Black Widow’s Belated Big Screen Bonanza

Bozhe moi! Marvel movies are finally back on the big screen! (Is The New Mutants a joke to you?) In Soviet Russia, The Wages of Cinema collaboreview listens to you! Now that you’ve seen Guardians, we can finally move onto Black Widow. It’s got some Red Sparrow, Hanna, Anna, & Atomic Blonde mixed in too. If Marvel had prioritized getting Natasha a solo flick when interest in her was at its apex, it could’ve beaten all those movies to the punch. There was even supposed to be a Black Widow movie before the MCU! After the podcast is a web of intrigue SPOILERS!

I am confused why Scarlett Johansson isn’t playing the Scarlet Witch or GI Joe’s crossbow ginger to satisfy nominative determinism. Her extra “t” is also peculiar. (Emily Blunt getting screwed out of being Black Widow in Iron Man 2 makes me think Marvel Studios owes her a role, so long as it’s not Invisible Woman since I loathe Fantastic Four. Make her Moonstone!) ScarJo puts in good work, yet Natasha Romanoff is the least interesting character in her own movie. She’s relegated to being the no-nonsense professional everyone riffs off. I’m glad this isn’t a full origin prequel like Captain Marvel, but it is harder to grasp how she’s overcome her trauma if we never see Natasha as an indoctrinated murderess.

This spy movie pastiche has more plot holes than the Red Room has trafficked girls. WandaVision’s showrunner, Jac Schaeffer, has a story credit along with Ned Benson. The screenplay was credited to Eric Pearson, who already has many MCU credits. On one end of his spectrum he’s co-written Thor Ragnarok, & on the less positive side he co-wrote Godzilla Vs. Kong.

 Cate Shortland’s film starts with a 1995 flashback to Black Widow’s fake family undercover in decadent USA. When their cover is blown after a successful mission, they somehow fly a plane all the way from Ohio to Cuba. The credits montage looks like they tried too hard to be The Americans. Then we jump forward to 2016. Unlike BOPATFEOOHQ, this is another superheroine film that’s a period piece. I’d be more excited for this if it’d been released chronologically between Civil War & Infinity War

Natasha’s Widow’s Bite gauntlets are finally gold! They’re the opposite of Wonder Woman’s bracelets. Instead of deflecting projectiles, they shoot them. Deadshot stole his Gatling gun gauntlets from her. She has briefly worn a white catsuit in the comics, but it resembles something Sharon Carter would wear. (She got screwed out of an iconic look in the MCU.) Hello Kitty costume variants are a missed opportunity. She doesn’t wear her classy debut dress either.

Being a seductress is an aspect of Black Widow’s personality from the comics that got dropped in adaptation. She was introduced as eye candy before subverting non-fan expectations in IM2. I understand the optics of downplaying her femme fatale side when she was The Smurfette of The Avengers. Her best portrayal was The Winter Soldier, but I didn’t appreciate that she was paired up with Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron. (Its “salvage yard, African coast” was colonialism in a nutshell. Which part of Africa’s coast? ALL OF IT!) It was a chaste starcrossed romance that reduced her importance to her being Hulk’s handler. Toning her sexuality down so she’s not just a honey trap is the right move, but it also feels like she’s been hollowed out at times. Her codename is meaningless if she doesn’t have a slew of dead lovers like James Bond.

As much as I like over the top Zoya the Destroya accents, it made sense for Natasha to adopt an American accent whilst working with SHIELD. Now that she’s back in her homeland with her sham-ily, I would’ve liked her to switch back to her original Natasha Fatale accent. Unlike Yelena Belova, Natasha Romanoff & Melina Vostokoff don’t use the proper Russian matronymics. That’s how their surnames have been spelled in the comics for decades, but it’s odd they didn’t update this for the movies.

Florence “Pew Pew” Pugh gives Villainelle vibes as Yelena Belova. This movie makes better use of her than Midsommar. Whereas comics Belova was all about showing off her six pack, her movie counterpart conceals her abs beneath a very practical vest she’s proud of. She has a penchant for ribbing Natasha for her superhero landing poses. Her involuntary hysterectomy tirade was added in response to the screenwriter’s hackneyed period joke. Since Natasha’s redemption arc happened offscreen before her debut, this is arguably a movie about Yelena’s journey.

BlackWidow_Taskmaster

Natasha forfeits the mission because she realizes it’s futile battling someone who’d mastered tasks.

This cheats at misdirects. Yelena sends Natasha a box of anti-mind control gas, but Natasha just leaves it in her trunk without checking its contents. Taskmaster is sent to retrieve the case. After a skirmish, Tasky discovers the case is empty. Natasha removed all the vials before escaping. We see that she didn’t have time to do this during the ambush, unless there’s a missing scene where she does so before starting her drive. Flashbacks at the end explain a Mission Impossible twist better but hurt the momentum.

