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Black Widow

****
2020

‘…delivers the goods as a summer blockbuster; as a curtain-call for Johansson, this kicks the requisite ass…’

My regular reader will know that I’m no devotee of the Marvel brand; the films are a mixed bag, even if the admirable continuity, big-name casting and injections of humour make these films tolerable for the casual viewer. Bringing in fresh directors has also been a plus, with Shane Black, Taika Waititi and others managing to make more personable movies than the house style might seem to allow. Thus Phase IV begins by bringing back a neglected character, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, and hiring arty Cate Shortland to direct; with a directive to expand the female side of the MCU, Black Widow’s mission is to take the franchise in a more feminine and feminist direction.

A lengthy prologue establishes the kind of broken family of genetic super-soldiers that we might expect from a Black Widow origin story; Stranger Things’ David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are the parents, and Florence Pugh is Yelena, another surrogate child being brought up in the US. Fast-forward to 2016, and Natasha Romanov (Johansson) and Yelena encounter a substance called Red Dust, which enables them to escape from the domineering power of the Red Room, the source of the genetically engineered super-soldiering business. Natasha and Yelena are re-united with their adoptive parents, and set a collision course with those who seek to enforce servitude on them and other women.

Those who find the epic scale and pomposity of the MCU somewhat exhausting should warm to the reduced stakes and personal drama here; Black Widow feels like a super-charged spy-movie, albeit one obsessed with displaying female posteriors. Johansson is terrific as Romanov, pushing much further to humanise the character than the vapid sex-doll featured in several earlier entries; this version of Black Widow is easily the fullest incarnation of a character given short shrift up until now. The fringe notes are interesting too; Romanov watches Moonraker on her laptop, quite a juxtaposition to put the old Bond against the angst-ridden espionage game of today. Black Widow also seems anxious about the effectiveness of her septic tank, although frustratingly this plot-element is largely left unexplored. But the jokes here and better than most comedies, from Weisz picking up after an action scene by nattering away on her phone like a mother on the school-run to Yelena’s constant belittling of Natasha as a ‘poser’.

And the action isn’t bad either, with a decent car-chase through the busy streets of ‘Budaphest’ and a pretty awesome helicopter-prison break that goes south rapidly. That Yelena comes out laughing after a mistake on her part causes a deadly avalanche reveals a problem; the small stakes of the story don’t quite sync with the huge-scale set pieces. And a lengthy scene in which Ray Winstone repeatedly punches Johansson in the face is regrettable. One of the elements of the old cinema we could do without is violence to women, and although Shortland has crafted a snazzy summer action film, it would have been nice for Black Widow to skip this particular man-hurts-woman cliché. Such reservations aside, Black Widow delivers the goods as a summer blockbuster; as a curtain-call for Johansson, this kicks the requisite ass.

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  1. I got really annoyed with the timing factor, we know Scarlett’s character wont get killed off so that’s all the tension gone already in those fight scenes. Also that after credits scene… is this a shameless plug of a series to come???

  2. There were a couple moments tailor-made for Pitch Meetings’ “whoopsie!” tagline: ignoring the implications of the avalanche and just skipping over her apparent arrest at the end.

    The “that would be a cool way to die!” and “this is a much less cool way to die” jokes were my favorite in the movie.

    • The avalanche thing jumped out at me. But there were enough smart one-liners to paper over the cracks.

  3. Pretty good action-buster on a more intimate scale with comparison to the emotional impact of real family as opposed to the Avengers family. Unusually good origin story and the totally self-absorbed father a hoot. Johansson and Pugh are excellent. The homage to Force Majeure probably went unnoticed. But I did find the relentless extreme close-up composition a bit tedious – at some points I felt we were going to up Scarlet’s nose, all other angles having been used up. A class in the use of the long shot should be compulsory for newcomers. Such quibbles apart it certainly fulfills its promise.

