Film: Black Widow (12A)
- Credit: Jay Maidment
She's Natasha Romanoff and she's dead now. Disney is very strict about reviews not giving away spoilers but I think it's safe now to say that she died in Avengers: Endgame sacrificing herself to save Hawkeye, a much-questioned judgement call.
So the logical expectation was that her solo film would be operating in the little-loved realms of the prequel/ origin's tale. Fear not, though the film explores the ugly backstory of her becoming a Russian superspy, the bulk of it is set in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, so it's more of a spin-off, or a largely self-contained divertissement in the Marvel Cinematic sprawl.
Black Widow is not quite business as usual. Because this is leaning more to spy drama than the standard comic book adventure the action is a little less preposterous and a little more Bourne-inspired close-up fisticuffs than in other Marvel pieces, operating very close to the limits of 12A violence.
There hasn't been a new Marvel film for almost two years. It was a much-needed breather but not a long enough break to disguise that this is one of the weaker entries. What the film gets wrong is what Marvel films usually get so right: the balance between comedy and seriousness. Natasha is partnered with a long lost sister, Pugh, and their relationship is written as a kind of bickering cop double act. There is one good line where the sister chides her on her infight posing but aside from that, the banter is a bit forced.
Almost all the major characters speak in rudimentary jokey Russian accents where no definite article goes undropped. Nobody quite masters it but Weisz and Winstone can barely keep it up for a whole sentence: we fight for glory of Soviet Union, my son. It also undermines the more serious themes about girls from poor backgrounds being groomed and exploited.
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This will almost certainly be Johansson's only time playing her most famous character as a lead role, and it isn't the vehicle she deserved. Let me add a proviso that I saw this through a streaming link; it'll be better on a big screen and the finale, a trademark Marvel airborne spectacular must be gobsmacking in Imax. 3/5 stars.
Directed by Cate Shortland. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone and Rachel Weisz. In cinemas or streaming on Disney +. Running time: 136 mins.
http://www.halfmanhalfcritic.com/ for a review of In The Mood For Love from Criterion's World of Wong Kar Wai boxset.
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