Because this is a superhero film, Natasha & Yelena must battle each other for very flimsy pretenses before teaming up. Since this fight emulates the gritty Bourne movies, both look like they should be severely injured after this tussle. This is an action movie trope, but it’s more conspicuous when they aren’t supposed to the physically enhanced characters. (Comics Natasha sometimes gets augmentations like the Infinity Formula.) Pouring vodka on cuts is the extent of the medical aid these sisters require.

The duo is attacked indoors by a squad of Black Widows without gas masks, yet they don’t use this opportunity to use the anti-brainwashing gas on them. When one has the chance to kill Natasha, Dreykov bizarrely commands her to execute herself instead. Then Taskmaster pursues them through Bupaspest in a giant armored vehicle, which is fun for how it’s absurdly unsubtle. They escape sliding down subway escalators in a scene that fails to convey how terrifyingly steep Budapest Metro’s escalators can be.

Her solo movie undermines Natasha by revealing how sloppy she was. She defected by blowing up a building with Dreykov & his daughter without confirming either casualty. Then she assumes Yelena escaped the program by herself without checking up on her. SHIELD/HYDRA were equally lazy at making sure the Red Room was fully dismantled.

Sadly David Harbour isn’t playing Ursa Major. You’ll have to check out Guardians for your Russian were-bear fix. “They all have f–king Oscar nominations. I do not, thank you very much. I am the weak link.” He’s wrong because Red Guardian (of the Soviet Super Soldiers/ Supreme Soviets/ People’s Protectorate/ Siberforce/ Winter Guard) is tied with Yelena as the movie MVP. The Alexei Shostakov version of Red Guardian was Black Widow’s husband who died, making Natasha a literal widow. The movie makes him her father figure like how Batwoman season two made Circe Black Mask’s daughter not his lover. The reverse is Aquaman changing Nereus from Mera’s betrothed to her dad. Enough with the Elektra complexes! Did Red Guardian steal Nate Heywood’s doofy finned helmet? (That could explain why he hasn’t been wearing it.) If so, he sadly sanded the crest down. His militarized outfit is an upgrade from the basic suit worn in the comics.

Alexei humorously complains that he was deprived of his chance to earn his glory as the Russia’s national superhero. (He has Karl Marx tattooed on his knuckles so he can punch The Communist Manifesto into Steve Rogers!) He probably has a point since he is a legitmutant super soldier. Why hadn’t the Red Room synthesized more super soldier serum from him during all the years his prowess was wasted upon arm wrestling in a catstrophically located gulag? Daddy Widow has an action figure of himself in universe like John Walker. Weirdly he doesn’t get his own shield to counter Taskmaster’s. Yelena calls him the Crimson Dynamo, who was merged with Whiplash in IM2.

Taskmaster_Deathstroke

“How dare you point at me?” “You were pointing first!”

In Soviet Russia, you copy Taskmaster! Agents Of SHIELD viewers who expected Grant Ward or Ruby Hale to be Taskmaster can finally see the character in action!  Since both were designed by George Perez using the same colors, Taskmaster is the Marvel character most likely to be confused with Deathstroke. I like the MCU design for combining the best bits of various costumes plus bonus knee-pad T’s. It’s just the lens throwing it off.

Very suspicious that someone who’s never been in any of the trailers gets a character poster while Taskmaster’s actor is uncredited. Unless it’s a marketing red herring & O-T Fagbenle really is playing Rick Mason, who remained obscure even after getting his own graphic novel. Yes, he really is just Natasha’s black market supplier & nap enthusiast. He seems like he’d be the romantic lead yet his affection for her isn’t reciprocated.

Is Taskmaster secretly Rachel Weisz’s character as fan theories speculate? No, but Taskmaster is genderswapped with Olga Kurylenko under the hood. I didn’t even know she was going to be in this until I saw her name in the opening credits. Kudos to everyone who kept that casting secret for so long! This didn’t need to be a surprise, but it worked nonetheless. Since Taskmaster rarely doffs her mask or speaks, it’s hard to say how long Kurylenko was in costume. Natasha thought Antonia Dreykov (Nominative determinism is lost without her surname being Masters.) was collateral damage for killing her dad, but the explosion merely gave him the opportunity to transform her into a super-assassin. (Natasha was ashamed of this even before she discovered Antonia survived.) It appears her helmet scans & upload physical skills like Prometheus. Or is it all in her neck implant chip? We never see her train the Widows, despite henchmen training being Taskmaster’s top comic book gig. Sadly she never gives Natasha a taste of her own her own flying triangle leg choke/headscissor takedown maneuver.

The_Mummy_4

Rachel Weisz portrays Melina Vostokoff the Iron Maiden. (Despite that snappy alias, she’s quite obscure. She’s never depicted out of her armor either.) She never stopped working for the Red Room yet immediately betrays it once her fake family appear unannounced at her pig research farm. There is a good fakeout betrayal symbolized by her Black Widow suit. Mommy Widow gets the least screentime of the quartet but has enough charisma to compensate.

