Film Review of “Black Widow” (2021)

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I found the 2021 film Black Widow as a DVD at my local public library yesterday. Naturally I checked it out so I could watch and review it. I’ve heard various unflattering things about the movie, and I wanted to see for myself.

Oh, tons of spoilers follow, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to, don’t read any further.

In no particular order:

The last quarter of the movie might as well have been copied and pasted out of the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Dreykov’s (played by Ray Winstone) Red Room (right, Natasha didn’t kill him like she thought) is really a Russian “helicarrier.” Dreykov’s daughter (we saw Natasha’s guilt about executing her in The Avengers -2012-) is alive too, but of course, terribly disfigured and all but mindless. She’s the nameless assassin in the skull mask using the Captain America shield knockoff and a Hawkeye archery set copy (EDIT: I found her. Dreykov’s daughter is listed as Antonia played by Olga Kurylenko and I guess the assassin is called “Taskmaster”). Also, her ominous presence, tactics, and lack of free will just make her another “Winter Solder.” Nothing original here.

Natasha’s (Scarlett Johansson) relationship with her while the Red Room is crashing is pretty much the same as Cap’s was with Bucky in Winter Soldier. Nat’s feeling incredibly guilty for blowing up and mutilating a little girl while “daughter” just wants to kill Nat. Oh, it ends more or less the same way with Nat freeing the young woman’s mind.

The movie was directed by Cate Shortland so I was surprised at the amount (any, really) of male gaze in this movie. There were several times when Nat’s ass (I’m using that word for effect), as well as her “sister” Yelena’s (Florence Pugh) was directly in the center of the screen. The same is true of Johannson’s breasts and Pugh’s crotch. Really, if this was supposed to be a female empowerment film, Shortland didn’t spare on the “eye candy” for the guys.

Natasha and Yelena performed a few superhuman feats that even Captain America shouldn’t have been strong enough to do. I know it’s a superhero action movie, but when you fall the equivalent of three stories, and then manage to catch yourself on a metal railing, unless you are superhumanly strong and invulnerable, your arms should come out of your sockets. Also, while Natasha is expected to overpower any and all male attackers, no matter the number and size, she was viciously beaten by a dozen “widows” who all have skill sets identical to hers. She ended up with a small bloody nose but was still able to perform incredible stunts through the rest of the movie.

The story begins in 1995 in Ohio where we see an endearing American family, two daughters and a Mom, in such heartwarming interactions. Dad comes home and says that it’s time to leave. The little blond girl thinks it’s a big adventure, but her older sister (who for some reason has her hair dyed blue), knows something’s up.

Mom and Dad and the kiddos grab a bunch of guns and Dad has some stolen data on a floppy disk (remember those?). They head out of town but are pursued by tons of police as they try to get away on a private plane. Mom, who’s piloting it, is shot and instantly teaches her pre-pubescent daughter how to take off and fly. Dad is on the wing, laying down automatic rifle fire to keep the cops at bay until they escape. Please explain to me in the name of aerodynamics, how the airflow across the wing Dad was laying on top of managed to provide the necessary lift.

Of course, the girls are Natasha and Yelena who, once the four of them land at an unused air strip in Cuba, are brutally torn from their fake family of three years and handed over to Dreykov. Mommy Melina (Rachel Weisz) was wounded and couldn’t help, but Daddy Dearest Alexei (David Harbour) gladly got rid of them. They both entered the Red Room and were trained to be killers.

For some odd reason, the Russians thought that putting these girls in America with Russian fake parents and pretending to be a family for three years was good training and that no one would notice. I know in real life there were rumors that there were supposed to be “American towns” in Soviet Russia in the 1960s. This was where agents were trained to be “American” so they could infiltrate the U.S. I can only imagine manufacturing a history for two adult and two child Russians in the computerized 1990s must have been tough. Also, young kids especially aren’t that great at keeping secrets and tiny Yelena could speak perfect Russian. Why didn’t the kids give the family secret away during that period?

We don’t know how, but Alexei was already a super soldier called “The Red Guardian.” (There’s an analog in the 1960s Avengers comic books where the Guardian, the Soviet’s answer to Captain America, was really Natasha’s long lost husband, supposedly killed in an accident as a cosmonaut. At the end of the comic, he sees the virtue of Democracy and sacrifices himself to save Nat.

red guardian

Cover art for Avengers issue 43

In this movie, David Harbour played him as an overweight has been, but still super powerful. At one point during an argument, Yelena calls him the “Crimson Dynamo” which was another 1960s Soviet villain, in this case, an armored baddie who fought Iron Man.

