It has taken more than two years, but finally Black Widow, the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is here, and it lands like ‘Mission Impossible: Sisters Edition’. Black Widow is the second story focused on a female character after Captain Marvel, and with Cate Shortland at the helm, it’s also the second time a woman has directed a film for the studio. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck shared duties on Captain Marvel. With Black Widow, along with, at DC, Patty Jenkins’s wildly successful and critically acclaimed Wonder Woman, and Cathy Yan’s Bird of Prey, producers and the powers-that-be at the studios really should put the ‘women can’t direct superhero movies’ argument to rest. Along with that, put to rest ‘female-centric films don’t make bank’. Yes. They. Can.
When Wonder Woman was released, female film fans finally got a super heroine movie, and it was glorious. Larger than life but still an icon of femininity, Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman kicked ass along with her Amazon sisters, showed compassion, and fell in love. There she was, on the big screen, speaking about equality like it was a forgone conclusion. Wonder Woman, though, has always been…well…a goddess. Unlike Natasha Romanoff, she doesn’t carry a life of regret and a complicated relationship with her murderous past with her like Jacob Marley’s chains. Much as Wonder Woman will always be a favorite, it’s such a delight to see imperfection, moral ambivalence, and femme fatale and boss bitch energy taking up the screen, through not only Scarlett Johansson’s Romanoff, but also Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova and Rachel Weisz’s Melina Vostokoff.
There is an impressive balance, one for which Marvel is rightly known, of explosive set pieces and intimate moments between well-constructed characters. Taking place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, it’s a time when the Avengers have been disbanded, and Natasha is on the run. She gets embroiled in a mission to release the many girls, who, like herself, were manipulated and brainwashed into becoming killers. She does it by reconnecting with the faux family from her childhood, fake mom and dad Melina (Weisz) and Alexei aka Red Guardian (David Harbour) and fake sis Yelena (Pugh). A supervillain very much in the vein of Bond’s Goldfinger or Blofeld, or one of the many far less memorable villains from the Mission Impossible franchise, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) has total control over thousands of girls stolen in childhood and taken to the ‘Red Room’ to be trained as mindless killers. They are aptly called ‘widows’, because they have lost all their autonomy, their reproductive organs, and their individual wills. They would mourn all that if they had a shred of agency. It takes all the considerable skills Natasha and her found family possess to save these mentally captive women and kill their tormentor and puppet master Dreykov.
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