Review: 'Black Widow' packs in the action but fails to deliver knockout punch

The long-overdue film on Natasha Romanoff makes for an entertaining watch, but it isn’t the origin story fans were waiting for

'Black Widow' is a hit family reunion with plenty of humour and vulnerability. Marvel Studios
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A film on Black Widow, the famous fictional Russian spy-turned-Avenger, is not something that can be taken lightly. After all, Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, deftly played by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has slowly but surely cultivated a legion of fans over the course of the movies.

Whether that's because she’s the only woman among the original Avengers, her widely underrated style of fighting, or the fact that she (spoiler alert) selflessly gave up her life in Endgame, she’s earned a special place in fans' hearts.

But timing is everything, and when Marvel announced it was making a stand-alone film, called Black Widow, on Romanoff, it felt a bit like token symbolism. Or worse, a cash-grab.

Nevertheless, for hardcore fans, something is better than nothing, and so the film picks up right where one would expect it to: exploring the life of a young Romanoff, in blissful suburban Ohio with her parents and sister. It isn’t long before it’s all revealed to be a front; her perfect family is actually made up of Russian spies, and Romanoff and her little "sister" are to be trained as elite assassins by the KGB’s Red Room programme, all of which is covered in the prologue.

Most of the film is set two decades later, after the events of Captain America: Civil War. The Avengers are disbanded, and Romanoff is on the run from the law, when a visit from “sister” Yelena Belova, excellently played by Florence Pugh, makes her a target once more. The only solution is to reunite with her highly dysfunctional “family”.

The casting is very much on point, and it is a delight to see David Harbour (Stranger Things) take on the role of father Alexei Shostakov, aka the Red Guardian, while Rachel Weisz plays the part of scientist mother Melina Vostokoff to perfection. Add in Belova’s loud-mouthed, snarky and hilarious personality, and you have a hit family reunion with plenty of humour and vulnerability.

There are other aspects of the film to appreciate. Under the direction of Cate Shortland – the first solo female director of an MCU flick – Romanoff is not sexualised (nor are any of the other female assassins). In fact, she’s fitted in far more practical attire than seen in many previous films. Black Widow also introduces a formidable villain – the Taskmaster (but we won't reveal too much, as we don't want to spoil it).

The storyline also touches upon real topics, from the meaning of family to child trafficking, while still managing to keep the overall vibe light.

It’s best not to linger on the plot, however, as it comes across as a little too convenient overall. There have been rumours that the film is actually paving the way for the next character to pick up the Black Widow mantle, with some speculating it's more of an origin story for Pugh's Belova.

While Black Widow makes for a great stand-alone spy thriller that packs in plenty of entertainment value, fans who have been waiting for a film that explores the character in great depth will simply have to keep waiting.

Black Widow is in cinemas across the UAE now

Updated: July 08, 2021, 8:34 AM