Black Widow

Poor Scarlett Johansson. After 8 movies appearing as Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff in a supporting or cameo role, across 11 years (lengthened by global catastrophe related delays), her Marvel super spy character finally gets to star in her own movie… and it’s only okay. I mean I enjoyed watching it and I’ll say some nice things about it, but I can’t deny it lacks the kick of most Marvel movies without being different enough from them to feel like its own thing. Maybe this would’ve been cool if it was the one they made early on with plans to improve on the formula in subsequent adventures, but instead they made it after the character has been killed off and Johansson is presumably ready to move on with her life. If this is all she gets in the end I almost wish Emily Blunt had stuck with the role (she was cast but couldn’t get out of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS!) so Scarlett would’ve had more time to do her more adventurous roles like UNDER THE SKIN, LUCY, MARRIAGE STORY, JOJO RABBIT and hell, I’ll even say GHOST IN THE SHELL. More problematic, but more interesting.

The good news for people who like Marvel but get overwhelmed keeping track of all the shit is that this one is low on continuity and tie-ins. It references the basic Black Widow backstory and I don’t remember what that’s all about, but I didn’t feel like I missed anything important. It takes place however many movies ago when she’s been set up and is on the run, so that eliminates most “what does this mean for the larger Marvel universe?” concerns. (It also makes me realize how much more attached I am to Star Wars than the MCU: Star Wars makes me say, “Ah, this must be not long after Order 66, interesting,” and the MCU makes me say, “It’s after CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – who gives a shit?” I treat Marvel more like the serials Star Wars was emulating – on to the next chapter, no time to look back. But I’m sure there’s a whole generation who feel differently.)

Natasha gets some mail from one of her safe houses that draws her into some spy movie shit with her little sister – or rather the person who played her sister 21 years ago, from the ages of 3-6, when they were Russian spies posing as an American family in Ohio, before the younger one was sent away for her Black Widow training. Yelena (Florence Pugh, THE COMMUTER) has gotten ahold of a chemical compound that has freed her from the mind control of Russian spy boss Dreykov (Ray Winstone, BEOWULF), who has sent a helmeted Winter Soldier type super-assassin, Taskmaster (WONDER WOMAN 1984 fight trainer Andy Lister) to destroy it.

Black Widow thought she killed Dreykov and destroyed “The Red Room” (where he brainwashes and trains troubled orphan girls to be his assassins) a long time ago, but apparently not. I don’t remember if that’s something we were told in another movie or not, and it doesn’t really matter. The two quasi-sisters reluctantly team up to finish the job.

It’s a very Cold War theme – free will vs. control by Russia. I think the more interesting themes are the ones about family – the idea that the people who played the parts in this fake family have some of the bonds and of course the issues (betrayal, abandonment, resentment) of a “real” family. And this plays out as the sisters get together and, for mission purposes, reunite with their fake parents, busting fake dad Alexei (David Harbour, HELLBOY) out of prison because they think he knows where Dreykov is, and then going to find fake mom Melina (Rachel Weisz, DEATH MACHINE), a brilliant scientist who developed the mind control methods Dreykov uses.

Of course they end up working together as a spy team and softening to each other. There are some fun spy tricks and twists, but honestly fewer than I’d like. If this is supposed to be the Marvel version of a spy movie I think it should have more outlandish gimmicks than a real one, not fewer. And since the scene that turned Black Widow into an actual good character was her introduction in THE AVENGERS, when she seemed to be captured for an interrogation, but was in control the whole time and did a flip and smashed the chair she was tied to, there oughta be a whole bunch of thrills like that in her own movie, not a little bit. I like Black Widow when she’s like Blade: three steps ahead of everybody and not revealing it until the most badass time to do so. We only get a taste of that here.

I’ve come to accept that I can’t go to a Marvel movie for the action. The fights are fine by mainstream (not straight up action genre) American standards, and the most Marvel-y/FX-based sequence (involving skydiving) actually, come to think of it, is my favorite part of this one. But especially on this movie about a character who doesn’t have super powers or rocket suits, just elite fight training, we all would’ve flipped out for it if it had some JOHN WICK, ATOMIC BLONDE, EXTRACTION or NOBODY level action filmmaking in even a couple sequences. Once again they’ve hired some of the actual best in the business – second unit director Darrin Prescott did all three JOHN WICK movies – and had them do work that’s not nearly as exciting as what they’re known for, despite having literally about ten times the budget.