  4. However much I’m enjoying the septic tank talk, I really do have to bring up waterless systems. It’s actually quite smart – instead of using a septic tank you are basically using your toilet like a compost bin. The toilet has a remote system which drops the waste down a chute to a compost bin. The bin is in a crawlspace somewhere below or outside the home. Environmentally viable, and perfect for people such as Black Widow who don’t have the time or effort to clean their tanks. And, even if you’re not interested in composting because you’re a soulless, tofu-hating facist, there are also incinerating toilets that will burn your waste to ash. It’s fancy stuff. The Japanese love them.

    • Get real; waterless systems might work for a Harley Quinn animated manga spin-off, but that’s the only DCU character who would be right for what is essentially a composting system. I know there was an Easter egg on the Korean Blu-ray release of Thor the Dark World that suggested that Loki has his own dyno-rod drainage company, but that’s just fan fiction. Romanov has a septic tank and that’s the deal here. Get used to it!

      • If you ask me, that says more about our superheroes than it does about our toiletry systems. Why aren’t there more supporting sustainable compositing disposals? Another major flaw in these half baked universes. You watch many Korean blu rays?

        • As fast as they can make ‘em. Zack Snyder pitched a film about Captain America’s sustainable composing system, but the studio balked at the black and white presentation and nine hour run time.

          • Typical studios. Wouldn’t know a good idea if it slapped them in the face. I heard Snyder was going to meet with Steven Soderbergh to discuss the pro and cons of filming the preparation of okonomiyaki (Japanese dish) with an iPhone or not. Snyder thinks it loses that little pazaz. We all know Soderbergh’s views.

  5. This films obsession with bottoms is quite remarkable. All I’m wanting is more about Black Widow’s septic tank. How often does it need emptied? It the job professionally done? Does she get a reduction on water rates? I guess it’s set up nicely for a sequel…

    • Who is this comment meant for? It’s all by its little lonesome.

      Septic tanks are serious business. I don’t feel like this movie is the proper vehicle for such a subject. A documentary following a Licensed Septic Designer and Installer for a year getting down and dirty is much more of the thing. Does National Geographic still make movies?

      • They must make something. I have a septic tank and would be prepared to give you a tour. You actually have to cross the road to get to it. That’s why I was so captivated that Black Widow had one, but they play it down and I’d rather see a whole franchise devoted to the upkeep proceedures, hosing, and so on. The DCU cannot compete with this idea.

        • If the Justice League got into the Septic Business, I bet they could really clean up.
          Might give the movie franchise a breath of air that is so desperately needed.

          As for yours, I don’t see how it can be across the road. That’s not allowed, at least in America.

          • It’s across the road, I’ve had the lid off and seen inside. We dare to do things here that you cannot imagine. Putting our septic tank where we want them, no questions asked. You don’t see Black Widow’s septic tank in the film, they’re very coy about it, which, given the cameras regular ogling of her backside, seems like a missed opportunity.

            • It’s not that we don’t dare, it’s that we know better. We learned from the Old World’s mistakes 😉

              If I had to choose between a septic tank and Johansen’s backside, the septic tank wins every time. A septic tank is a man’s best gastronomic friend. It never asks questions but simply accepts you as you are.

              • I have a talking one, it detects your presence and asks you questions about your day. Real pro bit of kit.

                • Ahhh, the Crapmaster 9000! I’ve heard about them. Big in Japan.

                  I “heard” from a friend that it will sing you a lullabye if you have the deluxe programmers model. Can you confirm or deny that?

  6. Sounds like the excuse I’ve been looking for to get back inside a theater. I saw many of the early Marvel films but lost interest before BW showed up. Will I enjoy it without any BW history?

    • Yes, absolutely since I have no idea where this fits and it didn’t trouble me at all. Big screen movie.

  7. Ahhh, I had some snazzy comments about equality, patriarchy, face punching, dynamite and bottoms.

    But it only presented you with unpleasant options and that’s just not the thing this early in the morning.

    I’m going to be passing on this. I’m done with the MCU and not even a Spiderman movie could bring me back at this point. Any future superhero movie viewings will be pure accidents on my part.

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