After making her first appearance in Iron Man 2 and sacrificing herself for half the universe in Avengers: Endgame, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets her own self-titled solo film, which is the 24th in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the first in its Phase Four. Mostly set after the events of Captain America: Civil War when the Avengers splintered and she became fugitive for violating the Sokovia Accords with half the team, Natasha is drawn into an adventure that sees her reconnect with her past.
In 1995, Natasha lived undercover in Ohio with other Russians posing as a family. When father Alexei (David Harbour), Russia’s own super solider known as the Red Guardian, steals data from S.H.I.E.L.D., their cover is blown and the family, which also includes mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) and youngest daughter Yelena escape to Cuba. Once there, the daughters are placed in the Red Room program where they will be transformed into assassins (Black Widows).
In 2016 when the main storyline is set, Yelena (Florence Pugh) still works with the Black Widows. While going after a rogue member, the mind control over her is ended by a chemical. She sends the remaining batch to Natasha’s safe house. That causes Nat to be attacked by the Taskmaster, a villain able to mimic the powers of anyone studied, like the Avengers.
Natasha had escaped the Black Widow program after bombing the office of its leader, Dreykov (Ray Winstone). She thought she killed him but surprisingly never bothered to follow up. She finds Yelena in Budapest. Trust is an issue between them, understandable as both have been abandoned by people they thought were family, so they greet each other with closed fists rather than open arms.
Unable to find the Red Room’s whereabouts and with the Taskmaster and other Black Widows on their tail, the pair seek out their former parents. Alexi is in prison and Melina works on a farm. An awkward reunion for this surrogate family occurs, as screenwriter Eric Pearson takes time to explore the characters’ interpersonal relationships, but it is interrupted. They are captured and brought to the Red Room, hidden in clouds. Dreykov intends to get revenge unless Natasha can stop him.
Director Cate Shortland and her stunt crew do a fine job with the action sequences. The standout scenes contained moments that felt unique to this movie, such as the prison breakout and the climactic fight while falling from the clouds.
The movie’s main strengths are the story and the cast’s performances, which ground the characters and make them believable. The story follows a familiar superhero storyline yet still offers some plot twists that may catch the viewer by surprise. The script also takes time showing the humanity of its characters. It’s understandable why Natasha would run from her past and not look back as it is understandable why Yelena resents her for doing that. Johansson and Pugh play off each other well as bickering sisters. Alexi is comic relief, and while Harbour shows a deft comic delivery, he also humanizes the man who took the same risk as Steve Rogers, but received little to none of the reward Captain America did. Melina is overly focused on science but still has a mothering instinct for the girls she raised. Although they were together only three years, the bond between them went beyond doing a job for Mother Russia.
Black Widow is an entertaining movie for fans of action and the spy genre. Longtime fans should be pleased to see the character once again and how her story has been expanded. Stay for the credits sequence where a new story involving one of Natasha’s partners.