And that’s despite having it all departmentalized so the supposed experts are handling the spectacle. A potential director who took a meeting for BLACK WIDOW, Lucrecia Martel (THE HEADLESS WOMAN, ZAMA), said in an interview that they told her, “Don’t worry about the action scenes, we will take care of that.” She said she was thinking, “Well I would love to meet Scarlett Johansson but also I would love to make the action sequences.”

I’m not saying they suck. They’re fine. I just think it’s sad that such a multi-billion-dollar pop culture monopolizing force doesn’t want to push their artform and craftsmanship at least to the current state of the art, if not beyond it. As much as Disney and Pixar at their peaks always talked about story, it was also without question that they were gonna do what it took to be ahead of the curve on every technical aspect of their mediums. Action is such a big component of super hero movies these days, and it’s not like they’re Tim Burton caring more about the mood and atmosphere. I just can’t fathom why they wouldn’t want to become the gold standard for action scenes. I’m not sure they’re even aiming for, like, third place.

(That better fucking change with SHANG-CHI or I’m gonna be genuinely offended. But this would’ve been a good one to start on.)

Director Cate Shortland (LORE) and writer Eric Pearson (Agent Carter, THOR: RAGNAROK, GODZILLA VS. KONG), (story by Jac Schaeffer [THE HUSTLE, WandaVision] and Ned Benson [THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY]) may be more interested in the emotional character stuff with the family bonds and all that, which is the more successful part of the movie. I do think some of it feels a little forced, though. Harbour is pretty funny as Alexei and I like the joke of him cluelessly trying to connect with “his girls” by telling them how proud he is of all the people they’ve killed. But they have him refer to it as “red on your ledger” as Black Widow and Hawkeye do in the AVENGERS movies, and it just seems too phony. Also, using Yelena’s childhood favorite song to create a sweet moment between her and Alexei would work alot better if I hadn’t spent the whole earlier scene not even remotely buying that this 1995 six-year-old was obsessed with fucking “American Pie” by Don McLean. Kids can get into completely random things, sure, but do they have to be ploddingly, shallowly on-the-nose completely random things? No, they do not.

I was gonna say, “I guess it would be too goofy if it was [insert song that was popular in 1995]” but now that I look at it, “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan, “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey, even “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” by Bryan Adams, all of these I honestly think would work better. They’d get a laugh but then it would become sweet if the actors seemed sincere about it.

Oh my god – what if they’re singing “Fantasy” and Alexei suddenly bursts into the ODB part?

I’m glad it wasn’t “Cotton Eye Joe” at least.

Who wore it better?

One weakness that harkens back to the earlier MCU films is the lack of a good villain. Dreykov is completely generic, and Winstone isn’t allowed to do anything novel with it. Taskmaster is also generic and, unfortunately, just a completely not at all cool looking costume design. There’s also a pretty funny misuse of cinematic language when they make a big deal out of his helmet being removed. Everything about the scene tells you, “Oh, the identity of the Taskmaster is a surprise? Shit, who is it!?” And the helmet slooooowly comes off and finally you see the face and it’s…an actor who has not been in the movie previously. So we have to wait for the characters to explain who it is.

Narratively it works, because the identity of the character and their meaning to Black Widow’s past changes the dynamic of their fight and makes it more interesting. This is a good part of the movie. But it’s marred by this rookie move of building us up for a type of pay off that’s not there.

The one thing about the movie that does obviously change the Marvelous Cinematical Universals going forward is introducing this Yelena character, who seems set to replace Black Widow. A post-credits scene implies, and IMDb confirms, that she’ll be a major part of the upcoming Hawkeye Disney+ series. I have mixed feelings about this because yes, I enjoyed the character and it will be cool to see her again, but on the other hand I think Pugh is one of the best actors of her age group, and they better give her a better payoff than they gave Scarlett if they’re gonna rob us of more performances like MIDSOMMAR and LITTLE WOMEN just to do one of their not-as-good-as-the-movies-just-longer TV shows. Don’t be greedy, Marvel. Share our natural resources.

You know what’s real different in this incarnation of Black Widow? Sometimes her suit is white instead of black! Do we get new insights into who she is and where she’s coming from though? I don’t know, I guess. I like that when she’s a teenager (played by Ever Anderson, daughter of Milla Jovovich and Paul Wrestling Superstar Anderson) she has blue hair, so she’s always been into changing her hair style and color. But I should probly be discussing something deeper than that. I like Johansson, I like her in this role, I think she’s cool, but I don’t think she’s taken to a new level here. Maybe there’s not enough time because she has to share her story and spotlight with a sister who was never mentioned before, played by an actress who kinda steals the movie.

