Set after Captain America: Civil War, Black Widow follows Natasha Romanoff when she is on the run and coping with the split of her Avengers family. In the Black Widow movie, she reunites with her former ‘family’ from a ’90s Russian spy mission.
Over the length of the film, they all come together to eliminate the Black Widow program as well as the Red Room where Natasha and her sister Yelena grew up. The movie was made on a budget of $200m and was originally set for a May 2020 release but was delayed multiple times due to COVID. It finally debuted in theaters and Disney Premier Access on July 9, 2021.
As for monetary performance, the movie raked in huge amounts in its opening weekend at the box office and was critically loved as well. But irrespective of box office performance, the movie had some elements that confused and frustrated viewers. Here we will discuss all of them.
Now, the MCU doesn’t stick stringently to the comics. And as a result, they have made several changes to characters. But the problem with Black Widow’s Taskmaster, as per fans, was that the change didn’t justify the story or explore the relationship between the characters fully.
Many fans were upset because Taskmaster was heavily promoted for the movie and so fans were excited to see comic book character Tony Masters behind the helmet. However, that wasn’t the case. But even if it wasn’t Tony Masters, fans were still prepared to see another ruthless villain who had the power to mimic the fighting moves of all of the Avengers.
But that didn’t quite happen. Instead, Taskmaster turned out to be the disfigured, weaponized daughter of Dreykov, Antonia. She was the little girl who Natasha thought she had killed in Budapest with Dreykov. Now, we must say that in theory, this change served the story better.
After all, Antonia had a connection to Natasha’s past and this gave their rivalry more weightage. Also, she was the manifestation of Natasha’s guilt and employed the skills of her friends to fight against her. On paper, the story seems perfect. But there were problems with execution.
First of all, the biggest issue for fans was that the most impressive moves of the character were already shown in the trailers and teasers. So there was no secret big move or fight scene that showcased the ruthlessness of the character better.
And to make matters worse, the connection between Nat and Antonia wasn’t explored to the fullest either. As such, this made fans feel like Marvel had wasted Taskmaster in the movie.
For a movie that’s about a character who was determined to wipe out the red from her ledger, the redemption arcs for the supporting cast of the movie seem to be an afterthought. The biggest examples of it are Alexei Shostakovich/Red Guardian played by David Harbour and the other is of Melina Vostokoff played by Rachel Weisz.
These two seem to have a real bond with Yelena and Natasha in the opening sequence of the movie, which btw, is one of the best opening sequences for an MCU movie. But back to the point, in Alexei’s prison-break sequence he seems to be pompous, hilarious, self-absorbed and detached.
Now, obviously, there are reasons for this, but these never get explored apart from him singing “American Pie” with Yelena. In fact, this confession gets played more for laughs and neither Yelena nor Natasha are there to hear it. This loss of characterization hits hard because Black Widow’s main theme is about women breaking free from a man’s control.
And so Red Guardian’s half-hearted arc didn’t contribute much to the overall message and theme of the movie. We wish that it had because the character as well as the movie could have benefitted from a moment of admission and true regret.
As such, the lack of it does seem like a glaring missed opportunity. As for Melina, her arc was even less. Her scene with the pigs was more uncomfortable than humourous. And that’s the best way one could describe her character presentation.
Also, once she learned about the fact that the mind control device she developed was getting used on Yelena, Melina gets startled, but there’s no apology or admission of guilt. Instead of that, her redemption comes in the form of a face swap with just no explanation of how she got there morally. Overall, her arc was messy and had a low impact on the audience.
Black Widow was promoted as Natasha Romanoff’s solo movie and her last now since she gets killed off in Endgame. But unfortunately, she didn’t turn out to be the most interesting character in the movie. Instead, it was Natasha’s younger sister, Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh who was funnier, dynamic, and more relatable.
However, this isn’t to say that anything was lacking in Scarlett Johansson’s performance. The entire fault lies with Marvel Studios squarely. In the years we have seen Natasha Romanoff, she hasn’t been the most consistent character in the MCU. It seems like Marvel just didn’t know who or what they wanted her to be.
