I went into this film determined to count the number of hero falls. You know, like the one in this promo shot, where the actor lands from an impossibly long fall in a crouched position, as if absorbing the shock with one knee and one arm. This is the point at which my orthopedic surgeon would be reconstructing knees, ankles, an elbow, hips and one wrist, assuming I ever got out of traction for the multiple ruptured discs in my neck and back. But I’m no super hero. No, I’m not.
And neither is the Black Widow. She’s just an extremely skilled assassin, Natasha Romanoff, trained in Russia and a member of the Avengers following defection. Scarlett Johansson has played the Black Widow in nine Marvel films beginning with 2010’s Iron Man 2, and is finally getting her own feature.
I feel this almost could have been called The Black Widow’s Little Sister. Yelena Belova plays a role almost equal to that of the title character. This was a generous decision on the part of Executive Producer Johansson. Natasha’s Mom and Dad are along for the ride too, or at least people who pretended to be Mom and Dad.
It all begins in Ohio in 1995 when the sisters are six and eleven. The action starts almost immediately and pauses only occasionally throughout the film to give the audience a chance to catch their breath, and for some tender dialogue to play out on screen.
One of the first surprises in the movie was the screenwriter's recognition that hero falls have been over used. They are a running gag, the source of some inter-character banter in a few classic Marvel moments of humor. The sparingly used jokes always lend some fun to these very numerous movies. And the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) catalog is so extensive that some might be reluctant to dive into yet another origin story about a beloved character, but don’t hesitate.
The movie stands on its own and many backstory elements are explained. General Dreykov has a large mostly off-screen role in Black Widow. He is the creator of the “Red Room” where “Widows” are trained to be a human-trafficked global army of female assassins, mind-controlled from a floating fortress. His indestructible secret weapon, called Taskmaster, appears throughout the film and has a secret to reveal. It kind of feels like a James Bond plot at this point.
David Harbour plays Alexei, the Red Guardian, a Russian super-soldier answer to Captain America, and Rachel Weisz has a role as Melina, his wife. Florence Pugh is little sister Yelena Belova. Yelena, Milena, Belova, Romanov, the names get a bit confusing, but don’t become a distraction.
Believe it or not, Don McLean’s song American Pie has a place in Black Widow. Those of us who lived through the overplaying of this song in 1971 still cringe when we hear it, but the lyrics, “That’ll be the day that I die,” factor into a key scene, so we’ll let it go.
Marvel fans will find much to love about this film. The action is non-stop with lots of explosions, amazing car chases, intricately choreographed fight scenes and locations including Morocco, Budapest, Rome and Georgia. The film feels much shorter than 133 minutes. Of course, stay beyond the credits.
Black Widow runs 2 hours, 13 minutes and is rated PG-13