But maybe that’s the best thing about the movie – I’m not against “here’s a beautiful woman in a catsuit doing flips and kicking guys,” but the time has come for more “here is the story of the complicated sisterly relationship between these two women in catsuits occasionally doing flips and kicking guys.” They had an abusive childhood and Yelena kind of forces Natasha to face it and come to terms with it, not to mention bring accountability to the main person responsible and prevent it from happening to other women. Healing and growing and skydiving. That’s all good stuff.

I liked it. I wish I loved it. R.I.P. Natasha Romanoff – Avenger, hair icon, chair smasher, American.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 22nd, 2021 at 12:12 pm and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses to “Black Widow”

  1. You are spot on and my reaction to all of it was much the same. I was expecting at least the same (or at least attempted) level of verve and confidence action-wise as we saw in Winter Soldier and your mention of her Avengers intro is another layer to that. Also thought it was weirdly unpolished in more than 1 spot, with some shots and sequences looking badly out of place quality-wise. The staging and actual execution of something like the avalanche sequence was also completely without tension or urgency of any kind and also looked cheap. The skydive at the end had similar problems in how it was put together (and also had one of the worst, high school AV club shots in the movie).

    On the plus side the cast was almost uniformly great, with Harbour and Pugh as MVP’s individually and together. Was hoping for more, especially in the polish department given the delays.

  2. Are we doing spoiler warnings? Does anyone care at this point? Okay, I thought the skydiving finale was surprisingly low-key, in a bad way–we get a bog-standard ‘getting a parachute to someone’ action beat, then Nat and Taskmaster are on the ground, then it’s all over. No real exchange of blows, no clever tricks, just enough for the fifteen trailers and then we’re done. Might’ve been impressive back in the seventies, when Roger Moore did it for real with a bunch of stuntmen, but for a CGI superhero spectacle, I feel this one was easily outpaced by freaking Shoot ‘Em Up.

    As for the rest–it’s all so underdeveloped, I’m having a hard time imagining them pruning any idea they came up with. She has a dad who, in this analogy for abuse and exploitation, willingly pimped her out… he’s treated as wacky comic relief instead of a monster. Her mother’s been willingly supporting this system throughout her entire life, as an indoctrinated child soldier onward, and spending fifteen minutes with her ‘daughter’ of three years from the 90s is enough to totally Light Side her (she’s also still in love/lust with her fake husband, because why wouldn’t everyone’s life stand still once it no longer involves Scarlet Johansson?). And Yelena… okay, she’s fine, but does anyone else think the ode to sisterhood in female-led movies is getting to be as stale as them protecting a small child? I don’t know, I think it might be time to try and crack the code again on female characters who can both kick people and have a boyfriend. The weird coyness about sex in corporate media is getting downright Mormon-y.

  3. Yeah, this one should have been better. It just felt like something that had a draft or two but hadn’t been kicked into shape as a story with the peaks and valleys required for engagement. I liked it well enough but it felt aimless a lot of the time, with the middle section of the characters wandering around looking for a clue. The Black Widow in the other films was quick on the uptake in finding information but here there was little drive to the character, which could have been an angle because it was set just after civil war but feels like bad writing. It is more interesting than Captain Marvel (which was bland) because of the abuse themes but the sky-castle was a dead-end idea which killed the mood if they wanted to commit to the abuse theme.

    The worst element was the action. I am amazed that this was from the second unit director of John Wick because the action and drama were gauged well in those films. Here the physical action seemed disconnected and using obvious stunt doubles, with some actor inserts, like an 80’s Roger Moore bond film. There was no narrative of stylistic propulsion to any of it, which is an action sin in my book. You knew there would be a bit of that in the typical marvel blow everything up ending but the manhunt sequences had the same problem.

    But the film got by due to the actors doing a good job. But an action thriller shouldn’t make you want to skip the action beats.

  4. Anyone seen AGENT CARTER?


    There’s an early version of the Red Room and a proto Widow there played by Bridget Regan. I wish the film referenced that.

    As for Black Widow itself, the film left me mostly cold. The action isn’t really impressive. Taskmaster looks cool but they make very little use of him.

  5. Ultimately all I have to say about the film is it was a huge waste of Olga Kurylenko

  6. I will say this is one of the few times I’ve somewhat agreed with the “doesn’t feel like a typical MCU film” hype. I don’t buy into the line that it feels more like a classic spy thriller than a superhero film, but it does like there were some new employees working on the conveyor belt. I agree the action here is weak. I was also a bit confused by all the new lore they quickly dish out here that’s played off a bit like it’s stuff we’ve known all along and had to check with the devout MCU pals that drag\politely ask me to all of these movies that it wasn’t stuff I had forgotten from earlier movies. SPOILERS; So the Soviet Union had its own Captain America and no one ever thought that was interesting enough to mention before? And when we find out who Taskmasker is, it seems like we’re supposed to have some emotional connection, but we have no idea who they are. END SPOILERS. On the plus side I thought most of the humour in this film was above par for the series, and used effectively to deflate tension or add levity rather than undercut any genuine moment. I dunno, I didn’t like it all that much, but it surprised me in ways I want to give it a little credit for.

