THE OPPORTUNISTIC BITE OF BLACK WIDOW
The genus, Latrodectus, covers the variety of spiders a.k.a. widows. The species, black widows, females in particular, are known to be cannibalistic, especially after they have mated. They also can be deadly because of their venom.
If the above description doesn't invoke discomfort than you may be immune to the wrath displayed by the young women in the latest MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) offering, Cate Shortland's Black Widow (2021). These females have reason to be angry, in part because as children, they were abducted by a loathsome villain, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), to be brainwashed and chemically altered as well as their reproductive organs forcibly removed.
Dreykov's Red Room women, known as Black Widows, become killing machines. One product of this heinous system, Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) escaped being artificially mind-controlled to eventually become an Avenger. She has demonstrated her talents in the titular storyline precursors, The Avengers, (2012) The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and an entry in the Captain America saga, Captain America: Civil War (2016). Now, she is a fugitive hunted by the United States government led by Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt made to look younger, mustache included, unsuccessfully, a rare CGI mishap in this movie).
With the help of a friend/agent (O. T. Fagbenie), Natasha escapes after a short layover in Norway, to Budapest where at a safe house she encounters her "sister," Yelena (Florence Pugh). The younger sister has been released via an antidote from her chemically induced Red Room persona but wants revenge. The two women embark on a quest to rescue their "father," Alexei (formerly the Red Guardian, played by David Harbor) in order to discover the whereabouts of Dreykov. The key however, centers on their wayward "mother," Elena (Rachel Weisz). [The use of quotations marks around the family members is deliberate. To explain more, though, would divulge a spoiler.]
Yes, the proceeding partial story description can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the Marvel comic heroine, Black Widow. Don't let that stop you from seeing this very entertaining feature. Buoyed by a welcome amount of humor, terrific performances--a stand- out Florence Pugh as Yelena--calmer moments that comprise well-written dialogue, inventive action sequences (sometimes over-the-top) and bad-ass heroines, this MCU entry rivals the best renditions. Of the four leading characters, Alexei has the most fun as a super-strong, somewhat clueless hero (a Russian version of Captain America) who acknowledges that Melina (his "wife," Weisz) is the brains of the twosome.
As with its predecessors, Black Widow's running time is too long (restless audience members, a key indicator), in need of editing; nevertheless, the momentum rarely lags nor does the suspense (unexpected jolts even took this veteran critic by surprise). Still, the reduction of explosions and massive amounts of gunfire--these women use their brains, their skills (Alexei, his brute strength) to take down foes, makes Black Widow a more balanced story.
Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, one of two Avengers whose power comes from her mental toughness and trained physical agility (the other Avenger being Hawkeye, not seen in this movie) , may have finally met her match: mainly other women, products of the Red Room and Taskmaster (whose identity becomes clearer later in the film) and a mindless robotic-like villain, fully-encased on body-armor. In terms of performance, Johansson's hints of fatigue, including mumbling her lines, helps elevate Florence Pugh's Yelena to center stage.
The twists and turns (will any of them survive the chaos?) ensures the viewer will want to stay through to the end, a salute to Cate Shortland's solid direction And thanks to superpower performances along with tongue-in-cheek humor, the CGI doesn't dominate the story. Based on the audience applause at the movie's finish, the odds favor another exciting MCU adventure.
Black Widow ensnares, bites, but doesn't devour its audience.
Rated PG-13, though many families attended the early screening I saw with very young children. If at all possible, these days, I don't recommend bringing children under the age of 12. Imperiled young girls, brain-washing sequences, violence and frightening imagery could invite nightmares.
Now showing at theaters near you and streaming on Disney+. Locals, Entertainment Cinemas, South Dennis, has reopened. Also playing at The Chatham Orpheum and Wellfleet Cinemas.
Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com
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