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Tangled web: Black Widow is delightfully deep

Scarlett Johansson stars as Russian assassin in Marvel spy thriller that's got much more than just punch-them-in-the-face moments

09 July, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

Scarlett Johansson as Russian assassin Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow

BLACK WIDOW
Directed by Cate Shortland
Certificate: 12a
☆☆☆☆

OFF we dive once more into the Marvel Universe, this time to catch up on the life and times of deadly Russian assassin Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow.

Scarlett Johansson’s character has always had something of the night about her – her introduction to the Avengers team was spiky when compared to the likes of Tony Stark or Captain America, whose loyalties have always been clear.

Not so Romanoff, and with standalone Marvel films, we are taken through a back story to better understand this killer from the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Her complicated past sets up a plot that draws on the spy thriller genre, as opposed to Marvel’s harder-to-compute tales of space-based gods in yarns like Thor.

Without wanting to give too much away – a refreshing sentence to type when talking about superhero movies – the action focuses on Black Widow, her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), searching for their “parents” and tackling the evil Dreykov (Ray Winstone).

Dreykov has planted glowy-red mind controlling widgets in the bodies of his all-female killer crews. The Black Widow has an antidote, and is also honour bound to find Dreykov and kick him in the pants.

Director Cate Shortland has crafted a film that does not solely rely on punch-them-in-the-face moments, and successfully offers the leads a little bit of depth.

BW has a confused and tangled psyche that becomes even more apparent as she relives elements of her past and of one particular hit she carried out.

And while BW is a character you certainly cheerlead for, it is helped by three terrific supporting cast members. Yelena shares the line in family strife, and acts as strong comic foil. Melina (Rachel Weisz), offers a confused and conflicted mother figure, but the fruitiest of all is the Red Guardian (David Harbour), who has the best lines and funniest moments.

This quartet lead us on a harum-scarum romp through various locations designed with violent dust-ups in mind. As we go through each plot-advancing setpiece, and as with all Marvel Universe creations, we are presented with rib-ticklers to emphasise the cartoon nature of a film the actors take deadly seriously.

Unintended laughs may also be gleaned from Winstone’s gruff loss of cockney vowels to become a Russian baddie, a performance akin to Robbie Coltrane’s turn as pesky Rusky criminal in the Bond flick GoldenEye.

Black Widow is one of the most enjoyable characters in this comic book world, and Shortland’s work behind the camera does the story justice.

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