  7. Pretty much agree with Vern. Pugh and Harbour were the best parts. I hope they use Pugh better than what they’ve done with Johansen at the end here. Marvel definitely needs to improve the action. They also need to add in some sex. I’m not talking anything graphic. PG-13 level sex would be just fine, but their fear of it is getting old. They create these characters that are larger than life and then feel they have to humanize them by making them suffer. How about humanizing them with some human connection?

    I couldn’t really get past the fact that this movie was so much about Nat reuniting with this “family” and then I assume she never sees them again. Great, she reconnected to this family that is so meaningful to her that no one in her other “family” even knows they exist to contact them when she dies. It just seemed more sad than heart warming to me.

    Another thing that bugged me was that they all spoke perfect English with no accent (or I guess with an American accent would be more accurate) but then suddenly they all have Russian accents. Maybe you guys that speak more than one language can answer that for me, because it seems weird. Like, it doesn’t seem like language works that way. If you speak another language like a native, then wouldn’t speaking it with a type of accent be a put on? I’ll excuse Pugh’s character because she was just a kid when she was sent back to Russia, but the adults don’t make sense.

  8. “After 8 movies appearing as Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff in a supporting or cameo role, across 11 years (lengthened by global catastrophe related delays), her Marvel super spy character finally gets to star in her own movie… and it’s only okay”

    Yup, a very apt single line summation of the movie.

    They had the recipe, the right ingredients, but the resultant dish is merely passable, not bad enough to give the chef a reaming but neither is it good enough to warrant seconds.

    You have a charismatic Avenger with a fascinating back story, played by a charismatic and talented A-Lister, and all you can do is recycle THE WINTER SOLDIER for large chunks of your narrative, right up to the ‘Bring down Big, Floaty, Thingy In The Sky” climax?

    And BLACK WIDOW also suffers from that modern malaise affecting much of today’s “blockbuster” screenplays that read like it was hatched in a thick haze of weed smoke where taking a second pass to check for logical inconsistencies wasn’t a consideration (Exhibit B: ARMY OF THE DEAD, Exhibit C: THE TOMOROW WAR).

    Harbour’s character, a thoughtful, resourceful and even caring man in the prologue morphs into the Big, Burly, Boorish, Boris-style Russian Archetype later (man, what are they putting in that Gulag food?) who makes crass statements like “What is matter with you? Is it that time of the month?” to Natasha and Yelena. God Bless Harbour, for rising above this shit and even stealing every scene he’s in.

    Ray Winstone’s (wasted) Master Criminal, All-Powerful Svengali comes undone when a couple of taunts and insults are hurled at him??? And the “Can’t kill him if you can smell him” must be the STUPIDEST fucking shit I’ve seen in a Superhero film since Wonder Woman attempted to Kumbaya the world into solidarity. You’re MIND-CONTROLLING assassins. How difficult is it to slip some Robocop-style Directive 4 into their subliminal programming (Any attempt to kill your Master results in immediate paralysis)? Smell? SMELL??????? Something smells alright…

    The Taskmaster, a fascinating adversary who can mimic your every fighting move…until the script forgets this and this killer is taken out like a punk and tossed into a cell. Just imagine what a Chad Stahelski or Gareth Evans could have done with a Widow vs Taskmaster fight where Natasha has to call upon every ounce of her training and resourcefulness to win.

    But when you have a locked-in fan base numbering millions who’ll eat this Baby Food and call it Caviar, why put in any extra effort?

    Johansson is great as always and Harbour and Pugh (who with this and LITTLE WOMEN handily atones for the 16 hours I’m not getting back from watching the steaming dog turd MIDSOMMAR) steal the show.

    The rest is by-the-numbers adequate

    BLACK WIDOW deserved better and so did Johansson.

  9. I watched this w/ the kiddos and enjoyed it a lot, though I’m sure a large component of that is meta-enjoying their enjoyment. I’m a sucker for the cast, having a long-running crush on Rachel Weisz, a MIDSOMMAR-inspired crush on Florence Pugh (I’ll never wear the bear suit, though!), and, sure, a man-crush on Hopper. Casting, chemistry, $200M+ production values, and at least some participation in Marvel universe archetypal / residual warm fuzzies is enough to make it an enjoyable minor event, even the safety and predictability of it all has become a bit tedious.

