This enjoyable standalone episode of Black Widow was long overdue and gave us a backstory to her presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Widow, the first new Marvel film to hit theaters in more than two years, begins in the sunny Ohio town of Spielberg in 1995. Natasha Romanoff and her little sister Yelena enjoy an idyllic, carefree American childhood until her parents get the news that their cover as agents has been blown.
Fast forward, and the film follows a similar sort of rapid-fire approach to the espionage genre, while Natasha (Scarlett Johannsson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) pick up the pieces of their broken past, quarrels, and clumsy family dynamics.
But Black Widow sinks into the same kind of run-and-fight, repeated routine we've seen countless times before and the obligatory post-credits cliffhanger feels little more than a shrug in the face of the promise of another story in an IP juggernaut that has full-length teasers for what will happen next.
Black Widow is also a bit tan in the villain department, with the portrayal of Taskmaster, a killing machine that mimics its enemy's moves. Taskmaster comes with a plot twist at the end of the movie that, honestly, most people in the audience probably predicted after getting more on Natasha's backstory about 40 minutes into the film. The plot twist is a complete opposite from the Taskmaster we know from the comics and quite frankly makes Taskmaster a forgettable villain, so I hope they pick it up with a new direction in the future.
Black Widow is a sincere if understated effort from Cate Shortland, the first female MCU director. There are glitzy, enigmatic scenes, and it's one of the freshest choices for a film about Natasha Romanoff, a trained Russian assassin who teams up with the good guys and transforms into the Avengers. Black Widow is a fascinating attempt at course correction after decades of treating Natasha as a narrative afterthought, creating nothing more than a compelling female character.
Jumping back and forth between a few movie franchises may sound confusing, but Black Widow, like the current Disney series Loki serves as the latest attempt by the Marvel Cinematic Universes to build a character and narrative backstory that also represents its own colossal, constantly-expanding timeline. The standout is Florence Pugh's Yelena, who I'm excited to see in future projects.