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Review: 'Black Widow'

Black Widow was one of the movie casualties of the pandemic, originally scheduled to hit screens in May of 2020. The studios held it back, waiting for theaters to reopen so that it could be enjoyed on the big screen in its full glory, sound, and fury.

If the weekend box office is any indication, the wait was worth it.

Black Widow had the largest domestic opening since the Covid-19 pandemic began, debuting to an estimated total of more than $215 million globally.

Before going much further, I feel the need for some full disclosure here. At the risk of being tarred and feathered by Avengers fanatics, I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of superhero movies in general.

I usually see them once and rarely feel any urge to go back for a second screening. I enjoy them, and then move on.

I’m that kid who sits on the curb watching the loud, noisy parade march down the street, who takes it all in, enjoys it for what it’s worth, but never feels compelled to run out into the street to tag along or be any part of the fanfare.

In the case of Black Widow, I sensed the anticipation slowly building in the expanding Marvel Universe following the announcement of the film’s production. The fan base couldn’t wait.

Black Widow would be back. And in her own stand-alone movie.

Scarlett Johansson had certainly made a splash in her earlier appearances in this role. Her success here was pretty much guaranteed.

I’ll admit, Black Widow exceeded my expectations. Though it followed the superhero formula in so many ways, I was impressed with the energy and pacing.

Lots of credit here to the writing and the direction at the very able hands of Cate Shortland proving once again, that women can rock the big screen in big-budget action flicks when they sit in the director’s chair.

Talented women like Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2008) and Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman, 2017) have made that amply clear. There are no limits to raw talent.

In Black Widow, Shortland keeps the pace moving throughout, with the exception of just a couple of scenes when the dialog runs a little too long. It would be great if these characters didn’t have to occasionally stop and talk to each other.

Successful movies like this are a mix of relentless action and eye-popping digital effects.

They are the key ingredients of any successful summer superhero summer blockbuster film.

Some of the elements like helicopter crashes and skydiving sequences in which characters lack parachutes are nothing new, but they still work when done properly.

Natasha Romanoff and her family are interesting characters. They are not from another planet.

They weren’t bitten by radioactive spiders. They are humans with special skills and adrenaline-charged strength, as demonstrated by the father in the opening of the film when he manages to jump on the wing of a bullet-riddled, light prop plane in Ohio during a fierce shootout and hang on all the way to Cuba the following day, presumably non-stop.

The father, mother, and two daughters are all part of a Russian sleeper cell who have to beat a hasty retreat back to the motherland after their cover is blown.

They are all mere mortals with very special skills that make them brilliant scientists and highly trained assassins. Upon arrival in Cuba the young sisters are drugged and separated before growing up apart and being trained as lethal agents.

Their training is so intense that their first instinct when they are finally reunited, years later is to immediately engage in a savage, martial arts style fight in an apartment.

Though bewildering—since the sisters were shown to be so fond of each other as kids-- it offers up the opportunity for the kind of blindingly fast, bone crunching combat that we have been recently accustomed to seeing in the John Wick movies. And that says a lot.

I’m not going to weigh in on the disparity of Russian accents from Russians who spent a good deal of their time in Russia.

I am also withholding comment on the standard superhero central plot element involving an all-powerful, intensely evil super villain, (parodied by Doctor Evil in the Austin Powers movies) intent on controlling or destroying the entire world.

The army of brainwashed femme fatales is right out of one of the Derek Flint movies back in the Sixties, played more seriously, this time around.

There’s not much new here in terms of the basic plot. And that’s my complaint about most of the superhero movies, the adherence to rigid formula and worn-out plot devices.

For me, it makes things a little predictable, but it’s possible that this is exactly what all the fanboys and fangirls pay to see. You can make the same criticism of the James Bond movies, but the franchise has survived more than a half century.

Sitting on the curb, watching the parade of superhero movies in recent decades, I have asked myself the question of how long all this can last.

Have we hit the peak? Or is it a never-ending, forever evolving genre that will simply never go away? The answer remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Black Widow seems to have survived in a world emerging from the great pandemic.

It’s a real-life dilemma as big and dramatic as anything facing fantasy heroes in alternate universes.

In the end, we’re counting on the possibility that movies will prevail and help to save our world; doing that, might be one of Black Widow’s lasting accomplishments.


Black Widow is in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access now.


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