The Dark Herald Recommends Black WidowThe Dark Herald
The biggest question over this film; is Marvel Studios capable of self-renewal?
It’s the issue that hangs over any Hollywood winning streak. No matter how big a franchise is, it doesn’t take a lot to make the audience walk away from it. The calendar flips, presidents are changed, the new and exciting makes the old “new and exciting” look dull and cliched.
Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were once the biggest stars in Hollywood? It’s true!
I’ll answer this question at the end of this review.
This movie started with a major mental hiccough for me. It doesn’t seem to have hit Millennials anywhere near as badly as it does Generation X. The opening sequence was clearly and obviously a Cold War story. That is really the only context in which it works. The problem is that if they had set it in 1985 then Black Widow and her sister would be in their late and early forties respectively.
Regardless, the film starts in 1995 with young Natasha living in Ohio in deep cover with her fake family. Red Guardian is the Dad, Melena the Black Widow is the Mom and Yelena is the kid sister who thinks it’s all real because it’s all she has ever known. The Op gets blown and they have to exfiltrate.
The other mental disconnect during the opening is the child actress playing Natasha. They needed one that looked a little like Scarlett Johansson and she does. But the problem is that the girl looks exactly like Milla Jovovich, and I mean she could be a little clone. She looks so much like the wrong actress it actually took me out of the story. Seriously, she could have been Milla Jovovich’s daughter, (*google*google*google*) okay, it turns out she is Milla Jovovich’s daughter.
One Marvel action scene later and the family is landing in Cuba. Little Natasha tries in vain to protect Yelena because she knows what will happen to her “sister” once she is taken into the Red Room, (the training facility for Black Widows). But she is only a little girl and both children are quickly subdued.
The problem my mind kept running into is, Dude, it’s 1995! Boris Yeltsin is the president Russian Federation and the Communist Party is currently illegal in Russia. There is no reason to be conducting this big Cold War mission. And there is even less reason to send these two little girls into a hellish Agoge of the Red Room if Communism is dead. If the Red Guardian loved these girls like daughters, which he repeatedly claims that he does, then he should have sent them to play at a neighbor’s house the night he and Melina extracted. The American foster system is no picnic but it would have been better than what happened to them.
Sidenote: Florence Pugh (grown-up Yelena) was born in 1996.
We get an opening credits montage showing the horrors of the Red Room and what it does to little girls in a PG acceptable fashion. It’s creepy and spidery stuff and you get some idea of horrors inflicted on these children.
After the credits, we see a Black Widow assassination mission against a rogue Widow. Yelena kills the rogue in single combat but not before getting a red glitter bomb in the face that breaks her mental conditioning. There are more red glitter bombs in a briefcase that Yelena grabs off of the now dead rogue. Yelena mails them to Natasha along with no instructions whatsoever. Just some pictures of the two of them together from Ohio.
Not knowing what the hell her sister wants from her she sets out to Budapest to find her. They meet for the first time in years and immediately start fighting. The film did need an action beat here but they didn’t really come up with any reason for them fighting. The audience needed to fill in that blank for themselves. Fine. Whatever.
There is some introductory dialog and then another action beat with the Task Master or at least a character that has been designated, the Task Master. The girls escape then they have a more pleasant, ‘how have been doing since I last saw you?’ Conversation.
The scene effectively conveys a sisterly intimacy between the two women. Yelena has a sweet little dialog about her imaginary life. The one where she still lives out in Ohio and her sister moved out west and has a daughter of her own now. Her husband remodels houses.
Natasha stops her at that point and laughingly says, “that is not my life.”
Yelena wants to know what Natasha’s secret life is and the older women haltingly admits that she never let herself have one.
Scenes like these were the high point of the film. The ones where broken family relationships were being repaired.
The sisters decide they are going to destroy the Red Room and its commander once and for all. Stumbling block. They don’t know where it is. But they believe their “Dad” does. And they know where to find him. The Red Guardian has been in prison for twenty years. The girls show up and bust him out.
Now we have the reunion scene with the girl’s Dad and it doesn’t go well. At first, he is overcome with joy that his little girls had come to rescue him but their attitude towards him is deservedly rather chilly. After they both snap at his cluelessness, he sarcastically asks them if they are on their periods.
They both point out that thanks in no small part to him, there isn’t a uterus to be found between them.
One of the big reasons I thought this flick would be awful was because we were being promised a Woke Fest of unearthly proportions. That this was the Marvel film that was going to “put men in their place and make them squirm.” This was the scene they were talking about. Feminists are godallmighty weird about their periods. Males past the age of twelve are aware of menstruation but don’t care about it at all except for when it creates minor nuisances for them. Feminists on the other hand seem to regard their periods as some kind of bizarre superpower if they can use them gross-out men.
Yelena goes into detail about the forced hysterectomy until Alexi cries uncle.
This is the scene that feminists were so squirrely about. I really wasn’t getting that kind of a vibe from that scene. Alexi was grossed out but the audience wasn’t. And in fairness to Yelena, if I had had a “Mother” who had been responsible in no small part for me being castrated as a boy, I’d rub her face in the gory details too.
Alexi, doesn’t know where the Red Room is but he is certain their “Mom” does. So, they go off to find Melina. There is another scene of family conflict and resolution at the dinner table.
I found the dynamic of these scenes engaging and enjoyable. Yelena is the glue that holds this “family” together. She was young enough when the mission started that for her it is real. Natasha is her sister, Melena is her Mom, Alexi is her Dad. Melina and Alexi respond to this strongly. Natasha is resistant, she is focused on her mission, not family intimacy.
Mom admits to Natasha that she notified the Red Room the moment she saw they were inbound to her location. But now her icy heart has broken and she wants her family back.
This is one hour and thirty minutes in and there is one whole more completely and an unnecessarily full hour of film left to go. If this had been cut down to a half-hour it would have made for a drastically much better movie.
That’s all you are getting for the plot. And truthfully, that was all there really was to the plot.
Red Room go boom. Bad guys go boom. Family hug. The End. And that was all that was really needed past the ninety-minute mark. You didn’t need an entire hour for that.
Black Widow is bloated.
The last hour of the film weighs it down so much it becomes boring no matter how much action is going on, on-screen. To be frank, the sensory overload of the over-the-top BIFF-BAMM-KaPOW is what makes it boring. There is so much stuff going on all at once that your brain shuts down in self-defense.
For the first half of this movie, I thought I would be giving it a three-star review but it got weighed down so much in the last hour that it lost that star.
Back to the big question from the start. Is Marvel Studios capable of self-renewal?
The Marvel Cinematic Formula has become so formulaic that it just can’t be. Cate Shortland was the “Director” of Black Widow but her IMDB page is almost bare. The Marvel action scenes in this movie look exactly like every single other Marvel action scene ever shot. That means there is a specialized team that does all of them and the “Director” is in charge of the boring stuff and nothing else.
This is unsurprising. Marvel Studios has been a Disney Company for ten years and Disney has story-boarded and micromanaged every scene ever shot since Walt’s day. He was an animator that is how animators have to do business. Live-action doesn’t need to but that is still how Disney does things. They can’t change.
The standout performance in this film was by Florence Pugh as Yelena. She sold the goods as the younger, spunky, sexy kid sister of Black Widow. Extra dream girl points for having her move to the Midwest and drive a square-body pickup in the denouement. I am actually looking forward to seeing her in Hawkeye and I know I’ll be disappointed.
Consequently, the answer to my question at the start is, no. Marvel is not capable of self-renewal.
And no one ever explains where the red glitter bombs came from.
The Dark Herald Recommends with Reservations.