Black Widow (2021)

A decade too-late for one of the OG [forgotten] Avengers.. yet 4th MCU release in four months, BW loses clever themes & Cold War-era paranoia in a heavily-clichéd, overactioned, choppily-toned, miscast, badly-CGI’d, watered-down spy film. 4/10.

Plot Synopsis: Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy, and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Forgotten Original Avenger

Back In 2010’s Iron Man 2, BW Stole The Show – Only To Get Sidelined While Male Teammates & F-Listers Got Trilogies Over 21 Films; Saved By Wonder Woman, Too Late?

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

Rewind to 2010. Iron Man 2 is playing at your local multiplex and you catch a matinée one afternoon – only to be massively-underwhelmed. Sure, it boasts more of the career-role whose shoulders the MCU was built on: RDJ’s genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist Tony Stark alongside a beautiful visual canvas and balanced, less-juvenile tone than modern MCU projects, but its villain was a joke [wasting the talented Mickey Rourke], action ~clunky, and comprehensive blockbuster formula souring in stark juxtaposition to 2008’s layered, original masterwork. Though it epitomizes the tried-true law-of-physics that ~95% of sequels pale in comparison to their predecessor, it did bring two big characters of Marvel canon to-screen nicely: War Machine and Black Widow. The latter being one of the original six Avengers played by one of the biggest movie-star actresses on the planet, we always assumed she would get her origin film and trilogy early-on like the rest of her male teammates. However, year-after-year passed with an MCU growing at a Hulk-sized pace and introducing dozens of new characters – while she collected dust on the sidelines. Fast-forward to the present over a decade later, Natasha Romanov finally got her due – only it’s too late, poorly-timed, disrespectful, and messy to be the film such an integral character of the MCU’s story deserved.

A Fine Script Of Complex Themes

The Film Metaphorizes The Patriarchy & Historical Subjugation Of Women Through The Lens Of Dreykov’s Widows; Cinematic Feminism Done Subtly, ~Tastefully, Cleverly

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

A decade too-late for one of the original [& most forgotten] Avengers.. yet the 4th MCU release in a mere four months by a studio with no problem sexistly-giving D-listers from GOTG to Ant-Man trilogies until Wonder Woman saved her, Black Widow’s clever-and-dark potential-rife script metaphorizing the patriarchy while playing on Cold War-era paranoia and themes of childhood/family trauma is lost in a sea of badly-CGI’d explosions, action/comedy tonal discordance, miscastings, weak villain-characterization, & watered-down franchise blockbusterisms. Black Widow is vexingly-indecisive: a potentially-great film in glimpses, caged in a pheromonal lock like Dreykov’s by MCU blockbuster franchiseisms. The film has no idea what it wants to be; it starts out amazingly with one of the best cinematic scenes of its entire franchise in the lusciously-cimmerian, beautifully-scored [Nirvana, FTW!], chiaroscuric, iconographically-striking vintage-filtered found-footage opening credits splice echoing its script’s dark raison-d’être. A twisted childhood experience flips the craved-normalcy of expected family and just being a kid carefree in the world into a weaponization of little girls trafficked and grown up ripped of reproductive organs and their very soul to remove any distractions or compromisable weaknesses: the ultimate cold-blooded killer/spy monsters operating in the shadows of humanity – and worse: against their own will.

The Cold War Zeitgeist

The Zeitgeist Of ’50’s Cold War Paranoia Alongside Stealthy Geopolitical Espionage & A Reframe Of A Classic Spy Theme Of Mind-Control Paint A Broad-Strokes 007 Aesthetic

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

Black Widow’s script brilliantly metaphorizes the patriarchy and history’s delegation/subjugation of women to housewives with no free-will through the lens of Dreykov’s megalomaniacal hold over his army of femme-fatales – managing to reframe the classic super-spy theme of mind-control with plenty of 007 nostalgic homages and exotic locales from Norway fjords to Arctic Tundra to Morocco cityscapes. It captures the zeitgeist of Soviet Cold-War Era paranoia, while playing on 1) toxic masculinity through its overarching antagonist’s inferiority-complex and 2) animalistic symbolism by the fact that real-nature black widow spiders eventually turn to devour their male hosts [why they’re called ‘widows’] just as The Widows do their master in the finale. This is feminist proficiency balancing emotional characterization-arcs for its two sisters with allegory in natural, understated subtlety motifs without resorting to militant-misandry and man-hate like Captain Marvel did [and was predictively chastized for by omnipotent public rejection]. There is one offensive sexist comment exception in Melina naming a pig after her husband Alexey – if the tables were turned, this would evoke pitchforks and torches by the twitter-fingers fembot-collective.. but is somehow hypocritically-passable here – but, overall, it’s comparatively-tame by the standards in modern blockbusters and doesn’t pimp itself out for a glorified virtue-signal political checklist under the guise of entertainment. Black Widow places itself at a smart crux in MCU continuity: one of its best and most complex events and films in Civil War, fracturing Romanov’s major family in the Avengers while also opening the door to explore another one in the downtime between big battles.

The Darkest MCU Film

One Of The Best Scenes Of The MCU: Dark, Provocative, Cimmerian, Beautifully-Scored, Imagistically-Bold Opening Credits/Scene – A Normal Childhood Twisted To Nightmare; Little Girls Trafficked Into Cold Killers/Spies

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

It’s also an aesthetically-stylish film in background locations, set-designs, costumes [we love BW’s white suit and Taskmaster’s look, even if (like ~95% of Marvel’s characters and storylines) it’s totally ripped off from DC mythology]. Black Widow (1964) is a ripoff of Black Canary (1947) down to the black-animal name, costume, and batons, and the lesser-known Taskmaster [especially in this incarnation] is an exact, inarguable copy of one of DC’s most iconic villains: Deathstroke from tech/armor aesthetic to fighting style to swords to black/blue/orange color scheme, etc. History lesson aside, the film’s amazing first act true to the darkness and seriousness a character as tragic and broken as Romanov is becomes what I feared most and expected: a fate worse than its sleeper-agent horrors… MCU action/comedy blockbusterisms! A wacky family comedy being web-spun out of what we saw in the opening scene is sacrilegious and as [tonally] clashing as a Taskmaster/BW sword-fight – holding itself and the mature, portentous spy mystery-thriller back with juvenile, badly-written quip dialogue like ‘you smell bad’ and someone blowing their nose at the grave of Black Widow for cheap laughs over one of the original Avengers’ graves to insult not only her, but the IQ of the audience they think must have the cognitive-development level of a 5-year old to find this funny. Sure, BW’s no 007 in the beginning and comparatively watered-down to its gere-kin while being laughable in parts like a young Natasha screaming ‘I WILL KILL YOU ALL!’ to fabricate edge, but at least showed an MCU pushing the envelope and somewhat-caring about taking its craft seriously for once before the inevitable avalanche comes down and wipes it all off the face of the planet like the real one does the Antarctica prison Alexey is being held in – and we weep as widows of our own fashion to what could’ve been and the first lady of the MCU deserved.

The Visual Style

One Of The MCU’s More Stylized Pictures, A Nice Ocular Package Of Good Costume Design, Cinematography, Set-Design, Exotic Locales [At Least In Everything Besides CGI]

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

Speaking of disrespecting Black Widow, the film is far too-little-too-late: a systemic sexism display by the powers-in-charge emblematic of the moviemaking industry at-large. One of the original Avengers dating all the way back to a 2010 debut in Iron Man 2, Black Widow was inexcusably sidelined thereafter while every one of her growing roster of male teammates got trilogies, even F-list characters no one cares about (& audiences would’ve cared about less than BW) like Ant-Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy got multiple films over her getting even one. Wonder Woman single-handedly saved her – just as she did every Marvel solo female from Scarlet Witch to a Captain Marvel even stealing her exact color scheme while taking everything else from Green Lantern and Supergirl – from the depths of backroom-irrelevance/ignominy when it changed movie history back in 2016, but wasn’t there in time enough to save BW. Through no fault of her own, Romanov is now that one friend who shows up to the party 5 minutes before everyone’s leaving after everyone had been there for 4-5 hours, expects us to stay for her: even if the delay wasn’t exactly her fault, annoying nonetheless and a cataclysmic combination of bad luck factors and poor timing trying to make us care about a character we already know died in Avengers: Endgame and have comprehensively moved on from. Rewinding across the MCU, even, we’re sad to admit we were never really sold on the casting of mega-moviestar Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in the first place.

Not Dark Enough; Tonal Clashes

The Beginning’s Tone & Dark Spy Film BW Needed/Deserves Is Pheremonally-Locked By Goofy, Jarring, Choppily-Written, Dense, Juvenile MCU Quips Like ‘You Smell Bad’

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

The femme-fatale style and self-assured weaponized sex-appeal of her original character back in her IM2 debut was enough to work and get us excited for the character back then, but she was progressively-diluted into a joke heroine claimed to be contributing equally while fighting intergalactic gods and titans manipulating the very fabric of reality, space, and time… just by going pew-pew from the sidelines. That’s not even to mention – further elucidating the sexist origins of the MCU – how she was reduced to little more than a boob-plant joke while being given lines painting herself as a ‘monster’ just because she can’t have children like it’s a woman’s job in the mid-2010’s Age Of Ultron phase by the charlatanic scumbag Joss Whedon we’ve comprehensively eviscerated across all recent mentions. Now, the problematic character trajectory has just lost all its fizzle and feels like an afterthought getting a film not even Marvel cares about just to fulfill lingering contract obligations and rake in the inevitable cash to follow. She’s too old for an origin film this late in the game and literally dead in the timeline now, along with a raison-d’être of small-scale, intimate, dark noir spy-missions completely-antithetical/mismatched to the MCU’s at-present: galaxy-sized science-fiction and a roster of tens of better, more interesting, and more powerful characters of both genders over her. The other characters and castings besides Romanov in the film are awful. Rachel Weisz weakly-acts a mother who randomly decides after decades of helping subjugate defenseless young girls out of her own free-will with mind-control she created to become a good guy. Harbour bellydrums around aimlessly as attempted comedic relief [we think?] that isn’t even remotely funny.

The Apocryphal Taskmaster

Though A Ripoff Of A DC Character Like ~95% Of Marvel Characters Are [Here: Deathstroke], A Badass Villain Given A Weak IM3-Mandarin Twist & Nonsensical Arc

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

Ogla Kurylenko’s Taskmaster is absolutely-AWFUL: one of the weakest and most idiotic villain reveals ever in a CBM (second only to Iron Man 3’s Mandarin Twist). The film wastes an otherwise-badass potential villain, turning her into a conundrum-character who says like 3 words and randomly decides not to hate the woman who tried to blow her and her entire family up with a bomb that left her scarred for life both physically and emotionally. Ray Winstone is not even remotely scary or powerful-feeling as the big-bad Dreykov we’ve heard referenced back since 2012: a villain there were hundreds of better archetypal castings for [Mads Mikkelsen would’ve absolutely rocked this role] and is heavily-clichéd one down to even being destroyed by a monologue. Don’t even get us started on Florence Pugh. Pugh is one of the most talented young actresses in the game right now and one of our favorites: the indie queen we loved and celebrated back from her Oscar-deserving performances in Midsommar, Lady Macbeth, The Little Drummer Girl, & Little Women. We cannot express our contemptuous disappointment in the disgrace of her selling-out to franchise blockbusters and easy paychecks at the expense of real art.

