Black Widow Review
by Rylan Vanacore | published Oct. 29th, 2021
Black Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff, has a history that has rarely been explored in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). So far we have only been given a couple of vague lines and one flashback. Fans have been asking for years to see her rich history explored — there are so many stories that can inspire the movie. After a year's delay due to COVID-19, "Black Widow" has finally arrived.
Ten years after her debut in Iron Man 2, Black Widow is finally given her time to shine. "Black Widow" is part spy thriller with a lot of heart. The movie takes a lot of creative liberties with Natasha’s history, vastly diverging from the comics.
At the start of the movie we see Natasha and her sister, Yelena, living an ordinary life in Ohio with their family. This is revealed to be a ruse by the Red Room — Natasha and the others were placed there as spies. Once they are discovered by the the U.S. Government, both sisters are taken from their parents and stripped of their normal lives. Multiple political events that the Red Room was behind are shown. The movie then cuts to the opening credits scene. This is the best opening scene that I have ever seen in a Marvel movie. It’s a very well-done opening, especially paired with Malia J’s cover of "It Smells Like Teen Spirit," making it a chilling experience.
After the opening we cut to Natasha, after the events of "Captain America: Civil War." General Thaddeus Ross has branded her as a fugitive after violating the Sokovia Accords. An older Yelena tracks down Natasha, asking for her help in take down Dreykov, the man in charge of the Red Room. He was believed to have been killed by Natasha in an attempt to put an end to the Red Room. It is revealed that he not only survived, but has developed a form of mind control.
Despite not being a real family, the characters still keep their familial bond. Natasha and Yelena especially still think of one another as a real sister. Their sibling banter is quite endearing, something of which many siblings could relate with to their dynamic.
Alexei plays the role of the absent father who seemingly resents his time spent undercover. He feels that time robbed him of his glory days as the Red Guardian. But there are times where he shows that he cares for Yelena and Natasha, albeit in a strange way.
Melina acts as the girls' mother, mysteriously disappearing for a while until she shows up towards the latter half of the movie. It is revealed that she helped develop the mind control for Dreykov. Despite not seeing the girls for years, she still tries to act as a mother figure while showing that she still harbors feelings for Alexei.
What makes the family dynamic interesting to me is how each character has been affected by the Red Room. Natasha is constantly haunted by what the Red Room made her do and tries to find ways to atone for her past wrongdoings. Yelena is caught between the feelings she has as a child versus the reality that her life was all a ruse. Alexei constantly longs for the glory he was promised as the Red Guardian. Melina obeys what she is told to do because of the way she was raised in the Red Room.
What makes the family dynamic interesting to me is how each character has been affected by the Red Room.
These are a group of people broken by the horrors of the Red Room, who are bound together by a brief illusion of happiness. As I watched the film I couldn’t help but wonder what their lives would have been like if they were allowed to be the family that they played.
One of the more controversial parts of the movie is the reveal that Taskmaster is Dreykov’s daughter Antonia, who was once believed killed by Natasha. This was met with criticism from many fans who were hoping for a more comic-accurate Taskmaster.
Personally, the twist worked; it fits with the overall theme of the movie. Comic book adaptations make changes all the time to fit the narrative of their story better. It's interesting to see what elements they take from the comics and where they diverge.
Taskmaster works because the movie mainly focuses on Natasha’s redemption arc and how she constantly tries to do good to make up for her past wrongdoings. Then there’s Taskmaster, a ghost from her past haunting her as a constant reminder of her guilt.
Like the other Widows, Antonia is a victim of the Red Room. After her alleged death, she is turned into the perfect killing machine by her father, her mind completely under his control. The final scene where Natasha saves her instead of choosing to kill is very powerful. We as an audience are able to see how far Natasha has come as a person since her debut.
While I understand why some fans are upset over the change, I think it works for the story that "Black Widow" is telling. However, Tony Masters, the Taskmaster from the comics, could be out there in the MCU somewhere. We’ve seen a similar situation with the Mandarin from Iron Man 3, who will be returning in Shang-Chi as a more comic-accurate version.
Moving Past Her Sexist Roots
Time recently published an article talking about how Black Widow’s debut in the MCU was rooted in a lot of sexist and outdated tropes. It has been years since Iron Man 2; both Hollywood and the MCU have vastly changed. Natasha may have started as nothing more than eye candy and the butt of some sexist jokes, but she has come a long way since then. "Black Widow" gives the character an arc of her own that is much deserved.
Natasha may have started as nothing more than eye candy and the butt of some sexist jokes, but she has come a long way since then.
The movie also touches on some darker and relevant themes. The way Dreykov takes women and uses them to fit his needs is very reminiscent of what we have seen in the real world. We have seen men abuse their power to exploit women. "Black Widow" shows this with how the Widows are treated. It was something that I think the movie addresses very well and makes the story that they are telling all the more powerful.