After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) is on the run from the authorities and gets a box from her adoptive sister Yelena (Pugh). It will lead her back to her former family and an old foe, Dreykov (Winstone), the mastermind behind Russia's infamous Red Room program.
Marvel's Phase 4 has finally begun after a few setbacks. There will be kung fu, ant mania, and multiverses galore in the days ahead. Instead of plunging right into the chaos, this stretch begins with a relatively introspective character piece, which is refreshing. The quiet before the storm is an unusual way to describe a film in which a mega-tank driven by a skull-faced maniac obliterates half of Budapest. While theoretically inessential — rewinding to near the start of Phase 3, it fills un a gap in the MCU storyline rather than moving it ahead — Cate Shortland's Black Widow is a pleasure precisely because it is inessential. It offers a character with no future a past, giving one of the original Avengers a poignant, hilarious send-off.
We do get a surprising revelation: Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff appears to memorize the lines from one of the worst Bond films, Moonraker. But the main goal here is to humanize the Widow, who hasn't always been properly treated by the eight prior MCU films in which she's appeared (her introduction in Iron Man 2 remains a series nadir). It begins with a lovely, firefly-lit flashback to 1995 and her youth, which quickly transitions into a jagged action sequence. And the tale revolves around her rekindling her ties with her old Russian sleeper-cell family, including her "sister" Yelena (Florence Pugh), "father" Alexei (David Harbour), and "mother" Melina (Rachel Weisz).
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