Black Widow

*SPOILERS: Black Widow, Avengers: Endgame*

*CW: Abuse*

The discussions around, and ramifications of, Black Widow are more interesting than the film itself. The titular character was first introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 and appears in 7 films before her solo adventure in 2021. With each appearance, she existed to further the development of a main character, and served as eye candy for the audience. Tony Stark, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner, and Steve Rogers all progressed as individuals while Natasha Romanoff remained the badass good girl. Her backstory is kept deliberately mysterious but is hinted at in 2016’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it is used to torment her before subsequently being forgotten about until Black Widow. Her journey comes to a definitive close in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame where, after a decade of wasted potential, she sacrifices herself to save Clint. It was a divisive move but considering Clint is a more entertaining and likable character with a future in training the new Hawkeye, ultimately this was the right decision.

With a whole decade of appearances behind her, Natasha’s solo film was announced in 2018 with a release date of May 2020. When the global pandemic struck several months before this, the film was delayed until November 6th 2020, which had been the release date for The Eternals. When it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to end by then, the film was pushed back to May 7th 2021, and, finally, to July 9th 2021. Black Widow was released on the streaming service Disney+ the same day it hit cinemas, although it cost £20 on top of the £7.99 monthly subscription to view it. This version of the “Premier Access” model, with a simultaneous cinema and streaming release, existed for several months, affecting large films like Cruella and Jungle Cruise. However, this version of the film’s release had not been stipulated in Scarlett Johanssen’s contract and she sued the Walt Disney Company for breaching said contract, and for reportedly costing her $50million. At the time of writing, the case is ongoing.

The largest ramification was the knockback effect of delaying the film. Despite being completed by the time they were supposed to be (early 2021) both Shang Chi and the Ten Rings and The Eternals were delayed by over half a year to accommodate Black Widow. This doesn’t seem to have been because the film was so important it had to come out first, but that Disney wanted that cinema money. The film is a prequel with no world-shattering ramifications so it doesn’t really matter when it was released, yet it was delayed by a year which obliterated the original Phase 4 schedule. This is on top of the delays faced by the MCU Shows, which were attempting to finish filming during the pandemic. It isn’t helped by Black Widow’s placement in the MCU timeline. Despite coming out in 2021 and the current MCU being set in 2023, the film takes place in 2016. This means that the post credits scene is setting up events in universe 7 years in the future and 10 films away.

The context for all of this is currently being lived through, but for anybody in the future and watching the MCU for the very first time in chronological order, this is going to be an odd experience. Post credits scenes in the MCU usually feel like they’re attached to the wrong film, but this is by far the worst offence. This isn’t a small story beat leading into a larger story, it’s the reveal of Natasha’s death and Hawkeye’s supposed involvment. This is a major deal, unveiled too early, at a point where it doesn’t make sense.

Black Widow itself is an average MCU installment. On the run from SHIELD following the events of Civil War, Nat reconnects with her younger sister-figure Yelena who has remained a part of Russia’s Black Widow program. Togehter they break their father-figure Alexi out of prison and reunite with their mother-figure Melina to take down The Red Room where Widows are trained. The four of them had been undercover as an average American family in the early 1990s but had been out of contact since it ended, with each of them pretending like they didn’t become emotionally attached to each other. This is except for Yelena who was 3 when the mission started and has therefore never known any other family. Florence Pugh’s performance really carries the weight of that emotion and she shines in every scene she’s in. This is also true for David Harbour as Alexi – Russia’s answer to Captain America – who dreams to return to his glory days as The Red Guardian. The chemistry between these two actors is beautiful and provides one of the most heartwarming scenes in the entire MCU. Having finally reunited as a family, an argument breaks out with Nat saying that their mission together never really meant anything, which causes Yelena to storm off distraught, Alexi going to comfort her poorly before giving a rendition of her favourite childhood song, Don Mcleans American Pie. It is definitely off key but is filled with an abundance of regret for what he’s done and hope that things will be better.

It wouldn’t be a superhero film without a supervillain, and this time it’s the turn of Taskmaster. A popular character from the comics and hot off the heels of an appearance in PS4’s Spider-Man, he is able to mimic the fighting style of anyone he sees. The fight sequences in this film are intense and the ones with him are the most visually interesting, but he is not the true villain. He’s not even male. She is Antonia Dreykov, daughter of General Dreykov – head of The Red Room. Having nearly been killed by an explosion as a child, the General implanted a chip in her neck that saved her life, and… gave him total control over her. She is a victim of her father who is the most merciless and vile person in the MCU. His control over all Widows is safeguarded by his own personal pheremonal lock, which alters their brain chemistry meaning they can’t attack him even if they want to.

The theme of control runs deep through the film alongside mental abuse, emotional manipulation, bodily violation and human trafficking. It all works out in the end, but this is just a story. More needs to be done in the real world to combat all of these issues. Black Widow has several flaws like pacing, inconsistent accents, and occasssionally obvious green screens, but its biggest flaw is that it doesn’t spark enough of a conversation. The film’s opening plays out like a psychological horror, but never follows through on the genuine horrors it brings up. Abuse, in any shape, is more than just an aesthetic and deserves to carry more weight.

Seek help where you can and provide it where there isn’t any.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer