Kiss of the Black Widow

Black Widow (Cate Shortland, 2021 film)

I confess I’ve only seen about a third of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’ve long wondered with something like three hundred films in the franchise now, why the recurring characters were so male and pale. Black Panther challenged this — although for obvious reasons a sequel is problematic. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) seemed to be a character defined by her gynaecology, and I don’t think they ever explained who her husband was. Now she gets her own film and a female director, so as the world ended.

There’s a pre-credits sequence of her being in a Russian sleeper cell in Ohio and escaping to Cuba on a plane, where she falls into the hands of Ray Winstone and then twenty years later she leaves the Avengers (Captain America: Civil War) and escapes from William Hurt by virtue of being in Norway. She is given a macguffin by a presumable unrequited love interest and is attacked by a Power Ranger, ending up in Budapest, where she meets up with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and it turns out the macguffin is an antidote to the brainwashing by Ray Winstone (who’s the daddy), so they have to go to the Red Room (Twin Peaks?). They can only find it if they have a family reunion of those in Ohio. And lots of people get punched.

There’s always the tension between it’s unusual to see active female characters and don’t we see those female pummelled a little too much, but at least there is a sense of collective action by women rather than just the lone hero(ine). But it’s as baggy a monster as the Bourne movie it is trying not to be and the nonsense of Moonraker a character is watching at some point. There’s even a Bill and Ted style, this is what we did before this sequence, flashback.

The swerves into comic relief minor characters gets a little tedious, but the banter between Widow and Yelova is fun, even if I was beginning to wonder if this was going to turn into an extended episode of Killing Eve. Winston and Hurt are underused, and the postcredits sequence makes me wonder what Seinfeld would make of this juggernaut.

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