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"BLACK WIDOW"
(2021) (Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Superhero Action: A superhero must contend with her past, including her estranged sister, while dealing with a villain who's determined to conquer the world.
PLOT:

In the mid-1990s in Ohio, Natasha Romanoff (SCARLETT JOHANSSON) and Yelena Belova (FLORENCE PUGH) grew up as sisters raised by Melina (RACHEL WEISZ) and Alexei (DAVID HARBOUR), only to learn that was all a ruse in what turned out to be a Russian sleeper cell with the girls then whisked away at a young age to be trained as deadly assassins.

Since then, Yelena has mostly flown under the radar while mind-controlled like other young women by General Dreykov (RAY WINSTONE). Natasha, on the other hand, broke free from her handlers and eventually joined the superhero team The Avengers. But with a recent civil war among those members, Natasha, a.k.a. Black Widow, has gone on the run. After a run-in with Dreykov's number-one assassin, Taskmaster (OLGA KURYLENKO), Natasha ends up reunited with Yelena, with no love lost between them.

But they decide to put their differences behind them to take down Dreykov who's about to unleash a worldwide army of mind-controlled female assassins, but needs the second piece of a high-tech device to make that a reality.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

Unlike real life where death is most definitely final, the beauty of movies is that there's nearly always a way to bring back the dead, whether that's in the same movie or a subsequent one. Magic and other supernatural means are usually the go-to solution, although time travel sometimes shows up to get the job done. Then there's the old "we fooled you, they didn't really die after all" ploy, along with "it was all a dream" and other such tactics.

The easiest of all, though, is simply for screenwriters to bring such characters back to life by setting their latest story before the timeline of their demise. Yes, that's sort of using time travel to get around such deaths, but at least it doesn't come off like an easy cheat.

Such is the case with "Black Widow," an origins story of sorts for the title character, also known as Natasha Romanoff, who first appeared in 2010's "Iron Man 2." With seven more appearances in Marvel movies, she met her demise in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame."

To get around that, scribe Eric Pearson has set this tale between the events of that film and "Captain America: Civil War." But it begins with a prologue set in Ohio in the mid-1990s where Natasha and her younger sister Yelena are growing up in what appears to be an otherwise unremarkable suburb.

It's then and there that their mom, Melina (Rachel Weisz), instructs the girls that pain only makes them stronger. That comes in handy when their dad, Alexi (David Harbour), shows up and whisks them out of the house, resulting in a shootout with the authorities and a daring escape in a small plane, all of which culminates in the revelation that they were a Russian sleeper cell in America.

Following the credits roll that shows the girls and others of their age being indoctrinated and trained in the ways of being assassins, the main story kicks off with Natasha (a returning and winning Scarlett Johansson) on the run from United States Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt in a cameo) and his forces following the events of "Civil War" where she's now a wanted superhero. She manages to elude them, but not her past when she ends up reunited with her long-lost sister (now played by Florence Pugh who, by cinematic law, should appear in every movie made as she's just that good).

Like her big sis, Yelena is a highly proficient assassin, and one who's only just broken free of the grip of her handler, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone, okay in the role, but the part -- despite guiding the story -- is underwritten and mostly an afterthought). He keeps such "black widow" women under his command by using mind control over them, but thanks to her target spraying the antidote in her face before succumbing to her wound, Yelena is now determined to get revenge, much like Natasha who similarly dealt with him in the past.

Upon learning he's about to unleash an army of widows on the world as soon as he gets his hands on the second part of a high-tech device that will make that possible, the sisters put their differences behind them and set out to save the day. What follows from Pearson and director Cate Shortland is straight out of the usual Marvel-based superhero movie playbook featuring lots of action mixed with occasional bits of humor, including that related to Yelena's repeated reaction to Natasha's signature action move.

But what makes this one stand apart from some of the related entries is the "family" material, as the women are eventually reunited with their former "parents" and all of them must contend with what happened in the past and how they now interact with one another in the present.

And then there's the matter where we know our title character is eventually going to perish in "Endgame" which can impact viewers in two ways (and maybe even both simultaneously). For some, the fact that her future is already determined might make the stakes here not seem that important or relevant. At the same time, however, others will relish in getting to spend a little more time with the character, all while witnessing the introduction of what everyone assumes will be her replacement (and you know how I feel about Pugh).

Whatever your reaction might be to those facts at hand, "Black Widow" -- like its namesake arachnid -- packs a potent punch that you might not see coming. And that's a good thing in this case, resulting in the film landing a score of 7 out of 10.




Reviewed June 28, 2021 / Posted Month, July 9, 2021


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