Thanks to COVID-19, it’s been more than two years since the MCU graced movie theaters. And while that problem was somewhat alleviated by the string of MCU shows on Disney+, it’s no substitute for sitting in theaters and waiting for the post-credits scene with your friends and family. This weekend, though, that drought came to an end with the arrival of Black Widow. This was a film that was long overdue for the titular hero in more ways than one.
Black Widow’s Past
Set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow, first and foremost, sheds light on what Natasha Romanoff did while on the run. At first, she tried to hide from everyone, but with a past as checkered as hers, hiding isn’t possible for the Black Widow. When an old enemy that she thought to be dead returns, Natasha’s forced on a globe-trotting adventure to put the demons of her past behind her for good. And without the Avengers to help her, she’s got to rely on allies from her Red Room days.
If the Red Room sounds familiar to anyone, then there’s a reason for it. It’s the official name for what’s been dubbed as the Black Widow Program. While flashbacks and Natasha’s own accounts of the program have hinted at what it was like, the MCU gave us our best look back in the short-lived Agent Carter series on ABC. Essentially, it was a Soviet black ops program that spent decades brainwashing young girls and turning them into master assassins. And Natasha was one of those unfortunate girls subjected to it. While she managed to get out thanks to the help of Hawkeye, it’s clear that she’s still haunted by what she went through. And whether she wants to or not, the film sees her confront her past.
A Family Story
The thing that’s most surprising about Black Widow is the central theme. Under the James Bond meets Jason Bourne meets Mission Impossible action, Black Widow is a family story. Granted, it’s a story about a very dysfunctional found family.
When she was a kid, Natasha was raised alongside another Black Widow trainee, Yelena Belova. The two were raised by a Black Widow veteran and the Russian supersoldier known as the Red Guardian. They acted as a family unit in deep cover, and much of the film’s emotional arc comes from Yelena still seeing them as such. Albeit, they’re a broken and dysfunctional one.
Firstly, while Yelena still sees Natasha as a foster sister, she can’t hide her resentment that Nat indirectly left her behind in the Red Room, or that she went on to become a celebrated member of the Avengers. In addition, there’s Red Guardian, who’s the Russian equivalent to Captain America if Captain America were a drunk wash-up. That is what Red acts like in much of the film. He alternates between genuinely caring about his former charges and lamenting about his lost glory days. Then, we have Melina, the Black Widow veteran and scientist who trained Nat and Yelena. She acts like she doesn’t care about the girls and seems to have a lack of empathy at times. In one scene, she shows how she trained a pig to stop breathing for several seconds, much to Nat and Yelena’s discomfort. That was pretty messed up!
In other words, the four are a very unlikely family with strained relationships. And much of the film’s drama stems from them having to work out their many problems. But once they do, the four end up kicking ass.
The Big Bad is Such a Jerk
Then, we have the main villain of the film, Dreykov. If Red Guardian is the washed-up alcoholic father that wants to be better, then Dreykov is the abusive dad. He spends all of his time onscreen berating, beating, and mentally abusing the girls in his Black Widow Program. He doesn’t even see his Black Widows as people, but just resources he can replace. In other words, he’s an abusive, violent, oppressive misogynist with no redeeming values whatsoever.
While the MCU’s been known to give us both flat and three-dimensional, realistic villains, Dreykov’s one of the flattest out there. He’s a hate sink that makes everyone around him miserable, and the kind of person everyone can easily root against. That’s not a bad thing, though. The MCU doesn’t have to make each of its villain’s as great as Thanos, Loki, or Killmonger.
The MCU Has Returned
After spending almost two years without any MCU films, it felt really great to be able to sit in theaters again alongside my fellow fans. Black Widow offers us a return to the franchise that, for better or for worse, has dominated our culture for the last decade or so. Black Widow’s fans have wanted to see her get her own movie for years, and Black Widow delivered.
However, the film also emphasized that, as of Phase 4, the MCU’s not just going to be about the films. It’s investing more into its TV shows and miniseries. Case in point, rather than tee us up for a sequel film, the post-credits scene connects the film to the upcoming Hawkeye series on Disney+. It’s the first time the MCU’s done that, and represents a shift in how it will continue in the future. Here’s hoping the next decade continues the franchise’s success.
I Give “Black Widow” a 4/5
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