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‘Black Widow’: Marvelously mediocre or an overdue addition to the MCU?

‘Black Widow’: Marvelously mediocre or an overdue addition to the MCU?

‘Black Widow’: Marvelously mediocre or an overdue addition to the MCU?
August 03
18:46 2021

With “Black Widow” hitting the big screen recently, fans and moviegoers have been examining the film to see if it’s a disappointing or necessary addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Will Tarpley and Jaden Oberkrom both gave the film a shot, and as Will is a casual Marvel supporter and Jaden is a longtime fan, they both shared their perspective on the long-awaited movie.

Will’s take:

“All that time that I spent posing, I was trying to actually do something good, to make up for all the pain and suffering we caused. Trying to be more than just a trained killer.”

“Well, then you were fooling yourself. Because pain and suffering is every day and we are both still trained killers.”

After years of waiting and many obstacles — including but not limited to executive meddling, false starts and a certain global pandemic — Marvel’s most famous super spy has finally landed her own solo gig. Directed by Cate Shortland with a screenplay by Eric Pearson, “Black Widow” finds Scarlett Johansson’s agent on the run after the events of  “Captain America: Civil War,” only to run straight into a conspiracy involving her covert family and the man behind the mysterious Red Room. Playing into a harder, more violent approach to the MCU and action more in line with the “Winter Soldier” installments, is “Black Widow” worth the years of anticipation?

In this reviewer’s opinion, no. While “Black Widow” boasts great performances and ideas in its script, it feels unusually loose in plenty of areas and uninspired in others.

Still, there is a level of competency to be expected from Marvel and that is apparent in the cast. While Natasha’s emotional range is mostly the same as previous MCU fare, her conversations with Florence Pugh’s Yelena reveal a much darker side to her and expand on the brief hints towards her muddy past. For example, their back and forth over their family unit, itself a product of a deep-cover operation in the ‘90s, are peppered with genuine fondness from Natasha who tries to keep herself guarded. Another standout is when she discusses the infamous Budapest mission, her self-reassurance that she did the right thing betrayed by doubt in her eyes.

Speaking of Yelena, Pugh continues her streak of being the best part of nearly every movie she’s in. Her interactions with Natasha are both very endearing in an “annoying younger sibling” dynamic, with her casual musings on how she would like to die pairing well with her making fun of her sister’s superhero poses. Yelena herself also gets some more serious moments that reveal just how screwed-up and unsure she is emotionally after spending her entire life as a tool of an abusive and uncaring espionage program.

David Harbour also scores as Alexei, Natasha and Yelena’s father figure, who gets plenty of laughs as a boastful, insensitive Russian counterpart to Captain America and Rachel Weisz gets to have some good scenes in which she reflects on how she and Alexei impact the lives of their “daughters.”

That’s about it on the positive side. It’s mostly downhill from here.

Shortland’s direction is mostly fine but doesn’t stand out in the MCU’s heavily studio-controlled repertoire. It’s even worse on the action front, which is especially heavy on quick-cuts and shaky cam.

While the combat seems to be mostly well choreographed, the actual way it is shot and edited is atrocious. The sections requiring CGI are decent but that’s because they require the director and second-unit teams to hold the shot for more than a second, physical hand-to-hand fights keep jumping and are shaky in their filming. I know I’ve harped on and on about why this bad — constant cutting and shaky cam don’t make things more exciting, they make it harder to tell what’s going on. Even the CGI action is undercut by shockingly under-cooked effects, with very clear green screen and use of computer stunt doubles for certain moments. For Marvel Studios and effects-heavy productions in general, “Black Widow’s” CGI is way below the mark.

What makes this more frustrating is that this shares one of the editors from “Winter Soldier,” “Civil War” and the last two Avengers movies. While they had problems, the hand-to-hand still mostly holds in those first two. “Black Widow” also fails when matched against its contemporaries — “Mission Impossible” is still the reigning king of American spy fiction and stunt work, the better of the recent James Bond movies still have pretty damn good action and “Kingsman” still delved out some fantastic action despite a lackluster sequel. Even “F9,” despite some bad cutting in the Vin Diesel vs. John Cena still had better martial arts sequences than this.

