After multiple delays of its release date, Black Widow finally hit theaters on July 8, 2021, earning $80 million in the U.S. box office and $60 million from streaming platforms. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Widow follows Natasha Romanoff — played by Scarlett Johansson — as she evades capture for breaking the Sokovia Accords and deals with the re-emergence of her past. Her journey leads her to cross paths with her “family”, the three people she was placed with as a child on an undercover mission for the Red Room: Yelena Belova, another Black Widow who was her “younger sister”, and Alexei and Melina, who were posing as her parents. As they work to take down the Red Room — where Natasha and Yelena were trained as assassins — and try to free women like them who the Red Room is controlling audiences watch Natasha reconnect with the staged “family” she used to be part of and realize that the relationships she thought were staged might involve feelings that are real.
Reception to the film has been largely positive, with praise for the action and the cast’s performance. I agree with the positive responses surrounding the cast, but I do wish the film itself could have devoted more time to developing its antagonists and thematic elements.
A high point of the film is definitely the development of the characters’ relationships with each other. I was excited to finally see who Natasha was outside of The Avengers, as Black Widow delved further into her past and how she grew into the character she portrays. This story fits itself well into her established character arc, reminding audiences of her resilience and selflessness. Meanwhile, Yelena Belova, who is played by Florence Pugh, is instantly likeable with her endearing humor. Belova’s strength and vulnerability played off of each other to create a complex and compelling character.
Natasha and Yelena’s dynamic throughout the film is easily my favorite aspect, especially since a strong relationship between two women in an action movie is rare. The chemistry that Johansson and Pugh bring to the screen is endearing, as their characters build trust in each other alongside humorous quips and banter.
One issue I do have with the film, though, is that it couldn’t seem to decide who the antagonist was. While it felt that all of the promotional material for the movie was setting up Taskmaster, whose ability to mimic any fighting style after viewing it makes this character immensely interesting in other Marvel media, to be the main antagonist, this character got little screen time aside from a few fight scenes. I wish the film would have utilized the potential of this character more. Drakov, the Red Room’s elusive mastermind, ended up filling the role of the film’s main villain; however, he had little buildup or development before appearing at the end of the film, which made his defeat feel less satisfying at the film’s conclusion.
Similarly, I do agree with criticism that the thematic side of the film takes a backseat to the action at times. I especially feel this at the end of the film; most of the climax included fight scenes and long action sequences that took away time that could have been spent giving the film a more satisfying, thematic conclusion. With so much of the film’s focus being on repairing relationships and following a character-driven plot, the big action-packed finale did little to conclude the film well.
Still, Black Widow is an enjoyable film overall. With captivating protagonists and a thrilling plot, audiences are able to leave the theater feeling satisfied with how the last bit of Natasha’s story is told. While the film could have had more of a balance between its action and thematic aspects, its main themes of found family and the importance of trust still come through effectively and for fans of the Marvel franchise, the action certainly does make the movie compelling . At the end of the day, Black Widow thrills audiences with excitement around every turn, allowing its titular character to finally shine.
Aditi Hukerikar is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].