I remember when I first watched Iron Man 2. I remember the final fight in the cherry blossom garden, I remember Tony saving that random ass kid (whom is apprently retconed as Peter Parker now, somehow?), I remember Justin Hammer and thinking Whiplash was a cooler villain than Justin because apparently I had a thing for whips back then. What I didn’t remember my first few times was Black Widow.
My first introduction to her that I remember is her establishing scene in The Avengers. It was inherently a really good introduction and introduced a power dynamic that was rarely used by the other heroes, not strength, not technology, not some godly gifted powers. She had skill and charm. It was a perfect intro for her, a highly skilled operative working the top of the line tasks alongside the likes of Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Iron Man.
She was a great counter balance and it seemed like she was a more grounded character that did the dirty work that other heroes didn’t. This trend continued with the next few entries, Avengers: Age of Ultron revealing bits and pieces of her upbringing, Captain America: Winter Soldier giving an insight on the idea of what she is responsible for in her field as an operative who works for the greater safety of her country, and Captain America: Civil War showing the guilt she feels trying to save face commiting to accountability.
Sadly as you may know though, Black Widow dies in Avengers: Endgame, sacrificing herself during a mission to retrieve the soul stone. This was a genuine character moment and one that came as a surpise to everyone.
So what do you do when the main character of your movie is dead by the end of it? Do you make an origin film? Do you make it a plot twist and have her and her sister swap places? Do you make it about what happened in Budapest, an unknown event referenced multiple times throughout the Marvel franchise mostly as a joking banter between Hawkeye and Black Widow?
What do you do with a Black Widow movie?
Well before Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame came out there was an easy answer to this, make the film be set after the events of Captian America: Civil War and what Black Widow was up too during that time.
It seems that the producers of Black Widow chose a bit of every almost answer, showing off what happened in Budapest, a brief origin of her upbringing from being kidnapped to being trained and eliminating targets, and what happened with her after the events of Captain America: Civil War.
What they didn’t think about was its window of release, and how that effected the stakes of the film, the character development, and how it fits into Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For a film like Black Widow the writers need to tread a fine line on how they write the story as you can’t have the stakes of the main character dying since we know when and how she’ll die, the government collapsing isn’t a problem considering the effects of the snap (I refuse to call it “the blip”), and if they chose to do the plot twist of Natasha and her sister switching places, which thankfully they didn’t, then it has a ripple effect on how the interactions with other characters after that reveal are interpreted and how her self sacrifice is viewed.
Rumors are around saying Black Widow was orginally meant to come out around Phase 3 after Captain America: Civil War but was pushed back by some executive or producer under the pretense of “nobody wants to watch a movie about female superheroes.” If this is true it explains a lot about the film, and explains why only the post credits scene makes light of her death in Avengers: Endgame and in fact bring in another character introduced in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. (Which I get setting up events in the franchise is important for Marvel but christ does it ruin the sincerity of the scene.)
Black Widow is a solid film. I would watch it again. Its nothing special from a writing or film making perspective. Thank god they got David Harbor and Florence Pugh to be in the film, as they carried the entire film on their backs, Scarlett Johansson as much as I love her cannot carry a movie by herself. The action is serviceable and has spectacle, I’m always happy to see more “grounded” fights that aren’t super space weapons or magic or whatever, even if they are plagued with rapid cuts and shakycam.
The villain is a monkey’s paw when it comes to his writing as the opportunity for Taskmaster to be an interesting villain is wasted but the main bad guy had a cool little twist that had me at the edge of my seat for a hot minute until it didn’t.
There’s just not a lot to save about Black Widow beyond the surface observations, its a serviceable empty popcorn flick that you watch because you miss seeing the Marvel logo on the big screen. I promise you I’ll probably forget that Black Widow even came out in a few months.
What’s sad is that when the film was still going around the typical rumor pipeline, there were obviously fake but still exciting rumors that Black Widow would be Marvel’s first rated-R film in the MCU, but after seeing the film and trying to imagine it with a R rating it still wouldn’t have saved it or improved it.