Let’s start with something basic. When does this movie take place? Didn’t Black Widow die in Avengers: Endgame?
She did! Black Widow takes place before the events of Endgame—to be specific, it takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. To be even more specific, it takes place in 2016, 25 years after the 1991 opening scene. As for why it takes place then, well, Marvel made 20 movies before they made their first standalone centered on a female superhero, and it’s probably not a coincidence that they didn’t get around to making a Black Widow movie until after the character was already dead.
Skipping ahead, what’s up with the lightning bugs? Is that a Marvel thing? I feel like I was missing something!
They’re just there to provide a little sentimental callback to the childhood of Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh). Earlier they were just there to establish that their “mom” (Rachel Weisz) is a scientist via the fact that she knows science-y words like bioluminescence. While there are obscure Marvel comics characters named Lightning Bug and Firefly, that seems to just be because there are Marvel characters named after most well-known insects.
Speaking of their childhood, how exactly do their fake American identities work, and how much did Natasha and Yelena know about the plan?
Natasha, Yelena, and their “parents” were sent to Ohio to be Russian sleeper cell agents and send info back to their home country. Their identities were completely constructed and their backstories staged, presumably by Dreykov and the Black Widows organization he ran, in order to create the plausible illusion that they were a family who had recently moved to their town. Natasha was aware that it was all a ruse, as she reveals at a tense reunion dinner halfway through the film. Yelena, who is several years younger than Natasha, was seemingly unaware that the family she’d lived with for three years was anything other than just that: her family.
What Bond movie was Natasha watching?
That was Moonraker! Just like that Roger Moore film, Black Widow climaxes with a battle aboard a floating fortress designed by a megalomaniac genius.
What was Julia Louis-Dreyfus doing in that post-credits scene? And what are they setting up next?
Technically, we were supposed to see her in this movie before we saw her in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but, the pandemic being what it is, the order of things got a little mixed up. But, TL;DR, Louis-Dreyfus is playing Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a Nick Fury romantic interest who is sometimes a villain in the Marvel universe. (For some further context, she’s occasionally served as “Madame Hydra.”) It seems that she’s recruited Yelena to work for her, in addition to ol’ John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and, if her comics history is anything to go by, she’s a bit of a double agent. We’ll presumably know more when Marvel releases its new TV series Hawkeye, which is expected out later this year.
Was Hawkeye actually responsible for Natasha’s death, or is that just something Valentina made up?
If you’re one of the two people on Earth who hasn’t seen Endgame, here’s a reminder of how Natasha died: The Avengers split up to collect the Infinity Stones that they need in order to defeat Thanos. Natasha and Hawkeye, go together to face the (former, now dead) head of Hydra, the Red Skull, who has the final Stone. He will only hand it over in exchange for a life sacrifice. Natasha and Hawkeye then squabble over who is the one who will sacrifice themselves to save the world. Natasha ultimately “wins” that fight, letting herself fall off a cliff to Hawkeye’s despair.
Since only the two of them were there, it does seem easy for someone like Val—as in, a person with a motive—to frame the death as Hawkeye’s fault. But those of us who saw what really went down know that Natasha made the choice completely on her own.
One last thing that’s been bothering me. Were the Widows controlling the world all along or was Hydra? (Can they really both be puppeteering global events at the same time???)
Don’t forget the Skrulls, who might also be hiding among us! It appears that the MCU has had almost as many puppet-masters as it has had world-threatening events, and you’re not wrong to feel confused about this. Maybe we’ll get more clarity in Marvel’s Secret Invasion TV series, which is due in 2022 and is expected to reveal more power players who have quietly been shapeshifting extraterrestrials—or maybe it will only muddle things further.
Black Widow review: Marvel’s spy thriller serves up entertaining family Bond-ing
From opening action to post-credits scene, Scarlet Johansson is on an MCU mission impossible with Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour.
This could be superspy Black Widow’s toughest assignment yet. Two years ago the Marvel Cinematic Universe crescendoed in an interstellar Endgame bursting with a galaxy of superhero stars. So how can a spy flick that barely offers any superpowers follow that? It’s an MCU mission impossible requiring the right agents for the assignment. And by surrounding Scarlett Johansson with a pitch-perfect cast of new faces, Black Widow reveals what Marvel does best.
Black Widow is out now in the UK and hits US theaters tomorrow, Friday July 9. It’ll also be available to stream on Disney Plus Friday for a $30 Premier Access fee. If you don’t want to pay, it’ll be free to all subscribers Oct. 6.
