PG-13. It's funny, because something in the back of all of our brains said, "Man, Black Widow is probably going to be the one that's not for kids." To a certain extent, that's true. It's something about the intense editing technique that reads as more brutal than the other Marvel movies. And there definitely are some really perhaps more upsetting because they are more grounded. For example, a spy self-terminates rather than being forced to submit to mind-control and it is upsetting. Yelena also goes into detail about how the Widows were all sterilized by the Red Room. But the most upsetting element is the fact that this is a commentary about selling and using women. But at the end of the day, there is definitely a Marvel movie vibe about the whole thing. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland
I shouldn't feel bad for Kevin Feige. That man has to have more money than anyone can imagine. He gets to make the superhero movies that the '80s and '90s could only have dreamed of. He's wildly successful and is probably unimaginably fulfilled. But this is a guy who shows what can happen when people plan out franchises and then Covid goes and shows up. I was having a discussion with my brother-in-law about the Star Wars sequel trilogy --because I'm me and none of this is shocking --and he really stressed the point that it is mind-blowing that J.J. Abrams didn't plan the whole three movies before starting The Force Awakens. Then there's Kevin Feige, who actually upsets some of his people by saying that they have to follow the script, only to have Black Widow come out a year-and-change after the original plan. At the end of the day, it didn't matter because we got some sweet Marvel TV and the opportunity to downplay the fat shaming that the trailers played up.
I find myself on the defensive with this one. Maybe I can only hear the naysayers amongst all the positive stuff, but it seems like people really didn't like Black Widow. It's not a perfect Marvel movie, but Black Widow is way better than it has any right to be. Black Widow, like Guardians of the Galaxy, really highlights what is so magical about the MCU. Kevin Feige took these properties that were hard to sell in their original forms and then distilled them down to something remarkably watchable and enjoyable. I started reading Guardians of the Galaxy when Brian Michael Bendis picked it up. I'm sure it was no accident that the film had just been announced right around that time. And I absolutely adored Bendis's run on that book. But I'm also a massive Bendis fan. While I have a handful of Black Widow comics, I can only say that a handful of them are really good. I don't remember any of them being bad, but the character of Black Widow always worked way better in a supporting role. While I'm completely an advocate for women-led superhero movies, I can see why Black Widow never got her own movie until now. It's not that she's a woman. It's just that she is great juxtaposition for other superheroes. Captain Marvel? That made sense. She has this heavy story and is an absolute powerhouse. If anything, Black Widow is a reminder of our own fallibility in the face of superheroics.
But that never comes up with Batman, does it? I mean, sure, it does to a certain point. But Batman almost has too many movies and Black Widow only has this one. Maybe it is about keeping women to a role where they play supporting parts. Because I'll tell you right now, I'm super excited about the Hawkeye TV series, so that may be commentary about me. (That being said, I'm more excited to see Kate Bishop than I am to see more Clint Barton.)
I'm wasting time again, aren't I? Let's talk about why Black Widow works and why people are complete haters. I'm going to give the opposition points. The biggest complaint about the movie is that Natasha Romanoff takes a back seat in her own movie. Like I mentioned, Black Widow works really well as a supporting character, so I can see the need to indulge that once again. The things that my wife and I were talking about both during the movie and after is how great Yelena Bulova and Red Guardian were in a movie about Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. A lot of that comes from great writing and absolutely outstanding performances by Florence Pugh (still the best part of Little Women) and David Harbour. I feel bad because it's not like Scarlett Johansson didn't deliver. She totally did. But we now really know her character. She's been in so many Marvel movies. When I logged into Disney+ to see if my Premiere Access had unlocked, they had a Black Widow category and she was just in so many of the movies. Despite the fact that she was cloaked in mystery, we kind of got the mystery.
That was a complaint on the part of The Atlantic, I think. They were hoping to see what all that background stuff on Black Widow was all about. But this movie sells the concept of the unimaginable, ironically, by asking the audience to use its collective imagination. This movie could have been something very different. Heck, the haunting opening credits implied that this movie was going to go into the years of torture that Natasha and Yelena went through in the Red Room and to provide a definitive origin story for how this little girl became an Avenger. That's one way to look at this movie. But think about how darned bleak that would be. It would be the superhero version of torture porn. I have tried to avoid that phrase in this blog as much as possible because of the connotation it has, but I'm going to use that to really sell what the movie would have been. The version of Black Widow we just watched was an empowerment film. It was women supporting women, despite the fact that they have been exploited their entire lives.
But imagine if we saw all of the horrible things that Natasha was forced to do only to escape by the end? As much as it would have been empowering, we would have been watching a girl get tortured for two hours with a happy ending. How is that any different than an exploitative horror movie? I don't want to see a girl get tortured for two hours. I wanted to see the movie I got: two women taking back their power. We get the idea that they went through Hell because of the performances by the female leads. That's all we needed. The Red Room is as disturbing as our imaginations would allow us to believe. That's what is way more interesting. We don't have to watch every awful mission that James Bond went through to see the fun ones. I'm sure that there's a story about Bond executing a whole family, but I don't want to see that. I want to see the ones where there's a laser beam in spac--you know what? I actually don't. But you get what I mean.
What ends up happening is a two-hour commentary on family. I know that there are so many Vin Diesel memes about family right now. But Black Widow kind of sidesteps a lot of the ideas that we see in other movies. I talked about the value of family in The Mitchells vs. the Machines recently, which is about the family you might not want, but the one you were born into. The Fast and the Furious movies won't shut up about the family you choose. But Black Widow is about the family that comes out of a shared trauma. It's the idea that you can't do some things alone. There are people out there who understand and that you might not like them immediately.
And for all of the cool themes that are running through the movie, it's really good. We watched it with my in-laws. My father-in-law doesn't always love the sci-fi stuff. But we sold him on the idea that this was a spy-fi thriller. (I didn't use the term "spy-fi" because that would have been one-step-forward-two-steps-back.) But it would be easy to relegate it to a spy thriller, like I did with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But there is this major action setpiece that belongs in a Marvel movie at the end. The humor and the action and the joint mythology is all there. Yeah, the movie really asks you to have watched Captain America: Civil War before this point, but that's a pretty minor ask in the long run.
It's a really good movie. Like, I LOVED Black Widow. I want MORE Black Widow. When I first saw the trailer, I thought it was going to be a bit of a yawn. I take it all back. I thought it was absolutely great. Man, Marvel. I really feel like you can do anything.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.