Black Widow

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Black Widow (2021) arrived a decade too late. After so many stops and goes Scarlett Johansson finally gets her solo superhero outing after Disney has killed off her character within their MCU continuity. This traps the filmmakers into telling a story that isn’t so much an exploration of the Black Widow character as it is a means of introducing her replacement whilst bidding her adieu. The well intentioned attempts at making Black Widow politically relevant only further delude the film by drawing attention to the fact that throughout the beloved Avengers franchise Johansson was utilized primarily as eye candy. Ironically the introduction of Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) as Johansson’s replacement pulls the spotlight away from Johansson again so that instead of being the first woman superhero to have a film in 2011 she gets an “after thought” project in 2021 where she’s part of an ensemble cast.

The plus of the picturing being a true ensemble is that director Cate Shortland is able to play to her strengths in orchestrating human drama. Where most Marvel films are ensembles purely out of a desire to fit as many big names on the poster as possible, Black Widow is about family, shared trauma, reckoning, and redemption. The film is at its best when Shortland has the characters in little intimate moments where what is said isn’t as important as what isn’t said (this is particularly true in the scenes with David Harbour). Where Captain Marvel (2019) sold feminism in broad strokes of full throttle action spectacles, Black Widow reminds viewers that feminism as an ideology is at its most vital in the small, everyday interactions.

Even though what Cate Shortland accomplishes in Black Widow is comparatively incredible it is still a film subject to the whims and fancies of its Disney overlords. The restrictions imposed on these comic book movies to create an in-house style cripples the genre aesthetically. Criticisms that Black Widow is Marvel’s Jason Bourne movie are all too fair. When you add to that the mandate that all political subtext be vocally articulated in as simplistic way as is feasible and one is left with a Black Widow that is two-thirds your typical Disney garbage and one-third the expression of an under-valued indie auteur.

Disney is at least following the example of Warner Bros. by making each new superhero film about a woman slightly more sophisticated and a tad more relevant. It’s a shame that the only woman Avenger had to wait so long to get her own film. This is the farewell to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, a casual after thought, an absent minded nod to a martyred character.