    And I’m 100% with Vern on the depressing / frustrating “15 pieces of flair” level of action competence. This film is clearly trying to locate itself in the tradition of Bond and Bourne (to include hand-to-hand combat and possibly a choke-out IIRC in Morocco! (#Desh). And, as much as I know of Vern’s displeasure at shakycam, I always enjoyed the Bourne films and their style of action, viewing them as to shakycam fights as T-pain is auto-tune (First!). Nothing in this film rises to the level of kinetic energy and suspense that some of those Bourne fights mustererd. I have not seen the JOHN WICK films, but, likewise, I can only assume those are wa better than these, because these are pretty bland and forgettable.

    And I had the exact same thoughts on the villains. Ray Winstone is a fine character actor, but he’s kind of a nothingburger in this film. Cast a John Malkovich or a John Turturro or Forrest Whitaker or Vincent D’Nofrio (sp). Give me someone who at least in principle has the potential for some level of engaging eccentricity.

    Things I liked:
    -Really enjoyed Florence Pugh in general and her chemistry with everyone and the chemistry throughout her family
    -Same for David Harbour. Just so much fun throughout, and the prison seen and breakout was gold.
    -Q-type guy who procures stuff for Black Widow was a net positive
    -Same with Taskmaster. Liked her more than I disliked her, though the suit could’ve been cooler, and they could’ve done more interesting with her.
    -Liked how it was at least trying to go for that cold war / espionage / Bourne vibe. Like pizza, even when it’s only okay, it’s still pretty good.

    Didn’t like
    -The pandering and phoned in and tacked on “girl power” symbolism (the hysterectomy thing, the widows and their emancipation), which always feels pretty empty and performative, about as deep and since as an Amazon.com banner extolling its commitment to Black lives.
    -Relatedly, and as with all Marvel films, there is this kind of simulacrum of dramatic depth and edginess that these films want to convey at times, but it always feels muddled and walked back. These films posture as though they have something to say about the excesses of capitalism, militarization, the surveillance state, government overreach, feminism, etc., but when it all comes down to it, it’s not exactly clear what that thing is.
    -The last act up in Cloud City. Seemed like an unnecessary attempt to split the difference between conventional “sci-fi” Marvel and a more rooted action story about a non-supernatural, non-mech-suited action hero. Felt like a failure of nerve and also just a tonal/narrative disconnect from the rest of the film.
    -Likewise, the split between Taskmaster and Winstone means both of them were under-developed and under-whelming. A bit of the IRON MAN 3 Aldrich Killiam / Mandarin syndrome, where I’m lack a single clear, focal bad guy that I can be scared of, grossed out by, or otherwise love to hate.

    I don’t know. I go through phases where I can enjoy these movies more or less. When I’m in a care-free, let’s-watch-something-mindless-with-the-fam kind of mood, this can work perfectly fine. It’s a competently made and dependable corporate product / property. And I like the change of pace to a more grounded, this worldy variant of Marvel — not as the default, but as a palette cleanser.

    However, the dark side of that comptence and dependendability is that most of the films don’t stick to the ribs. Disney has well-trained algorithms for ginning up the surface illusion of warmth, heart, soul, and even humanity. They know how to cast and how to bring things to life with special effects, and they are decent at hitting the right beats of emotional manipulation through the usual trickery of score and good acting. But when I try to go beyond the surface as to whether I really care about most of these characters or feel invested in their journeys, I really don’t, and the whole thing is pretty hollow. The films preen around as though they are about weighty things and as though there are organic and earned bonds and stakes. But they aren’t and there aren’t.

  10. “I have not seen the JOHN WICK films, but…” I’m sorry, what?

  11. Yeah, in the venn diagram of the Vern-verse, I’m definitely more toward the horror side, but I did watch a lot of action stuff in the 80s and 90s. So, if something is from a franchise of that era or starring an action hero of that error, there’s a decent chance I’ll get around to it, but if it’s something newer, I probably won’t. I will eventually get around to that Odenkirk movie, because I like him.

  12. But there are just weird tastes, interests, or aversions that I can’t really explain all that well and in some cases are just prejudice, I expect. I like the Denzel EQUALIZER films. Have not seen and have zero interest in seeing the original EVIL DEAD films, the HARRY POTTER films, or the HUNGER GAMES films. Not a Bond fan (but did see and like a couple of the Daniel Craig films). I have not seen and have no interest in seeing AVATAR. I have seen and would watch a sequel to the ACCOUNTANT with Ben Affleck. Did not and will not watch JUSTICE LEAGUE (any cut). Have watched and didn’t much care for ARMY OF THE DEAD (it was aight). Saw and loved HEREDITARY and MIDSOMMAR and loved, could not barely sustain any attention to FEAR STREET 1. Loved DAY OF RECKONING. Enjoyed BOYKA (and UNDISPUTED 2 and 3). Could watch or not watch the next MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. All over the place!

