Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 2021. Marvel Studios, Truenorth Productions. Story by Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson, Screenplay by Eric Pearson. Cinematography by Gabriel Beristain. Produced by Kevin Feige. Music by Lorne Balfe. Production Design by Clint Wallace, Charles Wood. Costume Design by Lisa Lovaas, Jany Temime. Film Editing by Leigh Folsom Boyd, Matthew Schmidt.
The Marvel character previously featured in the Avengers movies is given her own origin story, beginning with scenes from her childhood when Natasha and Yelena are little girls being raised in suburban normality by parents David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. When dad comes home and announces that they need to make a quick getaway, we realize that their slightly Russian-accented normality is a cover and that the two adults are sleeper spies raising two unrelated children to become assassins. Years later, after having been turned into killing machines, Natasha aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) are reunited and Natasha, who we’re catching up with between offscreen complications with her Avengers pals, is forced to not only face her past but reckon with it. The man who ran the program that provided their training is still at large (played by Ray Winstone) and the only way for the Black Widow to silence her own lambs is to prevent any more girls like her from following the same path.
So simple a plot goal for these heroines needs a great deal of interruptions or be populated by interesting characters to be entertaining for over two hours, but try as she might to squeeze some good juicy blood out of such a wooden script, director Cate Shortland cannot manage much more than a PG version of a Killing Eve episode with a tech upgrade.
The actors, all of whom are of a very high calibre, can’t improve it either, phoning in physically committed but emotionally lifeless performances that never bring the film’s two sides together: the action is thrilling and the visual effects outstanding, but trying to get any emotional resonance out of the heroines’ reuniting with their “parents” and face the demons of the past falls very flat.
Diverting but never thrilling, with Winstone as dull a villain as the MCU has ever seen, and a climactic resolution that is not as satisfying as it should be.
Screen Actors Guild Award Nomination: Outstanding Stunt Ensemble