The Marvel Cinematic Universe made some pretty substantial shifts in its release schedule thanks to the global pandemic shutting down theaters around the world. Originally planned for a May 2020 release, when it would serve as a nice little amuse-bouche prior to the real action in Marvel’s Phase 4, Black Widow now lands in the summer of 2021. This falls after the full run of WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and all but the final episode of Loki.
With Marvel’s Disney+ series pushing the MCU into exciting new territory, stepping back in time to the events following Captain America: Civil War seemed like a misfire. Then the near zeigist-ish “Free Britney” movement became a trending topic. From the dinner table to the water cooler, everyone was talking about legal conservatorships. When, in late June, Britney Spears herself was able to talk to the court about the horrific things that have happened to her over the last 13 years, things looked bleaker than anyone ever imagined.
Now, into this tragic timeline, we get a story dedicated to Black Widow. The film begins in 1995, where a young Natasha Romanoff (Ever Anderson) lives in Ohio with her little sister Yelena (Violet McGraw), mother Melina (Rachel Weisz), and father Alexi (David Harbour). Things, however, are not as they appear. The family is actually a Russian sleeper cell, forced to escape Ohio with SHIELD agents in pursuit. They land in Cuba, where the girls are drugged and delivered to the Red Room.
A haunting credit sequence featuring “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Think Up Anger featuring Malia J hints at the assassin training that takes place in the Red Room, but without overt details. We then skip forward 21 years, with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run following the death of King T’Chaka (after the events in Civil War) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) continuing her work as a Widow from the Red Room. A villain from the past, along with a new and dangerous enemy, forces a family reunion upon Natasha, Yelena, Melina, and Alexi.
After the stories of Spears forced IUD implantation, hearing Yelena describe the Red Room’s mandatory hysterectomy feels all too real. Learning that the Widows trained by the Red Room are chemically subjugated rather than brainwashed seems less like science fiction after knowing Spears was forced to take mind-altering doses of lithium. The theme of autonomy—but bodily, mentally, and spiritually—featured in Black Widow land a little differently in a “Free Britney” world.
Within the heavier themes of the film, director Cate Shortland manages to fill in plenty of densely packed action sequences. Perhaps too densely packed, as the action frequently feels both overwhelming and over the top. The emphasis placed on the “feet of clay” family at the center of the film left the story arcs for the actual villains less than satisfying.
It is not just the villains, however. The cast was overflowing with secondary characters that could have used a bit more story, including the criminally under-utilized Mason (O-T Fagbenle), friend, and procurer of goods and services for Natasha while she is on the run.
With critiques of unfleshed story arcs and a rushed ending pushed aside, however, Black Widow still manages to deliver a compelling and timely story of personal freedom and independence, even if that timely story also feels as though it comes five years too late.
Black Widow will launch simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9, 2021.
About Black Widow
Rating: PG-13 (Some Language|Intense Violence/Action|Thematic Material)
Runtime: 2h 13m
In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller “Black Widow,” 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. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha/Black Widow, Florence Pugh stars as Yelena, David Harbour portrays Alexei/The Red Guardian, and Rachel Weisz is Melina. Directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Kevin Feige, “Black Widow”—the first film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe— will launch simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets on July 9, 2021.