Film review: Yeah, look, if you’re looking for some relatively undemanding and competently made tosh, with a not-entirely-convincing feminist “sub”text (i.e. smacking-you-in-the-face-text), with some eye-candy and moments of levity, then Black Widow will fit the Bill – or, more aptly, the James.
Scarlett Johansson climbs into her latex suit again (I have not seen her in any of the other Marvel films – this one gets almost but not quite as meta as the Dead Pool films) to do battle with (checks notes)… some Bad Old Boys from the USSR (though the dates have to be even squishier than they were in Angelina Jolie’s Salt, or even Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye…. She is on the run because of things that happened in the Avengers films (yeah, who knows or cares). A very thin William Hurt (the puppy fat of Altered States long long gone) is pursuing her Thanks to a mysterious gift from the Budapesht (that’ “shht” in the way Sean Connery would say it) she
a) meets up with her long-lost sister (brilliantly played by Florence Pugh, who is at least six years too young for the part, but who cares)
b) is pursued by leather clad Amazonian fembots
c) meets up with her Long Lost family (the subject of an extremely effective opening sequence, set in Ohio in 1995 – think The Americans meets Stranger Things meets, well Golden Eye).
From there it’s a series of set pieces and talky bits, with occasional fourth-wall breaking (the best being a deconstruction of the kneel/toss hair fighting pose thing). The other actors all do well, and Ray Winstone does precisely as much chewing of the scenery as they’ve hired him for as the baddie (he’s played bad dads well before, see War Child and Nil By Mouth)
There’s more explosions, fights, people doing things that defy physics, common sense and anatomy It sails a bit too close to the territory of the first Kingsman movie for its own good (do Winstone and Samuel Jackson share an agent?) and at the end even edges towards the horror that was Geostorm.
But, ultimately, thanks to a reasonable script, actors who know what film they are in and a director who knows what she is doing, you end up with an enjoyable film which might even be worth thinking and talking about after the credits finally roll…
Which brings us to …
BROADER DISCUSSION WITH SPOILERS
So, there’s a couple of things worth mentioning which I can only really do by talking about Things at the End or Things that Matter in the plot
- There’s some fun inter-textuality going on with the worst Bond film ever, Moonraker (I saw this when I was eight or nine, and even then I thought it was a pants Star Wars knock-off, which it was. A character called Doctor Goodhead? I mean, even by Cubby Broccoli standards that is dire). Anyway, Natasha is talking along with this, so clearly it is a very very familiar film for her. And how does it end? With the evil world-king guy Hugo Drax explaining his Evil Plot while in a sky station full of henchmen, which then blows up (“and then the one funny line – “I think he’s attempting re-entry”). And how does Black Widow end? With evil world-king guy Drakov explaining his Evil Plot while in a sky station full of henchmen and henchwomen which then blows up.
2. I am not convinced this is quite the socialist feminist parable that some excitable undergraduates will take it to be. I think there might be something a bit more complicated and – gasp – essentialist – going on. We learn, thanks to Elena’s response to a jibe from Karl Marx-lookalike Alexi, that all the Black Widows have had involuntary hysterectomies. And what is it that frees them from mental bondage? A special antidote, created by a renegade Black Widow that comes in small cylindrical packages that become bright red, and when they explode look for all the world like, well, a period… In this film, where women find their destiny by having/caring for their family, only a smattering of blood will help you escape from the (obvious) patriarchy. I suspect I’d rather watch Blade Runner 2049 for some hard thinking about fertility, technology and the meaning of love. But that’s not what Black Widow set out to do, obvs, and I don’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy myself!