Ray Winstone plays the commander of the Red Room, Dreykov. He’s so thinly sketched he doesn’t get a first name, & we didn’t get his surname right on the podcast. He’s effective as the ultimate abusive father, but he won’t make any best villains lists. He has a stock footage promo video (Yellowjacket had higher production values & a justification for his.) about how his internationally positioned army of Black Widows allows him to control the world, but it still seems like you’d need more than assassins to get that that much influence. Why not cut out the middlewomen & dose assorted world leaders with mind control chemicals?

Natasha breaking her nose to circumvent her opponent’s protective pheromones is from the comics. Natasha should be the one to kill Dreykov to atone for failing to do so years ago. She’s still on a superheroine redemption arc, so she doesn’t to keep her public image more clean. Yelena does the honors, which further makes Natasha look like a supporting character in her own movie.

Most of the movie is reuniting the spy family as the Red Room’s threat is built up. Once they find Milena, however, the mission goes into easy mode. The Red Room is headquartered on a knockoff Helicarrier that’s even simpler to sabotage. Maybe if they united the family sooner so it could spend more time struggling against Red Room it wouldn’t feel like making a mountain out of a molehill. Earlier movies didn’t position the Red Room as an ongoing threat, & it certainly shouldn’t be after this. Then the grittiness goes out the window as assorted characters deftly maneuver falling out of the sky without jetpacks. Much to my delight, Yelena, Alexei, Melina, Antonia, & Mason all survive. Even the Black Widow JV squad makes it out alive so they can play intramural volleyball against the Dora Milaje.

I’m glad they didn’t kill off another formidable recurring adversary. Since she didn’t have much agency, I’m most excited to see what Taskmaster gets up to in the future. She should use her photographic reflexes to duplicate Bob Ross paintings. Depending upon what she’s seen, Taskmaster could be the greatest lover. Taskmaster would probably not fare too well on her game show namesake though.

The Red Room teaches Black Widows to dance on bullet pointe, but Julie Delpy doesn’t reprise her AOU role. Bridget Regan doesn’t return as Agent Carter‘s Dottie Underwood for flashbacks either. Milla Jovovich not being in this is only acceptable if she gets to play Silver Sable later. Her daughter, Ever Anderson, is excellently cast as young Natasha though.

At the end of March (a month before the original release date), it was announced the score by Alexandre Desplat was being replaced by Lorne Balfe’s. After Rogue One, this is the second time Disney dumped Desplat. Third time’s the charm?

An alternate version of Endgame had Natasha be mortally wounded fighting Thanos’s troops & sacrifice herself to get Hawkeye the Soul Stone. This feels like a more heroic suicide than than the work besties dueling to see who’d throw themself off a cliff first. I was concerned that a stinger would reveal Natasha survived Vormir. I was pleasantly surprised they didn’t roll back her sacrifice. Johansson wants this to be Natasha’s swansong.

The fan theory that Natasha wears Yelena’s vest in IW to honor her late sister’s sacrifice here have thankfully been disproved. I approve of Yelena Belova becoming the official Black Widow for potential sequels. She probably won’t become a Super-Adaptoid, although I’d be cool with that too. Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine was meant to debut here instead of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier. In this stinger, she sics Yelena upon Clint Barton to avenge her big sister. How did Val know he was involved with her demise? Watch Disney+’s Hawkeye to potentially find out!

So Black Widow is not one of the upper echelon MCU movies. In the grand scheme of things, this interquel actually seems skippable. If you’re a big Natasha Romanoff fan, it may even be a disappointment. That said, I enjoyed watching it. The comedic camaraderie of the Widow family elevates it above its basic plot.

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RedGuardian_Deadpool

“Mom, Alexei won’t stop playing with himself!”

“What is the point of Black Widow movie figures if there’s no Rachel Weisz?” I would’ve asked had this film been released punctually. Thanks to the delay, now there’s a Melina Vostokoff & improved Red Guardian two-pack. (I’m so glad I skipped the earlier inaccurate Alexei.) Well played, Hasbro. The back of the set’s box repeats the same paragraph five times without translation. How’d that make it to the final product without anyone noticing? Much like Gotham’s Alfred, Red Guardian comes with good strangling hands. The in-scale Red Guardian toy could double as him on Pym Particles.

 None of the Natashas have the longer hair & a braid she sports in her own movie. Walmart & Target had comics based exclusives. The BAF for the regular series is the ugly modern Crimson Dynamo instead of the classic armor for which fans have been impatient. (Classic Titanium Man would’ve been a better option too.) My Taskmaster was cursed with Hasbro’s worst quality control, but has been repaired. Roleplay gear gives Taskmaster an all-inclusive violence accessory. The auto-translation for SH Figuarts is oddly poetic.

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Loki review coming soon (pending TVA approval)!

5 thoughts on “Black Widow’s Belated Big Screen Bonanza

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