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After More Than A Year Delay ‘Black Widow’ Hits Theaters, Disney+ Friday

Marvel’s standalone film for Scarlett Johansson is uneven but fun

Florence Pugh and Scarlett Johansson play sisters of sorts in the new Marvel ...

Credit: Marvel/Disney

Above: Florence Pugh and Scarlett Johansson play sisters of sorts in the new Marvel film "Black Widow."

COVID-19 delayed the release of Marvel’s “Black Widow” for more than a year. But this Friday, the wait is over and Natasha Romanoff finally gets her own film on the big screen.

Companion viewing

"Thor Ragnarok" (2017)

"Avengers: Endgame" (2019)

"Captain Marvel" (2019)

Scarlett Johansson first appeared on screen as Natasha Romanoff in Marvel’s “Iron Man 2” more than a decade ago. She was a KGB assassin who defected to the U.S. and eventually became an Avenger. I never read the comics, so I don’t know how she was depicted in print, but on screen, she has mostly been a sidekick and sometimes romantic interest to the male Avengers.

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

“Black Widow,” marking Johansson's ninth Marvel appearance, was meant to finally be the character’s chance to shine and get a more solid backstory. The trailer for her standalone film says, “You don’t know anything about me. I’ve lived a lot of lives.”

And she has, but the “Black Widow” film (for which Johansson served as an executive producer) only scratches the surface of Natasha’s many lives. In terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, “Black Widow” takes place between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“Civil War” was when the Avengers team suffered an internal rift and Black Widow chose to side with Cap, which ultimately forced her to go into exile. So “Black Widow” lets us see what she was up to in the time frame before she rejoins the Avengers for “Infinity War.”

During her “exile,” she ends up reconnecting with her sort of “family,” sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) and her parents (Rachel Weisz and David Harbour). We get a little backstory about her childhood but then the film just hopscotches around without developing any aspect of the storyline in much detail or depth.

Directed by Cate Shortland (who scored an indie hit with “Somersault” in 2004), the film tries to invest Widow’s story with heart and soul as well as jaunty family banter. It partially succeeds. Screenwriter Eric Pearson also wrote “Thor: Ragnarok,” which maintained a delightfully humorous tone, and he mines some humor here as well. But “Black Widow” doesn’t have Taika Waititi at the helm and Shortland can’t make the humor flow as effortlessly. There’s a nice rapport among the "Black Widow" cast but the comedy, with its rapid, overlapping dialogue, feels a bit forced.

“Black Widow” serves up an uneven but fun ride with the action keeping the pace mostly breathless. Florence Pugh, however, steals the show from her onscreen sister, so we’ll be seeing more of her Yelena in the future. But “Black Widow” feels a bit like a missed opportunity since Natasha — SPOILER ALERT if you have not been following along with the MCU — dies in “End Game,” so she won’t be making any more screen appearances where she'd have a chance to shine unless there are more prequels in the works.

Do stick around for the post-credit sequence, and it's fitting. I think Marvel scored better with its female superhero of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) than with Black Widow. At least "Captain Marvel" had a more consistent tone holding it together.

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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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