‘Black Widow:’ An enjoyable spy family drama

Sisters and assassins Natasha and Yelena played by Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh, respectively. Press photo

By Wendell Gaa

Having stayed away from cinema houses since the start of the pandemic early last year, I recently joined my office colleagues to see the premiere screening of “Black Widow” at a movie theater here in Ankara, Turkey where I am currently assigned with the Philippine Embassy. “Black Widow” turned out to be just the right film to end my long cinematic viewing drought.   

As the first feature film in the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Black Widow” focuses on the back story of the very first female member of the Avengers superhero team whose real name is Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson.  The events take place right after “Captain America: Civil War” — when the Avengers team experiences a massive internal conflict and falling out — and before “Avengers: Infinity War” when the team is forced to regroup to confront the threat of the galactic tyrant Thanos. 

The plot concerns Romanoff’s efforts in hiding from U.S. authorities who are hell-bent in apprehending her for her rogue actions in “Civil War.”  In the process of evading her hunters, Natasha finds herself confronting a hideous conspiracy connected to her past and the dubious truth behind her actual family upbringing when she was just a child growing up in Ohio.  It is from here where the audience gets to meet the key family members she grew up with: her sister Yelena Belova (English actress Florence Pugh), and her Russian parents Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour of “Strangers Things”) and Melina Vostokoff (English actress Rachel Weisz, wife to Bond actor Daniel Craig). 

We further learn how Natasha is robbed of living a normal family life after her family flees the U.S. to escape imprisonment due to their espionage ties.  Natasha and Yelena are forcibly for the purpose of being reared to become members of a super elite female assassin squad aptly called the Black Widows. These women are trained in a shady operational unit called the Red Room led by the nefarious Russian General Dreykov (veteran English actor Ray Winstone). 

Years after having undergone rigorous training and methodical “brainwashing” in the Red Room, Natasha and her sister Yelena, both of whom are now battle-hardened and well-seasoned Black Widow assassins, reunite with much reservation.  They soon learn that the hideous conspiracy of the Red Room’s female assassin program is causing trouble on an international scale.  The sisters reunite with their parents to face up to the threats posed by Dreykov’s machinery.

I found “Black Widow” to be a very enjoyable superhero action film. At its core, this movie is truly a spy family drama, and Natasha’s history of her own youth and her relationship with her sister and parents form the heart and soul of “Black Widow.”  Seeing her both physically and emotionally re-connecting with her family helps us understand more of how the trauma of her past influenced her lifestyle as an assassin.  At the same time, knowing how she ultimately chooses the path of being a hero and becoming a member of the globe-saving Avengers team makes her even all the more valiant.

Natasha’s spy family members are all splendidly portrayed here. Johansson and Florence Pugh have a touching and believable onscreen sisterly chemistry. I am definitely looking forward to seeing Pugh in future MCU projects.  David Harbour and Rachel Weisz likewise bring life, humor and dimensionality into their parental roles, and they make one amusing onscreen couple. Although he could have ideally loomed larger in the film as a villain, Ray Winstone does a serviceable job portraying Dreykov as a despicable and reprehensible human being manipulating unsuspecting female assassins into his fold. I personally didn’t find him to be as iconic of an MCU villain as Loki from the “Thor” films and Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther.” 

© The FilAm 2021

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