By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

After a year delay thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marvel Studios’ Black Widow is finally in theaters. The movie serves as both an origin story for the beloved MCU character Natasha Romanoff, but also fills in a gap that takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Even though the film has some compelling themes and features some intense viseral action, the writing reveals a lacking of character development when it comes to the villains. At its best, Black Widow is a mostly entertaining and often exciting slice of espionage action-thriller cinema, but has a bigger story that probably could have been better developed through another Marvel television series.

After changing her mind about the Sokovia Accords, Avenger and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) becomes a fugitive of the law following the events of Captain America: Civil War. Though she plans to go into hiding and remain quiet for the time being, some ghosts from her troubled past resurface at the worst possible time. Once a Russian agent of the Red Room program, Romanoff and surrogate sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) were under the firm control of the Red Room and served as covert assassins under the leadership of General Dreykov (Ray Winstone).

Romanoff manages to escape and defect to America through S.H.I.E.LD. but must assassinate Red Room leader General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) as a sign of loyalty to her new benefactors. In the process of carrying out this mission, Natasha makes an ugly judgment call to proceed, even though Drekov’s daughter Antonia will end up being a tragic additional casualty. This decision has haunted her ever since and becomes a new threat, as Natasha reunites with her “sister” Yelena and her surrogate family while hiding from the U.S. government. The powers that still control the Red Room become aware that Romanoff is within their clutches and utilize their active agents, along with a new powerful and formidable warrior known as the Taskmaster to reacquire the Black Widow.

Written by Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson, Eric Pearson, and directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow is a fun and exciting movie, but one that is held back by the constraints of keeping this potentially epic story limited to one movie. Even though I enjoyed the film overall, I wanted a more fleshed-out origin story that further details Romaoff’s past in addition to a plot that shows how this checkered past continues to haunt her despite her more heroic leanings. That said; the movie does manage to accomplish quite a bit despite the limitations of its run time. However, I feel that the villains get slighted in the process.

As an action-thriller, Black Widow does deliver some intense and fiery action that carefully rides that fine line between PG-13 and R. At the same time, the CGI used to accomplish this feat sometimes fails to portray these action sequences with some credibility. I know that most Marvel Studios movies have some impressive budgets for their features, but this particular movie does not completely reflect this. As I watched this screening in a theater setting, the big screen reflected these visual weaknesses.

To its benefit, the movie has a great cast with Johansson continuing to own her role as Natasha Romanoff. Considering that her character ultimately meets her demise in Avengers: Endgame, the actress performs appropriately, as this is her final swan song. At the same time, Florence Pugh gives a fantastic turn as Natasha’s sister Yelena Belova. Pugh utilizes her charisma and sense of humor well in portraying a younger surrogate sibling who cares for her older sister, but is, at the same time, jealous of Natasha’s heroic new status.

David Harbour is an absolute joy as Natasha’s and Yelena’s one time surrogate father Alexi Shostakov, a former Russian agent and also Russia’s response to Captain America in the form of the enhanced hero known as the Red Guardian. Rachel Weisz stars as Melina Vostokoff, a former Red Room spy and surrogate mother to Natasha and Yelena. Weisz embues strength and intelligence into her character as one of the original Black Widows and a chief scientist for the Red Room. Ray Winstone gives an enjoyably sinister performance as General Dreykov, but certainly gets slighted by the writing’s limitations when it comes to the development of his character.

Black Widow is now available in theaters and will get a simultaneous release via Disney+ with Premier Access. I definitely have mixed feelings about recommending that people spend top dollar to see this enjoyable, but flawed movie. If it is less expensive for people to see this film theatrically, then that is the way to go, but if they can save themselves some cash by watching it at home, then that is what I can conscientiously recommend.

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