  13. Keanu Reeves (POINT BREAK, SPEED), Willem Dafoe (SPEED II), Franco Nero (DIE HARD 2), Mark Dacascos (ONLY THE STRONG, DRIVE), Halle Berry (EXECUTIVE DECISION), John Leguizamo (also EXECUTIVE DECISION), David Patrick Kelly (THE CROW) and Daniel Bernhardt (BLOODSPORT II through DARK KUMITE) are all action stars from the ’90s, so I’m afraid you have to watch the JOHN WICK movies.

    But actually I’m way more befuddled by you being a horror fan who doesn’t want to watch the EVIL DEAD movies! What’s that about? Whatever it is you feel guilty about doesn’t deserve that kind of punishment. At least watch part 2! This is a serious what the fuck.

  14. No offense Skani, but it’s hilarious to me that the MCU marketing team has coerced “palate cleanser” into the vocabulary around their movies, in particular the lower budget ones that don’t move the overarching plot forward. Just Google the number of, um, what’s the least contentious way I can phrase it, “people who are very keen to ensure they will be invited to future press screenings” who anointed ANT-MAN AND THE WASP as such, predicated I guess on the idea that the ending of INFINITY WAR was *soooooo* traumatic for us all that we needed a little light relief, and there was just nothing else in or out of the 120 year history of cinema that could provide it. Only the MCU can save us from the MCU. Oh well, at least it’s funny, rather than depressing like everyone unironically talking about what “Phase” of the corporate strategy we’re currently in.

  15. Skani, if you haven’t watched JOHN WICK, and actually crushed on Pugh in MIDSOMMAR, then I fear the yawning chasm separating our film tastes will not be bridged in this lifetime.

  16. If you are looking for a movie with some really good, interesting fight scenes, I would recommend Sentinelle on Netflix. Also stars Olga Kurylenko, but as the lead. I guess the awful title has resulted in it getting lost in the shuffle, but it is a solid action pic, a brisk 80 something minutes, and has some really great fight scenes.

  17. *I think I could crush on Florence Pugh if she was playing Rasputin, so…

    *Due to bad phrasing, it may come across up there as though I said I liked FEAR STREET 1, but I thought it was pretty meh. I almost but did not quite finish it. Though I did get almost to the end, and there was a truly awesome kill in the supermarket.

    *With EVIL DEAD I think it’s Bruce Campbell. His presence is just a bit too hammy for me, I don’t know. The mugging. It’s a turn-off. I know he’s horror royalty, and I have to like him (and I have liked him okay in other stuff), but the mugging in these has always been too much. And I own that it is completely subjective. Maybe someday.

    *I get that John Wick has people from the 90s, but I meant that more in a probabilistic than a deterministic sense. ESCAPE PLAN 2 and any number of Seagal or Bruce Willis DTV joints have action guys from the 90s, but that doesn’t mean I’ll watch them. With JOHN WICK, I think maybe it’s more that there is a tongue-in-cheek-ness to it or something. Some of this is sort of developmental life stages and changing tastes. Not in the normative sense of “outgrowing” something where I’m too mature or evolved for it, but just that I guess I’m filled up on it, and it no longer scratches an itch. At one point in life, I had the itch, but now I haven’t had that itch in a long time. For example, as a kid I’m sure I would have watched all the FF and JOHN WICK and HATCHET and FEAR STREET movies religiously — opening night or as soon as I could get access. More generally, there was a time in my 20s where I would watch just about anything they put out. You guys, I purchased HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, ENEMY AT THE GATES, and various other films. And watched them straight through!

    Anyway, there are some characters or actors who are kind of grandfathered in. I’m obligated by law to try any Freddy movie with Robert Englund. But even that has its limits – I think I’m done with TERMINATOR for the foreseeable future. These days, I need a character to be really invested in, it needs to not be wink-winky unless it’s an actual comedy, and it can’t be just cool kills or action beats, because for the most part, those things just don’t do it for me anymore. Truly not trying to yuck anyone’s yum, just trying to make sense of these scattered and weird preferences or prejudices.