Miscastings & A Sold-Out Indie Queen

Even A Decade+ Later, Not Sold On Scarjo’s BW, Nobody-Taskmaster, Unscary Dreykov, Belly-OTP Harbour, Weak Wiesz, & Painful Sight Of A Selling-Out Indie Queen: F. Pugh

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

Pugh becoming the new Black Widow for the foreseeable next decade-plus of fast-food formula MCU movies is like watching a Michelin-star chef become a reality-TV one and start making frozen microwave Chef Boyardee-like dishes; it cuts daggers to your soul as a cinephile. Sigh. The score also sucks and is as copy-pasted a pseudo-blockbuster soundtrack as can be expected from a frequently-lazy MCU acoustics department. There’s not nearly enough time spent detailing the psychological and physiological horrors of the Red Room ubiquitous in Marvel canon and the most interesting part of the film by far it refuses to lean enough into out of PG-13 protection outside of its opening credits. Finally, the final act is a massive failure that goes against everything the character is and her origin film should be. The finale of Black Widow feels like a formula Michael Bay movie set in a [somehow-unnoticed by any govt. or world-power] Studio Ghibli-esque floating sky fortress it loads with explosions, falling debris destruction, fire, and some of the worst CGI I’ve *ever* seen in a major blockbuster.

Bad CGI

A Shockingly-Bad CGI Canvas That Feels Like ’70’s 007 & Austin Powers 6th-Sequels – Only Without Any Explicable Excuse Being A $200M+ Film With 21st-Century Technology

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

This reverberates the score’s laziness onto a green-screen nightmare that made me audibly laugh-out-loud: recreating the cheesy VFX of spy-movies past, only without the excuses of ’60’s/’70’s technological nescience or budget-size being a $200M movie that feels like a $20M one it really didn’t even need to be much more than by its character’s existentialism. Black Widow should’ve been the dark, intimate spy-thriller mystery film the screenplay wrote and is fleetingly-grasped in its beginning 10-15 minutes – one free from the formula on-par with the darkness level of a Nolan Batman film the character can easily match in darkness levels and psychological torture by her comics origins/mythology. But, the MCU – throwing cookie-cutter sh*t balls to the wall and hoping something sticks – does so to their formula religiously [except WandaVision+: the only time we’ve ever seen the MCU take a chance and innovate by plunging into the avant-garde – which we duly rewarded with an all-time great TV score status: 9.4/10 – we guess was just a one-time publicity stunt/lie to sell more Disney+ memberships] and are more concerned with BW cracking jokes than exploring the shattered psyche and dripping-red ledger of a little girl who just wanted a normal childhood before being weaponized into a cold-blooded killer/spy.

A Finale Of Complete BW Antithesization

Everything BW Is Not Supposed To Be: Michael Bay Explosions, Aerial/Sky Action, Studio Ghibli Fantasy Towers.. For A Normal Spy Who Goes Pew Pew From The Sidelines

Photograph Courtesy Of: Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios

Black Widow sets itself up to be a new angle of spy thriller exploring the darkest edges of a genre made tangible, shocking, and gut-wrenching beyond 007’s cool gadgets and cars by extrapolating it and further exploring how sadistic and hope-killing an experience it would be for a little girl from Ohio to go through the events we witness the entire film could’ve – and should’ve – been set in. Sadly, that film was left in Disney executive concept-rooms – and instead of waterboards, we’re left with a watered-down spy-thriller just like the thousands of others. A decade too-late for one of the original [& most forgotten] Avengers.. yet the 4th MCU release in a mere four months by a studio with no problem sexistly-giving D-listers from GOTG to Ant-Man trilogies until Wonder Woman saved her, Black Widow’s clever-and-dark potential-rife script metaphorizing the patriarchy while playing on Cold War-era paranoia and themes of childhood/family trauma is lost in a sea of badly-CGI’d explosions, action/comedy tonal discordance, miscastings, weak villain-characterization, & watered-down franchise blockbusterisms.

Official CLC Score: 4/10