Review: Black Widow (2001)

Review: Black Widow (2001)
03 Jun
Not in Hall of Fame


Scarlett Johansson                    Natasha Romanoff

Florence Pugh                           Yelena Belova

David Harbour                          Alexei

Rachel Weisz                            Melina

Ray Winstone                           Dreykov

Olga Kurylenko                         Antonia

William Hurt                             Secretary Ross

We finally regained power after a massive storm that wiped out most of the power grid in Eastern Ontario, we decided it was time to watch a good movie. One that both my wife and I would find entertaining. With that in mind, we went to the MC universe to find something that we had not yet watched. Black Widow seemed to fit the bill for this evenings entertainment. While this film was released last year, it was postponed several times due to the COVID pandemic so it was at least a year or so in the “can” prior to hitting the big screen.

There are currently 28 films in the MCU with at least 11 more in various stages of development. This film, the 24th in the series takes place shortly after Captain America: Civil War, and it does include some “Black Widow origin” material as well in the form of flashbacks. 

The film starts with a typical U.S. Midwestern scene, two young girls, a mother, and a father. Dad comes home for dinner and announces that the family must depart on an adventure. Everyone rushes to the car leaving everything behind as they race to a small private airstrip where a small Cessna is waiting. Just as they board, we can hear sirens in the distance as a bevy of police cars approach and try to block this seeming innocent families escape. After a typical shoot-out that results in many cars shot-up, blown up and/or wrecked, our family flies away with the father hanging onto the wing. What was interesting to note was that we, the audience, discover that the father has some pretty strong muscles that are reminiscent of other superheroes in the MCU. They land in Cuba, and our suspicions are confirmed. This was a Russian family that was in the U.S. as a sleeper cell. Now back in the hands of Mother Russia, the two girls are removed. 

Fast forward a number of years and we see a number of assassins working in Morocco. A young blond woman is battling her foes in a spectacular series of stunts and gunfire. At this point, I was hard pressed to try and figure out which girl she was from the start, but by the end of the fight sequence it did become apparent that she was the little “Sister” of Natasha (Johansson). We are also re-introduced to the father, Alexei (Harbour) who is now in a Russian gulag, reminiscing of his glory days fighting Captain America and pretty much shaming all comers in arm wrestling. We have seen how this once lean warrior in the opening sequences has become old, fat, and slovenly. However, he was still capable of fighting when required. Concurrently, Natasha (Johansson) is being chased by her former employer Secretary Ross to answer for her “supposed” crimes that were committed in Captain America: Civil War. I don’t want to go to deeply in the story (weak one that it is) in case you have not watched it. So, with all this in mind, you can pretty much figure out the rest of the movie from there. Family re-unites, fights common foe and each other, defeats enemy and leaves opening for further MCU adventures. Pretty predictable, right?

Now that we have a basic sketch of the film out there, let us look at what was good about “Black Widow”. 

  1. The cinematography: We loved the scenes from Norway, Hungary and Morocco. Each and every one of these scenes in the film brought forth our travel bug and urges us to plan another holiday. Besides the beautiful places that were filmed, we found the action sequences were filmed quite well, and did not seem to be too choppy or sped up to an unbelievable speed as it is done in some films of late. 
  2. Plot/premise: Ok, I do realize that the plot of this film is pretty weak and extremely predictable even for somewhat of an origin story, but I do like the fact that they showed the start of Natasha’s life to be somewhat reminiscent of the show “The Americans”. “The Americans” is a tv-series of a family of sleeper agents that is hiding in the USA in the early 80’s. (A fantastic show that I highly recommend!). In that aspect, I thought it was pretty good. I also did enjoy the addition of the new characters from Natasha’s past. Especially the “father” and “sister”.
  3. Character chemistry: The chemistry between the main characters was present, though not so much when it involved Natasha (Johansson). In my opinion it was the supporting cast, specifically Harbour and Pugh that carried the day in the film. Their comedic lines and deliveries were spot on, and for us, worked every time. Natasha (Johansson) seemed almost forced. She had better chemistry with her previous co-stars in the Avengers series than here.

Now what was bad about the film:

  1. Plot: Even though I had mentioned above that the plot was one of the good things, it was also one of the bad things about the film. Too clichéd, too many plot holes, and also most importantly, why was the story told? Was it only to be a vehicle for Johansson so that she could have the lead in an MCU film? Was it means to introduce Yelena (Pugh) into the MCU and also the upcoming series on Disney? Of the two, I would say it was more of the later, with a touch of the former. The worst thing about the MCU is that Black Widow and Hawkeye are really 3rdrate heroes. They have no powers or super technology, just some good fighting skills. Their storylines are never really amplified in previous films…they are almost like throw-away characters if you will. Put them in a situation where the real heroes have to save them. Additionally, at first this film felt more like a spy/thriller movie versus an MCU film, then in the last 20 minutes, it changed gears to be more “heroic”. I actually liked the first portion much better.
  2. Characters: Now that they have fleshed out the Natasha Romanoff character, I like it less then before. This character is more suited in a supporting role versus lead. I also felt that at times, Johansson’s acting was a little off and did not flow as well as her supporting cast. Also, Dreykov (Winstone) was poorly presented in my opinion, and his role of the enemy was pretty comical.

While on the subject of characters, let us look at the main actors and their roles within Black Widow:

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff: I usually enjoy Johansson’s roles for the most part in the MCU. However, this time as the lead character, as mentioned previously, it felt off. Almost like she was not fully invested into the role. Her chemistry was spotty with her supporting characters and at times the delivery appeared wooden. However, having said all that, who can argue when Johansson is clad in either white or black leather? That alone will surely appeal to many fans! I must give props to some of the action sequences, they were well done and I always enjoyed a good fight/combat scene. For some reason, her comedic sequences fell short when compared to her principal co-stars. Not her worst role in my opinion, but not her best either.

Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova: I have to say that Pugh’s portrayal of Yelena was actually the highlight of the film. Her comedic delivery, one liners, and action sequences were extremely well done. We almost fell off the chair when she accused Natasha (Johansson) of being a poser and always landing on 3-point stance and giving a hair flick before leaping into action. My wife has always laughed at these movies when that sequence is performed, and to have another character poke fun at it really enhanced the film for us. Granted it was the writers/directors who put the line in, but Pugh’s delivery made it hilarious. I also enjoyed her performance throughout the film, it felt it had more depth then that of the main star. I had not seen Pugh in anything prior to Black Widow, but I will definitely be on the look for her in the future, for I feel that she has great potential in the industry and am looking forward to what her next role will be.

David Harbour as Alexei: Alongside of Pugh’s performance, Harbour also gave a great portrayal of Alexei, the surrogate father of the two young ladies. Harbour is one of these actors that you see in everything, a supporting actor that probably works in more films then any A list star and has movie credits as long as your arm. To be honest, even though his face was always familiar, I never really started paying attention to him till the NETFLIX series Stranger Things. Looking at his resume, I realized that I have watched him in at least 25 different productions (film/tv series) over the years. Harbour was excellent in Black Widow, he was funny, action packed and was actually pretty integral to the story line. I especially enjoyed his “reminiscing” of previous greatness scenes, they were truly memorable. This was a truly enjoyable role to watch and I look forward to Stranger Things season 4 to see him again!

Rachel Weisz as Melina: Weisz, the ever stoic actress was OK in this film. She was great in the Mummy and a few other roles, but in this one, I found she was OK. Maybe it was the script or direction, but her character was not developed to the same extent of Harbour and Pugh. She could still carry some of the action sequences (maybe she learned it from her real husband, Daniel Craig), but the lighter side was not really present here. As I have said, an OK performance from this talented actress, she has done better in other roles, and I am sure she will in future ones as well. 

So, as with every review, now is the question. Were we entertained? Yes, we were. This was really a light film with lots of action and a few good laughs along the way. Was it a fantastic addition to the MCU? No, it was not. This was probably one of the weaker additions to the series, but one that does fill in a few holes in Natasha’s past. (let’s forget about any of the plot holes in this film). In “Black Widow” the real stars were the supporting cast, and Harbour and Pugh made the film worth the watch. I do look forward to seeing Hawkeye (whenever that gets released to something besides Disney) and seeing Pugh in action again. As previously mentioned, I also look forward to seeing Harbour in future roles, as I really think that here is another case of an actor who has been around for ever, but only finds his stride in their late 40’s. Either way, it was a fun film to watch, especially if you are a fan of the genre. 

Rating: 5/10

Till next time!

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