So there’s not much in terms of character and personality that connects the Natasha Romanoff of Iron Man 2 to her role in The Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier. Except for the fact that she is played by Scarlett Johansson that is. In fact, it can be said that it’s only at the end of Captain America: Civil War and then in Avengers: Infinity War, that she becomes a full-fledged character.
Note that the one thing that has been consistent in all of her movies is her aloofness and relationship with Bruce Banner and Hawkeye. These were the relationships that made her show some vulnerability and allowed her true self to shine.
But there are also problems here.
The problem is that the latter relationship was abandoned after Avengers: Age of Ultron (and if some fans are to be believed, then it was the right decision). As for the former, that never got fully explored, and as a result, Natasha’s characterization suffered. Due to this, she took a backseat in her own solo movie.
Also, by now everyone knows that Yelena was written to be the funnier and overall better character because she is definitely going to be the next Black Widow now that Natasha is dead.
During 2012’s The Avengers, Natasha tells Hawkeye that the fight was “just like Budapest all over again.” The archer responds by saying that “You and I remember Budapest very differently.” So for more than a decade, fans have wondered what exactly happened in Budapest.
Interest in this Budapest incident was piqued again when the duo mentioned it during Avengers: Endgame. So when the Black Widow movie was announced, it was the most obvious movie that one would expect to explore this Budapest action. Also, it was the last chance to explore the incident since Natasha’s life ended in Endgame.
Now, in the movie, we did go to Budapest and the event was acknowledged as well. But it wasn’t ever explained soundly, and so it left fans with more questions than answers. In fact, the Budapest incident was kept so vague that fans wondered if the creators behind this movie even understood Black Widow’s MCU lore.
For example, what happened between Nat and Hawkeye that led to them teaming up? Also, did Clint know that Dreykov’s daughter was caught up in that explosion? More importantly, how is an alien invasion in New York even remotely comparable to their attempts at killing Dreykov?
Also, why was Budapest treated like a light-hearted joke between the assassin and the archer when the actual events seem to be devastating? The movie provides no answers to these questions.
MCU fans had doubts about whether Disney+ show Loki would be able to stick the landing. But it turned out that they were worried about the wrong project. The MCU project that failed to deliver a good ending was actually Black Widow.
Now, in the first half, the film was grounded both action-wise as well as emotionally. From the gut-wrenching and heartstring-tugging Ohio flashback to Nat and Yelena’s hand-to-hand fight, the movie was on the right path at the start. But the same can’t be said for the third act when the Red Room gets brought down.
MCU fans know about the brutality of the Red Room as well as the grim childhood that Nat and Yelena experienced. But the significance and weight of Nat coming back to destroy the source of her abuse suffered from the reveal of it all. Instead of it being secretive, the entire thing felt more like a generic secret sky-base.
Also, Dreykov’s tiring diatribe to the supposed-to-be humourous quips from the fake parents (who were partly responsible for Nat having grown in that place) was wearisome.
Now, the climactic action set-piece that was taking place on the falling Red Room must have sounded amazing on paper. But when it came to the execution it was full of coincidences, difficult-to-follow, and harried. It was just a little too much especially considering the fact that Natasha doesn’t even possess any super soldier-like abilities.
To make matters worse, Johansson’s Romanoff doesn’t escape with the other widows or even her family. Instead, she waits among the wreckage for General Ross to arrest her. But then fans ask- what happened? Was she taken into custody? How did she escape? We are not given these answers. Instead, we are only told what happened after she had escaped.
So overall, the third act of the movie was pretty much an antithesis for the first half. Not to mention that it was disjointed as well. This was unexpected because the MCU is great at serving the characters and building up their conflicts only to successfully deliver a satisfying conclusion.
In the end, Black Widow was a mid-tier Marvel movie that had all the ingredients to be a great movie, but the execution left things lacking. Now, it remains to be seen if we get another Black Widow movie or not. But till then, we can catch Yelena Belova in the upcoming Disney+ Hawkeye series.