Disney’s streaming service eased fans back into the MCU with winningly weird TV shows WandaVision and Loki. That means Black Widow’s slick but straightforward action could feel even more out of date. Thankfully, this sure-footed, entertaining comic book adventure takes the Bond/Bourne formula and sprinkles it with Marvel magic. Black Widow (the film) is the first solo outing for Natasha Romanova (Johansson), an assassin-turned-Avenger and an ice-cold Russian killer. So why does her movie open with young Natasha enjoying an idyllic childhood in the sun-dappled suburbs of 1990s Ohio? When Marvel’s super-cops SHIELD close in, Natasha’s nuclear family is revealed to be less all-American and more like The Americans.
Cut to Natasha on the run from US authorities again, except now she’s grown up into Scarlett Johansson, and she’s in trouble for going rogue in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Throwing her phone in a fjord, she’s soon safely off the grid and tucked up in a bolthole watching James Bond movies on a tiny TV. But trouble still comes a-calling, and this time Natasha faces her own traumatic past as she settles old scores.
From opening flashback to post-credits scene, everyone dons skintight superspy outfits and it’s off around the world for an adventure in the style of Bourne and Bond, complete with rooftop snipers, motorbike stunts and hidden supervillain lairs. A Q-style quartermaster even doles out help along the way, while a remorseless masked henchman makes things difficult.
Black Widow isn’t as grittily inventive as the brutal, stunt-filled fights of Charlize Theron’s similar espionage punch-up Atomic Blonde, or as seductively stylish as recent Bond films like Skyfall. And it remains to be seen if Black Widow’s set pieces are as indelible as any stunt in the Mission: Impossible series — or even Marvel’s own memorable moments like Winter Soldier’s elevator fight.
Still, director Cate Shortland takes the spy-on-spy action to the eye-popping next level. Even with no superpowers at play, each relatively grounded fistfight or foot chase quickly dials up to entertainingly ridiculous proportions. It isn’t Fast and Furious 9 level of physics-defying ludicrousness (thankfully), but big scenes like an icebound prison break are exhilaratingly heightened enough to be worthy of the big screen.
Most importantly, Black Widow highlights Marvel’s biggest (or at least most consistent) strength. The big-budget effects are all very fancy, and there have been plenty of stirring set pieces. But starting with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel movies have had their share of baggy storylines, underwhelming action and forgettable enemies. Black Widow’s plot revolves around yet another device the film doesn’t seem to care about, while baddie Taskmaster is an undercooked villain. But what makes Marvel movies work every time is the casting. When you get right down to it, the MCU is built on a foundation of characters and stars you want to hang out with.
In this case, Johansson is matched with Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour as Natasha’s spy family. And every one of them is a joy to watch.
It’s great to see Pugh on the biggest possible stage after her star-making turns in unsettling horror flick Midsommar and touching wrestling comedy Fighting With My Family. As Natasha’s younger “sister,” she’s like Black Widow with the gloves off. Their spiky sisterly banter is both infectious and touching as they bond over their shared trauma and equally skilled use of violence. Johansson knows exactly what she’s doing as she glides from kicks to quips, but Pugh’s charming combination of vulnerability, comic timing and general badassery comes very close to stealing the whole show.
Harbour has a ball going from Stranger Things’ burly sheriff to larger-than-life superhero. With “Karl” and “Marx” tattooed across his knuckles, the bearded and bear-like Russian hero known as the Red Guardian just wants the Communist Party to feel like a party. Like Pugh, Harbour is in scene-stealing form with his hilarious and grubbily sexy performance.
Rounding out the dysfunctional family, Weisz has less of a showboating role. But she plays amusingly off Harbour’s broader performance and brings a touch of class to proceedings. Whether they’re together as a unit or sparking off each other individually, the interplay among these four stars carry Black Widow when the relatively straightforward story meanders or action peters out.
There’s a lot of pent-up expectation built up around this film. We haven’t had a Marvel movie since 2019’s triple-whammy of Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. It’s a big change going from a film every few months to nothing for two whole years, so the question is whether the Marvel juggernaut will keep on rolling or whether audiences have cooled toward the whole superhero thing.
It doesn’t help that Black Widow is hardly as audacious or imaginative as bonkers Marvel TV shows WandaVision and Loki, though it definitely covers similar geopolitical territory to The Falcon and The Winter Soldier with considerably more panache.
Helpfully, Black Widow is an established character, and fans have wanted to see Johansson in a solo movie for years. Pandemic aside, this film was a long time coming. It’s great to see Johansson leading such a slickly entertaining female-centric action flick, and it’s not every big-budget blockbuster that tackles the coercion of women’s reproductive rights as a means of control.
Smart, sexy and perfectly cast, Black Widow barely has a story to speak of but still manages to be a huge amount of fun. It may be understated compared with Endgame’s cosmic histrionics, but still feels worthy of the big screen. The MCU’s cinematic comeback is more thrilling than Godzilla, infinitely better than Infinite and gives F9 a run for its money. All thanks to four stars who nailed the assignment.