Pearson’s script is also just mixed. While it has some pretty interesting themes and ideas regarding female exploitation and misogyny, it’s woefully undercooked. The villain is also among the MCU’s worst and most forgettable.

Lastly, while Johansson is solid as Natasha for one last time, this doesn’t feel like a proper goodbye since it’s blatantly setting up Yelena to take over. Between the set-up and underdeveloped antagonist and script, it feels like a mediocre sequel to a previous Black Widow movie that doesn’t exist. “Black Widow ” really is a victim of so many false starts, executive meddling and shake-ups that really killed it before it could leave the womb.

Despite some good performances, “Black Widow” is among the weakest of the MCU and recent spy movies in general. Its action is below the genre’s standards, its writing is flaccid and fails to do real justice to one of the MCU’s longest-serving heroes.

Will’s rating: 2.25/5

Jaden’s take:

It has been more than two years since we have seen a Marvel movie in theaters. “Black Widow” is the latest entry in the MCU’s long list of movies and shows, and it is a shame we waited two years for a movie so underwhelming. My biggest fear going into this movie was the story being unnecessary to the bigger picture of the MCU. Black Widow getting a solo movie would have been an amazing idea five years ago, but instead, we are on the receiving end of a missed opportunity. This was not the return to the movie theaters I had pictured for the MCU, but there were still some bright spots shining through the overall mess.

Scarlett Johansson absolutely smashes it as Natasha Romanoff, as she has done for the last ten years. She shows us why this movie should have been made a long time ago, and her performance is great throughout. David Harbour and Rachel Weisz make their MCU debuts, and live up to the hype surrounding their names. The best character and the best part of the entire movie goes to Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh. She is going to give the MCU some new life, while also slingshotting herself into stardom. I am already seeing millions of social media posts about her performance in this movie, and I hope she gets all the love she deserves. She is easily one of my favorite actors working today, and she shows exactly why in this film.

The first two acts in this film were really solid. The character of Natasha Romanoff has been criminally underused throughout the entirety of the MCU, and the initial adrenaline of seeing her finally get the spotlight is great. The new characters introduced play off each other really well, and the family dynamic created makes for some really interesting conflicts throughout the movie. Without spoiling anything, the movie seems to crumble apart in the third act on every level possible. The action is not as captivating, and the special effects take a ginormous dip in quality. My biggest problems with this movie do not even come from the movie itself. This is a genuinely interesting story, and I am glad it was told. The big problem is this movie plays no significance moving forward, outside of one singular thing.

As a huge MCU fan, it is a bummer this movie did not  work for me the way I had wanted, but that is also the best part of the MCU. Fans have been waiting for two years for this movie to come out, and seeing all of the Marvel fans out in waves celebrating “Black Widow” was truly something great to witness. Marvel movies are way more than just two hours in a dark room, they are experiences viewers never forget. While the film was underwhelming in a lot of areas, there were still a lot of great character moments, and quite possibly one of the coolest opening credits we have ever seen in a Marvel movie. Solo Marvel movies are known to be a little formulaic, and this film is no exception, but I guess if it isn’t broke you shouldn’t fix it. I am glad Johansson finally got to put her character in the spotlight after essentially carrying the MCU for the last ten years.

In between all the good and bad, I still had a blast. There is nothing like seeing a Marvel movie opening night, and it felt like a beat wasn’t skipped between now and two years ago. While it has its problems, “Black Widow” is still the most entertaining movie in theaters right now, and it deserves all the attention it has been starved of for the last year. The MCU is back on the big screen, and nothing feels better than that.

Jaden’s rating: 3/5

Courtesy Marvel Studios

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Jaden Oberkrom

Jaden Oberkrom

Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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