[The following review contains MINOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
After a yearlong absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MCU has finally arrived back theaters—and, thankfully, its return is a resounding triumph. Following the Infinity Saga’s intricately interwoven narrative world-building, Black Widow adopts a refreshing “back-to-basics” approach, delivering a lean, action-packed, efficiently plotted espionage thriller akin to Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which remains, in my opinion, the best entry in the franchise).
I must admit that I was skeptical about the idea of a solo spinoff starring Scarlett Johansson’s spy-turned-superhero—after all, both the actress and her character tend to work best in an ensemble environment. Fortunately, the film features an absolutely stellar supporting cast: Florence Pugh shines as Yelena, our protagonist’s snarky, badass younger sister; David Harbour, meanwhile, provides expert comic relief as the unjustifiably arrogant Red Guardian, Captain America’s disgraced Soviet counterpart (who, tragically, never outgrew his “propaganda tool” phase). The incessant bickering and heartfelt reconciliations between the members of this makeshift “family” of former Russian sleeper agents lend the adventure enough emotional context to ground the various fistfights, car chases, and explosive set pieces without ever becoming excessively cloying or histrionic; even the cheesiest moments (such as when Red Guardian croaks out a rendition of Yelena’s favorite childhood song, thus proving that—despite his constant griping to the contrary—he truly did cherish their “fake” relationship) feel genuine and honest. The villains, sadly, are far less compelling and memorable, existing only as shallow, generic obstacles almost entirely devoid of motivation or characterization. Still, they serve their purpose within the overarching structure of the script, which is (for the most part) sturdy enough to overcome such minor blemishes.
The movie certainly won’t convert any nonbelievers, but for dedicated Marvel fanatics, it functions as a potent reminder of what the studio can accomplish when it focuses on simply telling a straightforward, self-contained story. Black Widow doesn’t reinvent the summer blockbuster... because it doesn’t really need to; it’s just a solidly entertaining popcorn flick.