It's been what feels like a longer than normal two years since an MCU film was released in the cinemas. We were used to them releasing at least three films a year by 2019 and, while we have had the shows grace the small screen on Disney+, there's just something about going to the cinema to watch the next instalment of the MCU. This is the year they truly do make a cinematic return with four releases planned between now and the end of the year, the first of them being Black Widow, the long-awaited solo film for Natasha Romanoff who always felt like one of the most underrated characters on the ever-expanding roster.

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

Many would argue that Black Widow should have had a solo outing much earlier than what is now the twenty-fourth film of the MCU, establishing herself in the third film (Iron Man 2) before becoming a main player in the first ensemble for our heroes (The Avengers) which was the sixth film in what has become one of the most impressively assembled franchises of all time. It's a fair argument to make and the film may be placed better in the franchise if it came between Infinity War and Endgame, seeing as what we all know what happened to her in the latter. What matters most though is that Black Widow really is a film worthy of such an integral cog of the well-oiled Avengers machine.

It's a film about family, no Dom Toretto doesn't show up, that opens with an insight into what has so far been an intriguing yet blurry past for Natasha. It even comes with an opening titles sequence à la James Bond set to a haunting version of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Malia J, before setting off on a globetrotting spy adventure, relentless in its action but keen to slow it down a little to deliver some important and poignant moments shared between Natasha and her surrogate family that uncovers some blind spots in her past and rounds her character out to be more than just a cold-blooded assassin. Remember the red on her ledger mentioned by Loki in The Avengers? Well, this film briefly showcases one of them and also has a bit of fun in filling in the gaps on what went down in Budapest involving Black Widow and Hawkeye, something fans have been wanting to know for a while now.

Being a film in the MCU, Black Widow has plenty of action sequences that start out on a very small scale before descending into absolute ludicrousness with an overblown finale here to remind you just how much punishment Natasha can take and remain relatively unscathed. I thoroughly enjoyed the hand-to-hand combat between Natasha and Taskmaster the first time they meet, being one of the fight scenes not edited so choppily, and the car chase through the streets of Budapest but the finale set way above ground level is where it starts to really feel like an MCU film. I know others will have an issue with this and while I found myself entertained by all the craziness playing out in front of my eyes, the film may have been served better by a small scale finale that could have felt a bit more personal to Natasha.

Led by a committed performance from Scarlett Johansson, who has now appeared in a third of all MCU films, Black Widow owes a lot of its success to the ensemble cast brought together to join her for her first solo outing. In particular, each of her family who she is often seen sparring with either verbally or physically and none moreso than Florence Pugh, whose star is surely set to reach new astronomical heights with her scene-stealing performance as Natasha's sister, Yelena Belova. The pair are great to watch on screen together and just makes it exciting to see where Pugh can take her character in future MCU projects. David Harbour is used to playing a bit of a goofball and he does again with aplomb as Alexei Shostakov, Natasha's father-figure who has dreams of reliving his glory years of being the Red Guardian. 

Black Widow does falter a little when it comes to the villains, which has been a little bit of a weakness throughout a lot of the MCU in all honesty. Not everyone can be a Thanos level threat, I get that. However, while Ray Winstone's General Dreykov does suit the narrative of the film, he doesn't feel to have much of a presence when on screen which I do find surprising with Winstone portraying him. It's Taskmaster where they missed a bit of an opportunity here though. A villain who perfectly mimics the fighting style of anyone they observe has huge potential within the MCU with all the characters available to copy however, it's never met as Taskmaster very much takes a backseat position for most of the film and moments where we do get to see them in action are so short-lived.

All in all, Black Widow is an incredibly welcome return to the cinemas for the MCU after a long two years away. It's at its best when developing the bond between Natasha and her family, Yelena in particular, but there's no denying that when it does reach the level of action we've come to expect from the MCU, there's plenty of fun to be had. A post credit scene filled me with excitement for a particular upcoming project within the MCU and in that moment I thought it's so good to be watching one of these films with a crowd again.

Verdict: ★★★★


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