    *Pacman, I think maybe you’re reading too much into my use of “palette cleanser.” If that is a term Marvel or Marvel fans have frequently used elsewhere, I was not aware of that. I was only saying that I was a little burnt out on all of the world-building, cross-overing, and sci-fi-ing. In any case, I’m not sure how you could construe my post as effusive praise or fanboyism.

  18. Hey Skani, I did not mean to accuse you of fanboyism, apologies if that is how it read. “Palate cleanser” is indeed a phrase that was used by either Marvel’s marketing team or the websites that do that job for free(ish) a lot in connection with the second ANT-MAN and now a bit with this, it’s something that amused\fascinated me when it happened with the former and I probably jumped a little too hastily on the opportunity to discuss it here.

  19. No worries. I feel about the MCU about the same way I feel about Amazon.com. I use it. I have mixed feelings about using it. It’s satisfying on some level, makes me sad on other levels. Is high-capitalism and technology masquerading as something with a soul. Kind of like whatever Krampus is behind that Santa Clause mask it wears. Also, I’m sure I’ll keep doing business with it. Yay, lol!

  20. Skani, I’m not trying to convince you to watch anything you don’t want to, lord knows there are plenty of popular things I don’t like or simply aren’t interested in *cough* Tarantino *cough*. But I will say that the JOHN WICK movies are not tongue in cheek, in fact, I’d say they’re the direct opposite. They’re quite sincere.

  21. Okay, noted. I’ll report back if I watch it. Thanks for the understanding.

  22. This was my first movie back in a theater! And I liked it! But I’ve had a lifelong obsession with comic books and superheroes. My dad has Westerns, I have superhero movies–they are never not watchable. I admit I prefer Marvel when it’s a scrappy underdog versus an invincible monolith– the Marvel of the ’60s with Stan and Jack, or the early days of the MCU when they were just making up the universe as they went along, and we all thought the next movie would be the one to burst the bubble.

    But anyway, I still enjoyed this. I could nitpick some plot choices, but life’s too short. For a Marvel movie, I thought it was pretty dark. We have child trafficking, male subjugation and destruction of women’s bodies, and our hero reveals she murdered a child to escape her abuser! And the bit with the pig was pretty messed up (no Pig spoilers, please). But also it’s about redeeming yourself for your worst choices in life and being responsible for the people you hurt. And it’s also kinda about how families fuck each other up but have the capacity to heal? Kind of jibes with today’s world when families are being ripped apart by Facebook cults.

    Florence Pugh is absolutely wonderful and completely steals the whole thing.

  23. Pugh’s riff on the pose and hair flip still makes me smile when I think about it. And it’s totally the way she plays it. It wouldn’t be so funny with another actress. Her slow, dry delivery and the physical movements looking tired and awkward are just excellent.

  24. Good review, I agree with the ambivalence.

    Also, the character and concept of Taskmaster was wasted here. It’s repeated several times that Taskmaster has the ability to absorb and mimic the fighting styles and techniques of his opponents, which is his big gimmick, but they never do anything with it.

  25. The only thing that comes to my mind when I hear Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” is the little girl in RUSH HOUR singing it in the back of the car before she gets kidnapped… not sure they’d be able to top that here (both in randomness and cringeworthiness).

    But I agree “This is How We Do It” would’ve been pretty funny.

  26. I’m with you on the “this comes between Civil War and Infinity War. So what?” It gives them a window, that’s it.

    By comparison, remember when Han showed up in Fast & Furious and we were all HOLY SHIT THIS IS A PREQUEL! It also gave them two more movies with Han but even they didn’t know that yet. They were just having fun letting Sung Kang do a few more scenes, and it was fun for us vicariously.

    There is definitely something wrong when the action is the most uninspired part of a superhero movie. And don’t give me Batman ‘89. They still had the wonderful toys museum scene and he flew his fucking batwing up to the moon.

  27. George Sanderson

    July 25th, 2021 at 12:31 am

    I’ve seen this twice now (once to see if it would be okay for my daughters and the second time with my daughters). It held up to a second viewing better than most of Marvel’s output, due mainly to the performances (particularly those of Pugh and Harbour) and I found the pre-credit sequence genuinely exciting both times.
    My daughters loved that it was about two sisters that could beat everyone up and I look forward to when they’re old enough to watch things like Atomic Blond and The Villainess.
    I’ve seen every MCU film – out of habit more than any real following – and this seems like a perfectly fine entry.
    Does anyone know if the Marvel actors get put through the same sort of fight school as Odenkirk (spelling?) went through for Nobody? These movies would be so much better if the hand-to-hand fights could be filmed in more sustained mid-shots.

  28. They certainly don’t do two years of training before their first movie but Odenkirk wanted to do that. Johansson probably has enough years of training for each film by now but I would guess Pugh got a few months, and will get more for Hawkeye.

