Black Widow

You could argue that the biggest crossover event ever was the COVID pandemic. It affected things in the MCU, Arrowverse, and just about every other fictional universe that’s currently in nearly any stage of production. But, now that there’s some recovery in a lot of places, things are starting to move forward again. After many delays, Black Widow has finally come out, and it’s a great addition to the MCU. There will be some very minor spoilers here, but all of them are things from the various trailers that have been released.

Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, we learn where Natasha Romanov was and what she was doing for at least part of that time. After a pre-credit scene that sets some things up (those a rarity in the MCU), we skip to Widow alone and on the run, pursued by General Ross for violating the Sokovia Accords. After she easily evades those going after her, Natasha goes into hiding. We meet one of her behind-the-scenes contacts, a fixer with some truly impressive resources.

Elsewhere, Yelena Belova, someone we saw earlier, is off on a mission of her own, and runs into some very unexpected trouble that arguably kicks off the main plot of the movie. Natasha’s solitude gets interrupted by technical difficulties that may or may not have been what they seem, as the aftermath introduces us to another long-time Marvel Comics villain who makes their MCU premier here: Taskmaster. As in the comics, Taskmaster can mimic fighting styles once seeing them, and at various points pulls moves from Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Panther, and the Winter Soldier among others. Nat barely gets away with what is clearly an important, if as yet unexplained, item, that takes her back to Budapest. One of the great secrets of the MCU is what happened in that city that Widow and Hawkeye “remember very differently.”

An experienced assassin and intelligence operative like Widow has no trouble sneaking around from country to country, and manages to get herself to Budapest, where she and Yelena meet up. They have some very clear tension, but their catching up and/or beating on each other is interrupted when a host of enemies come calling. Over the course of the fight, Natasha learns that some things she thought resolved from her past are a long way from over and done with, and she and Yelena team up to take on the Red Room, previously seen in both Agent Carter and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Their next steps involve renewing an old acquaintance, which turns into a prisonbreak, bringing the MCU version of Red Guardian to the screen. In the comics, he was Russia’s answer to Captain America, and some of that clearly carries over here.

The escape part of the plan doesn’t quite go as expected, and they end up on foot for a while as they go find the next person they need. When they are all gathered, the combination of betrayals, intrigue, and family bickering make for one of my favorite sequences in the movie. Three’s also a throwaway line that mentions another of Russia’s supers in the comics, which could either be a joke or a hint that this character exists in the MCU, although they do have a tie to someone we’ve already seen in the movies. Suffice to say that they end up finding the Red Room, although not in the way they meant to. Some of the earlier descriptions of how the Red Room operates didn’t make sense to me, but I should have had more faith in the MCU, and all of those concerns were addressed. It’s a great idea for a secret organization, and draws on things we’ve already seen in the MCU. Actually, several tricks we’ve seen already, and makes great use of them. The MCU in general is great at tying back to earlier things as well as forging ahead.

There’s a truly evil villain behind things, and we see the confrontation between him and Natasha, which shows what a badass she is on every level. Not only is she physically adept at combat, but she is a master manipulator, as we saw back in Iron Man 2 and Avengers. But this is also a Natasha who is trying to atone for her past, and she’s showing a lot more compassion than she did in her first few appearances. I like the character growth, and think it makes lot of sense.

After a huge action scene, some wins, and some set up for future events, Natahsa once again goes her own way. She makes a great escape (granted, off screen, but who really doubts she could pull it off?), meets up with her fixer again, and launches off for what we know will be her end in Infinity War/Endgame. By the end of the movie, she’s sporting her look from those other appearances, and minor change in her wardrobe which I, at least, never thought about has been explained. And, because it’s the MCU, there’s a mid-credit scene which unites a character from the movie with someone we saw somewhere else, and sets up for an upcoming Disney+ series. A lot of linking and crossover in a very short scene, but done very well.

What I liked: Just about everything. This was a great story that focused on a character who has largely just been part of the ensemble so far. We learned a lot about Natasha’s past, had a few things cleared up, and met several new characters who I hope will be returning to the MCU down the road. The action was fantastic, as you’d expect. Red Guardian was an entertaining character in an unexpected way. Taskmaster has always been a favorite villain of mine, and they handled the character well, even with a very different back story. The story also ties in neatly to the larger MCU, as the movies and shows all do, I like the set up for future stories. I do hope we somehow see more Black Widow, but if we don’t, this was a fine sendoff for her.

What I didn’t: Really, not much. There were a few very minor nitpicks, one of which was that Taskmaster had so much replica gear it was jarring one piece was missing that would have been useful in the final fight. Also, one weapon was used a lot I don’t think we’ve seen from a character in the MCU really, so I’m wondering who Taskmaster studied for this. I know who it was in the comics, but that character hasn’t shown up in the MCU. There were two characters I was really hoping to see, neither of whom appeared on screen, but I get it, and that’s personal preference.

I thought this was a great movie, and, on a personal level, was my first time in the theater since February of last year. It was worth coming back for this, without doubt. I’ll give this a 4.5 out of 5. I’m looking forward to the rest of Phase 4 of the MCU.

The next series coming out is the animated What If? in August, and the next movie will be Shang-Chi in September. Can’t wait for both.