In 2008 the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU as it is often referred to, began phase one with the feature film Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes) as Tony Stark. Over the next twelve years, audiences were introduced to numerous comic book characters, as a series of fifteen-plus films were released. Throughout the years, we have come to know the Avengers, their abilities, their weaknesses, and their stories. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson; The Island), however, has always remained somewhat of a mystery...until now. Black Widow, which kicks off phase four of the MCU, offers some insight into Natasha's past and helps to explain why she is so secretive.
Natasha and her family live a normal, suburban life in Ohio. Mom/Melina (Rachel Weisz; The Mummy) stays at home, Dad/Alex (David Harbour; Stranger Things) works in an office, and Natasha plays with her younger sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh; Midsommar). Everything is routine and boring, until one day when it isn't. Suddenly, they are fleeing their home while being chased by the authorities, escaping in a plane the size of a crop duster, and landing in Cuba on a Russian military base and separated from each other.
Fast forward approximately twenty years and Natasha is hiding out, wanted for violating the Sokovia Accords when she helped The Winter Soldier escape. Isolated in Norway, she suddenly finds herself attacked by an "Iron Man" like being and realizes her assailant is after some vials Natasha didn't even know she had. Based on the clues, she finds herself in Budapest, face to face with the young woman she once thought was her sister. Together they find Alex/Alexei in a Russian jail and the three then escape to find Melina. Their "Family Reunion", however, is cut short when they realize they have a common enemy they must find and defeat.
The MCU is known for its action sequences and Natasha is a central figure in these scenes. Black Widow offers several opportunities to watch the orchestrated dance that constitutes the MCU fight scenes. The fight scenes are fast, precise, and choreographed to a tee. The movie, however, tends to focus more on the plot than the action, which creates a balance between the emotional and the physical components and while there are facts about Natasha's life that are filled in, Black Widow is not a true origin story.
Ultimately the strength of the movie is not in the plot or the script but in the actors. Of course, Johansson reprises the role she has most often been associated with and she pulls off the lead actress title beautifully. Weisz (looking a little long in the tooth) blends well with the other actors, making her performance believable. Harbour is there mostly for comic relief, and he portrays the stereotypical drunk, Russian former spy perfectly. However, the top award should belong to Pugh. She draws your attention from the moment she appears on screen (which is hard to do since many of her scenes are with Johansson) and makes Yelena seem hard and vulnerable all at the same time.
There is no question that the MCU has become a giant in the superhero genre of filmmaking. For over a dozen years they have entertained audiences all over the world and, luckily, show no signs of stopping anytime soon. Phase four seems to be focused on some of the lesser-known heroes and combines both film and television mediums. From WandaVision to Loki to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there is plenty of Marvel content out there or coming soon
If Black Widow is the opening film for this phase of the MCU, then they are off to a good start, and I am excited to see what comes next.