Black Widow (2021)

Cate Shortland

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Certification: 12a

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O.T. Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, Olga Kurylenko, Ever Anderson, Violet McGraw

If there was a sign of cinemas returning to some kind of normality, it's the release of a new Marvel film. This time centring around Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), something which has been discussed since the character's introduction in 2010's Iron Man 2. Kicking off the big-screen adventures of Phase Four, the story returns to 2016 after the events of Captain America: Civil War. On the run from the authorities, Natasha receives a package from her adoptive sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), which leads her to face the organization responsible for her dark past.

Director Cate Shortland takes the reins for a solid spy-thriller, as Natasha endeavours to bring down the insidious Red Room programme which affected so many lives. This is well emphasised early on, as The Americans style opening transitions into an impactful credits sequence, although they're hampered by a moody cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

From there, the story follows a makeshift family who leaned on each other for support, grappling with what to do after such horrific events. Despite not seeing each other for decades, reuniting reaffirms the bonds between these characters. Be it the clear love between parental figures, how they treasure their memories with the children, or the sibling nature shared between the younger women, it's easy to believe in their familial relationship.

David Harbour is a treat as Alexei, Russia's answer to Captain America as Red Guardian. He's a source of levity as he clings onto dreams of glory, while grappling with the dream he was sold being a lie. Rachel Weisz unfortunately feels let-down by the material compared to her co-stars, though she's always a joy to watch. Stealing the film is Florence Pugh as Yelena, feeling like a cross between a teenager and a weary killer. Her dry wit and charisma are phenomenal, yet there's also a hopefulness to her reuniting this family unit who were part of her last good memories.

Apart from her Avengers family, Natasha's plans to lay low are thrown into disarray by figures linked to her past. Forced to face her deepest regrets, Natasha channels her inner pain into stopping the organisation which brainwashed her as a child, and saving another family she'd long left behind. Johansson excellently captures that torment and determination for this survivor who wishes to make amends, in a fitting send-off for the character long haunted by the red in her ledger.

As for the villains, their purpose is served for the story, with surprising layers unfolded for Taskmaster. A relic who profits off women in servitude, Ray Winstone's performance as Dreykov is overshadowed by his try at a Russian accent. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are fantastic to watch, and preferable to the battles which use glaring CG. There's touches of Mission: Impossible to this adventure, while the humour works especially well. It's a terrific return to the MCU, and a solid entry into the back-catalogue.

Black Widow is available in cinemas now, and on Disney+ via Premier Access