals with a bunch of family-style squabbling in the process.

Through the course of this, parallels are explicitly drawn between this family of situation and the similar family of situation that Natasha had with the Avengers.  The squabbling of the main entourage of this movie is often compared by the characters to the fighting between the Avengers.  The themes flow nicely between the two movies.

This continuation is even kept in the choreography of the action scenes.  The movie features the antagonist Taskmaster who, true to their comics version, can learn the techniques of anyone they watch fight.  So, there are many fight scenes with this character that explicitly pull from the fighting styles of the Avengers.  At a casual glance, I was able to note Hawkeye, Captain America, and Black Panther easily and I would not be surprised if some of the other characters were referenced in more subtle ways.

With these strong parallels, this movie should be a natural fit for the ongoing MCU.  However, look at the years these movies were released.  There is a 5-year gap between them and Black Widow makes no reference to any of the subsequent movies in that time (outside of the after-credits scene which should be skipped for anyone watching the movies in the order they take place instead of the order they were released).

Some other reviews have blamed COVID for increasing the gap between when this movie was released and the release of Avengers: Endgame (2019).  However, even if this movie had immediately followed that one, there would have still been a problem.  The movie doesn’t tie to Endgame at all.  It ties to Civil War.  In fact, there is one scene in Endgame that I think works better if you watch Black Widow first.

Black Widow should have come out in 2017 at the latest.  I suspect that the script was originally written with that intent but corporate politics in the studio delayed production.  It is likely that they realized they had missed the window for the script they had, but didn’t want to start back at square one and so pushed it through.  It means that a movie perfectly written for its audience in 2017, came out in 2021.  As a result, the movie misses its mark.

It is a shame because if you ignore that timing issue, it isn’t a bad movie.  I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites in the MCU, but it isn’t the stinker that some reviews make it out to be.  The action has some really cool sequences and as I have mentioned earlier the choreography team put in some extra work to make the action fit the story.

The acting feels a little forced at times, but some of the actors gave a good enough performance to carry those that underdelivered.  In particular, I enjoyed the performance of Florence Pugh who played the character Yelena.  Most people tend to fixate on facial expressions or dialogue when assessing an actor’s performance.  She did an excellent job in this department (possibly the best in the movie) but she excelled in an area that many people forget about: body language.

There are several scenes where she is able to easily convey emotion through her actions rather than her face or voice.  In some scenes, this is paired with facial expressions or dialogue, but sometimes it is not.  One scene that particularly stood out to me is a scene where she is silently deadpan while someone else is talking and shaking her arm.  The actress allowed her hand to flop around bonelessly to convey how unenthused her character was about the scene.  It isn’t a focal point and no one would have read the scene differently if she didn’t include this detail, but it was a detail that took her performance from good acting to great acting for me.

I do think the movie is worth the watch for any fan of the MCU.  It’s not the best MCU movie, but it also isn’t the worst.  If a new fan were to want to watch the series but skip the “unnecessary” movies, I think I would have this on the watch list.  It would be immediately following Civil War instead of the release order and would have a note to skip the end-credits scene until after Endgame, but I would tell people to watch the movie.


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