    And not with 87eleven or Yuen Woo-Ping probably.

  29. Scarjo seems willing to burn a few bridges.

    ‘Black Widow’ Legal Battle: Inside the Fallout After Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney

    Epic legal battles almost never get this massive. But on Thursday, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood sued the biggest entertainment company on the planet, sending shockwaves across an entertain…

  30. I’ve definitely enjoyed some of the quotes from the press releases she and Disney have been trading.

    My default is to side with the workers over the corporation, and this is no exception: I hope she bleeds them for everything she can get, as I’m fairly confident they’re screwing her in the relative terms of a $1/3-Trillion company screwing a star worth 9 figures whom they could afford to pay more.

    At the same time, I can’t get really excited about whether ScarJo is worth $100 or $200M. I’m not sure where exactly the line is, but my own view is that it’s not ethical to have more than $10M in money or assets. My family of seven enjoys a fine standard of living on a lot-lot-lot less than that, and there are tons of people just living in the shittiest conditions, so, in that sense, fuck em both, but fuck Disney more.

  31. I imagine it’s less about the money than the principle. And whatever ScarJo gets, she’s paving the way for other actors to take action when the studio violates the contract without renegotiating.

    She also didn’t do the Black Widow prequel/spinoff for artistic reasons. She agreed to continue brutal training and maintain an uncomfortable physique for the promise of a shitload of money. She should absolutely get that money, since they can’t give her back the year she spent on it.

  32. There’s an alternate ending out there right now that’s not half bad.



    White haired Nat returns to the hometown she once lived. Smiles when she sees kid wanting to be The Avengers.

  33. Ha – I thought you meant she was old and still alive somehow!

  34. Watched SHANG CHI yesterday.

    The Wuxia action is clear and well shot. Unfortunately we get the same big CGI finale usual for MCU films. Simu and Tony Leung are great!

    This was much better than Widow.

  35. Finally saw this one, and for the first 90 minutes or so I was thinking “people are crazy, this movie’s great!” and then it just kept getting worse and worse and by the end I was like, “man what a bummer”. It’s an OK action movie, a disappointing Marvel movie, and a terrible send off for this character.

    But it’s kind of a great drama! I loved all the stuff with the faux family dynamic and the characters trying to undo years of generational trauma. The resentment and hurt between them, the idea that the only ones who can heal your emotional wounds are sometimes the people who caused them. The idea that you can look back on a bad time in your life and find real joy in it – there’s really interesting stuff here that of course gets wiped off the table so things can go boom and physics can be defied and we end up with sort of a rich man’s Salt and a poor man’s Hobbes and Shaw.

    Which would be fine if the action was good, but yeah as everyone says, it’s kinda clunky and uninteresting. And weirdly ScarJo feels held back – she doesn’t really get anything cool to do even though the movie keeps giving you “Oh shit – now it’s on!” scene intros that then lead into forgettable fights. *SPOILER* I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even kill anybody in this movie, which is fine if that’s in the vibe of the movie (like how the body count of WW84 was zero), but this movie’s literal plot is about the world’s greatest assassin trying to kill a guy, and she fails miserably at it! (Obviously the torch is being passed to Yelena, but then she doesn’t even get a standout action beat either.) I will have to say the fact that Black Widow defeats Taskmaster by punching a vial on the ground with her signature pose was kind of amazing though, even though you can barely tell what’s happening.

  36. Yeah, this one is enjoyable enough in getting the family band together and working through their shit — David Harbour and Florence Pugh steal the show imho — but it pretty much loses me once they get to the floating base thing. To me, the film can’t quite find the right tone and is larded out with too much crap, careening from serious to wacky and from grounded spy-vs-spy action to cartoony space opera. Diverting enough for the first 60 minutes, but ultimately pretty forgettable and can’t stick the landing.

  37. I liked it and I think some of the action is better than it gets credit for (the opening set-piece with the plane, for instance) but I am mainly writing this comment as an excuse to point out a neat little detail. Natasha runs to Norway and says a line about how “Ross has no jurisdiction here.” Which means Norway didn’t sign the Accords. And I can only assume that’s because no Norwegian is gonna tell Thor what Thor can and can’t do. I thought that was an understated little bit of world-building. Like, the Scandinavia of the MCU would be having a little cultural moment, right? Turns out all their gods are not only real, but they’re sexy motherfuckers. It’s never been a better time to be Norse, and now these Americans are gonna come in with their little piece of paper and start telling their gods what’s what? Nah. Norway don’t play that.

    Anyway I thought it was cool.

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