Marvel’s “first lady” of action returns, if for one last time, as Scarlett Johansson takes the center stage in a Cold War inspired that fills in the gaps of her origin story in the studio’s latest blockbuster release BLACK WIDOW.
When she was first introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 Scarlett Johansson instantly became the character to keep your eye on as the newly acquired office assistant that flips Tony Stark’s right-hand man and sparring partner, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, who was also the film’s director). Natasha made an indelible impression, and when it is revealed that all along she was a double-agent on the payroll of spymaster Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a mysterious and sleek acrobat that is not entirely convinced that Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is cut out for super-heroics.
Johansson’s role as Natasha Romanoff in the subsequent series of Marvel Cinematic Universe films became an integral part of the narrative as her backstory was hinted at and often vaguely revealed, though now in the latest release from Marvel Studios, the secrets of The Red Room that determined Natasha’s fate are exposed in Black Widow. The story opens as Natasha finds herself a fugitive of the law after aiding her friend and ally Steve Rogers aka Captain America in the “Civil War” with the Avengers. She’s now seen as a threat and must be brought in.
That’s easier said than done.
In the film directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Marvel’s cinematic maestro Kevin Feige, the Black Widow’s double agent beginnings are peeled back like an onion, and the audience is brought into the sinister underbelly of a Cold War organization that indoctrinated young girls and manufactured them into deadly covert weapons — to the bidding of its diabolical director. Natasha is a survivor, but when she is tracked down by one of the Red Room’s most capable agents, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) the pair are reunited in a desperate race to bring down the Red Room and free the other Widows.
Joining Johansson along with Pugh, are David Harbour (“Stranger Things”) and Rachel Weisz (“The Favourite”) both making the MCU debuts as Russian agents who had a hand at raising Natasha and Yelena. Harbour plays Alexei, who is the Russian equivalent of Captain America as the costumed Red Guardian, but he’s fallen on hard times and has found himself in prison. Weisz is Melina, a scientist that holds the key to Natasha and Yelena’s past as well as the reigns to their future. Black Widow has all the trappings of a well-calculated spy thriller while remaining true to the established tone of a Marvel film.
Cold War Beginnings
There’s a clever wink and nod to James Bond that appears in Black Widow. It seems that Nat is a fan and indulges in watching one of the films during her isolation avoiding capture from Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), but it’s evidently clear that the world that she comes from and the spy game that she’s played all her existence are far from the trappings of Roger Moore’s 007. In fact, Romanoff is so good at what she does, that when she turns on Mother Russia, Natasha is declared “Public Enemy #1”. Her defection to the US and her joining the Avengers raises her profile and makes her a threat!
Yelena tracks down her childhood friend; the two become separated from one another and are initiated into the Red Room’s program, becoming deadly assassins that can be placed in plain sight and then activated to murderous results! Natasha defects and joins SHIELD, but in order to earn the agency’s trust she must give up the man at the center of it all. Not proud of the collateral damage she’s left in her wake, as the Black Widow, and as an Avenger, Natasha has dedicated herself to doing what’s right and just. When Yelena reveals that the Red Room is still fully operational they devise a plan.
It puts the pair in the crosshairs of the Black Widows who are one-tracked minded agents of destruction, and among them, there’s an even deadlier operative…a Taskmaster — a formidable masked assassin that is able to photographically mimic the reflexes of an adversary it comes into combat with or deliberately studies. This means that it learns every trick and counterattack that is thrown its way! Comic book readers will immediately recognize the villain; of any of the characters that have visually translated to the screen, the Taskmaster looks most like its 2D counterpart.
Although, that’s where the similarity ends. This Taskmaster is far from as calculating as the mercenary that Captain America has faced in the magazines, but every bit as ruthless and an interesting foil to face off against Natasha. Black Widow does an expert job of slotting itself into established, cinematic mythology but also serves brilliantly as a showcase to unravel Natasha’s complex story arc that leads her into the hands of fate, making the ultimate sacrifice in the face of the greatest odds against her. Her legacy is one that will be difficult to challenge, but clearly, a successor has been put in place.
Check out the trailer here:
Marvel Studios Black Widow | starring Scarlett Johansson is playing now in theaters now and can also be experienced through Disney+ with Premier Access.