DISCLAIMER: This review of Marvel’s Black Widow is entirely bereft of spoilers. Mostly because I don’t want to die at the hands of the MCU assassins.

Natasha Romanoff fans, the long and arduous wait is almost over. Frankly, Black Widow has been long overdue. While most of the Avengers currently have trilogies dedicated to them, our stoic Russian-spy-turned-superhero has been left in the dust. Until now! 

I was always intrigued by Natasha’s story. When Avengers: Endgame hit theaters, I was almost certain we wouldn’t get that BW solo flick. Thankfully, I was wrong. Equally thankfully, COVID-19 didn’t prevent Black Widow from getting a theatrical release. 

Still of Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Marvel's Black Widow.

(L-R): Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Now, this film embraces a handful of themes, but “family” takes precedence over them all. Not just family, but the notion of “found family.” Does it matter if you’re not blood relatives? Our core quartet — Natasha, Yelena, Melina and Alexei — has a peculiar bond. It’s strange yet endearing. 

Here, you have a group of people who’ve endured terrors of which most common folks couldn’t even dream. That alone acts as an equalizer and as a bonding agent. Notably, Natasha and Yelena’s relationship evolves over the course of Black Widow

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Both Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh churn in wonderfully nuanced performances. Johansson, in particular, is in top form as Natasha. This might be her best work in the franchise. Natasha’s headlong journey into her past is visceral, gut-wrenching and heartwarming.

In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever seen an Avenger get this vulnerable. It’s refreshing, and it reminds us that she’s a human beneath all of that superhero flair. Johansson digs deep, and she strikes gold. Pugh holds her own as the headstrong Yelena Belova. Magic happens when the two of them are on screen together. It’s a beautifully cultivated, tender pairing. 

David Harbour knocks it out of the park as Alexei Shostakov, the slightly pudgy dad who reminisces about his Red Guardian glory days. While there are humorous moments aplenty between Natasha and Yelena, Alexei provides more comedic relief. Rachel Weisz plays the icy Melina Vostokoff to perfection. 

Ray Winstone is certainly imposing as Black Widow‘s Big Bad, Dreykov. However, he isn’t an omnipotent-esque antagonist like Thanos. His presence isn’t a highlight for me, albeit his arc is vital to the overall story. He’s simply not the focal point. O-T Fagbenle‘s Mason feels slightly wasted and shoved to the side. But he does have his usefulness in some respects. 

Still of David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov in Marvel's Black Widow.

Alexei (David Harbour) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Now, the Taskmaster’s identity is … one I won’t reveal, but I will say that it’s a person I wasn’t expecting. There were a few moments in Black Widow, particularly the end-credit scene, that took me by surprise. Again, no spoilers from moi. 

If you love your MCU with a heaping helping of action, you’re in luck. Black Widow boasts top-tier fight sequences, and Marvel’s signature stunning cinematography. These action scenes had me on the edge of my seat. Marvel didn’t settle as far as the fight budget is concerned.

Lorne Balfe delivers an ethereally gorgeous score with interwoven elements from Natasha’s Russian upbringing. Conversely, the charged, fast-paced melodies elevate the tense scenes. 

Still of Rachel Weisz as Melina, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, and Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova in Marvel's Black Widow.

(L-R): Melina (Rachel Weisz), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Another crucial theme that Black Widow addresses is “power.” What happens when it falls into the wrong hands. What happens when those who are powerless try to take it back. The movie mostly focuses on the latter. Of course, if you know anything about the Red Room, you know that those women were experimented on like lab rats. Bodily mutilated.

It’s enough to make one feel powerless. But Black Widow is a reminder that those who’ve been silenced can step back into their own power. It’s a resonant theme that doesn’t feel preachy, nor does the film relentlessly bash the said theme over our heads. “Reclaiming your power” is especially relevant in our current climate. 

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Overall, Black Widow is a solid entry into Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It breaks the traditional superhero mold, and even feels different in comparison to its MCU predecessors. It’s a breath of fresh air. Director Cate Shortland helms a sleek, stylish, thrilling story rife with high-octane action sequences, humor and heart. A beating heart that’s all about family. 

If you’re in the mood for a Marvel film that slightly deviates from your standard MCU fare, then Black Widow is for you. Johansson reminds us all why she is Natasha Romanoff. Through and through. Pugh and Harbour leave indelible marks, and I hope to see them again in the MCU. 

And, as with all Marvel movies, be sure to sit through the credits till the end. You won’t be disappointed. 

Black Widow will hit theaters on Friday, July 9, with a concurrent debut on Disney Plus with Premier Acess.

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