This leads in to how men are portrayed in the movie. Alexei is a selfish, self-absorbed moron, with delusions that he not only fought but beat Captain America (they never met in the MCU). He ignores all of Natasha’s and Yelena’s emotional angst at their reunion. Especially the younger “sister” still desperately needs to remember that she once had a family, even though it was all staged.

Mommy Melina is still alive and working for Dreykov in the mind control division. Apparently after Natasha “graduated,” Dreykov started direct chemical personality adjustments of “the Widows. Yelena had been sent to assassinate the women to developed a cure and did, but was exposed to the antidote, freeing her mind. The whole point of the movie is to find the Red Room and free the Widows. Never mind that women and girls have been brainwashed and planted all over the world to essentially take over.

Remind you of how Hydra was baked inside SHIELD and was doing the same thing?

So we have Daddy Dummy who is an idiot and Dreykov who is so evil that he experimented on his own little girl, turning her into a master assassin, just as he’d been doing to countless little girls for decades.

We do have Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) who isn’t really a bad guy, but he is a total jerk. Let’s see, who else?

Probably the least offensive male in the movie was Mason (O-T Fagbenie) who was Nat’s equipment and safe house supplier. Most of the time, he’s portrayed as inept, sweet, and silly. Natasha and Yelena make fun of him relentlessly. Only at the very end, he manages to score Natasha an Avengers Quinjet. There’s no way in hell he should have been able to do that.

For that matter, there’s no way after the Red Room crashed and everyone except Natasha escaped in a convenient aircraft, could Natasha have gotten away from Ross and his legion of agents. That also brings to mind how the hell they got to the crash site so quickly, especially since it probably hadn’t been flying over U.S. soil.

But two weeks later, Natasha is on a motorcycle free as a bird and sporting her shorter, blond due, which we see in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Presumably, she uses the Avengers craft to fly to Wakanda.

Bye-bye, Nat.

Back in the movie, there are a number of other “copy and paste” moments. Melina has called for a strike team from the Red Room, but by the time they arrive, she decides that her “family” is more important than continuing to help a psychopath victimized an endless stream of unwanted girls. She and Nat use the hi-tech mask technique we saw in “Winter Solder” to change places. Nat also mouths the line “thank you for your cooperation after he discloses his evil plan to what he thinks is a helpless Natasha.

I found it amazing that after decades of developing the chemical tools to brainwash helpless children and turn them into cold-blooded killers, fifteen minutes with her buffoonish “husband” and her two “daughters” now all grown up, would make her betray her boss and a lifetime of work. I guess love is all you need.

There’s no mid-end credits scene but there is one at the very end. Yelena finally has the dog she wants and is visiting Nat’s grave (she can’t be buried in it since she died on an alien planet) in some rural setting (we don’t know where but probably not on Barton’s property). Another figure appears played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Apparently Yelena works for her as an assassin or something similar. Turns out Julia plays Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and it’s ridiculous.

In the 1960s, Val was Nice Fury’s girlfriend, a SHIELD agent, and one of the most sophisticated and classy women in fiction. Louis-Dreyfus is hopelessly miscast in the role. Here, I’ll show you.

val1

From Strange Tales comic book in the 1960s

As you can see, and especially if you’ve watched the movie, Julia can’t hold a candle to the comic book Contessa. She’s not even close. Louis-Dreyfus should have stuck with material more like “Seinfeld.”

EDIT 2-7-2022: THIS is the Contessa. Louis-Dreyfus isn’t her.

contessa

Artwork by Jim Steranko.

Back to the after credits scene, Val gives Yelena her next target, the man responsible for her sister’s death, Clint Barton.

I suppose that was a segue into the Hawkeye TV mini-series, but I don’t know for sure since I haven’t seen any of the Disney+ shows. Pugh is credited for appearing in three episodes, though.

Bottom line is that “Black Widow” is a good action/adventure movie. Plenty of thrills, chills, and spills. Plenty of superhero action, stunts, and CGI effects. More or less middle of the road for a Marvel movie.

It does possess the flaws I outlined above. Bad male portrayals across the board, as if movie makers can only elevate women by tearing down all male characters and I mean every single one.

Nat finally gets her revenge against the man responsible for stealing her childhood, murdering her birth mother, and all of the other atrocities committed against her and hundreds or thousands of other girls. She is also vindicated of her crime against Dreykov’s daughter. We even get to see a little of Budapest which Nat mentioned to Clint in the first Avengers film (“You and I remember Budapest very differently”).

There are still an untold number of chemically brainwashed women out there in the world, and Alexei and Melina escaped with a small sample of what was left of the antidote along with about a dozen of mind freed widows plus Dreykov’s daughter to help. There’s another story if anyone wants to tell it. I’m just not sure if it’s worth another movie, or even a TV mini-series.

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