Since her introduction in Iron Man 2, the Black Widow has been the most human of the heroes (yes, more than Hawkeye). It was fitting that it was the non-powered Avenger to actually shut down the device in the first Avengers film and for her to make the ultimate sacrifice that led to the restoration of half the life in the universe. So, it’s fitting that her one and only solo film is also one of the most emotional in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Screenwriter Eric Pearson neatly weaves in bits and pieces from the other films to provide background and context for who Natasha Romanoff is, making us all the sadder for her loss. In the hands of the skilled Cate Shortland, the movie is as much about Natasha as it is saving the world (again).
We discover that she was recruited as a Widow at a very young age, raised in the dreaded Red Room to be the ultimate espionage agent. We learn what happened in Budapest. And we learn what it cost her to chart her own path.
As it turns out, she had a “sister”, Yelena and a mother, Melina, and a father, Alexei, a faux family embedded in Ohio for three years. When they leave, in a hurry, the family is separated and do not reunite until 20 years later. We then get a series of set pieces that slowly build backstory as the sisters first reunited with their fists and then with their words.
After breaking Alexei out of his prison exile, they reunite with Melina and the scene set at the dinner table is priceless as they settle back into their old roles while simmering tensions and old wounds are revealed.
Yeah, this is all done in service to bringing down the Red Room and its airborne master, Dreykov (a weak Bond villain despite Ray Winstone’s efforts), freeing the mind-controlled current generation of Widows. His ace in the hole is Taskmaster, a silent warrior who can mimic anyone’s moves, forcing Natasha to change her game. Unfortunately, Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) is way too similar to Ant-Man’s Ghost with similar tragic backgrounds, another example of Marvel repeating itself.
There are some lovely action sequences and fights along the way, but the thrills come from the interactions between the characters. Here, Shortland’s work is superb as is the acting. Much has been made about Florence Pugh stealing the film as Yelena, but this has more to do with the fact that we have known and loved Scarlett Johansson’s Widow since 2009 and Pugh is something fresh and different. Yelena is like her “father” as she and Alexei hold nothing back while Natasha is more like Melina, quiet and reserved. The contrasts are well defined here.
David Harbour is having the time of his life as Alexei, the one-time Red Guardian, leaning into his aging, overweight condition, a sharp deviation from Rachel Weisz’s Melina, who remains Russian to the core, until motherly love wins the day.
The movie, out today from Disney Home Entertainment, is available for streaming and in an assortment of disc combinations (4K, Blu-ray, both with Digital HD code). The 1080p transfer on the Blu-ray is very strong, preserving the rich textures of the international locations, which adds another Bond-like element to the film. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is equally good so the at home experience is a solid one.
The film comes with a brief introduction for Shortland. The special features are fairly basic starting with Sisters Gonna Work it Out (5:24), focusing on Natasha and Yelena and Go Big if You’re Going Home (8:50), a catch-all behind-the-scenes piece, and a Gag Reel (2:54). There are nine deleted scenes (14:10), with several nice beats.