The movie expected to save the theater industry and bring butts back to seats was released to much fanfare on July 8. I personally viewed the film on opening night to a packed theater that was, if not sold out, nearly sold out. It was a pleasure to see fellow movie fans back in those comfy armchairs watching the big screen. The Movies aren’t dead, kids. Praise Thespis!
But putting aside its potential to rally entertainment stocks and bring good clean fun back to American weekends, is Black Widow a hero worthy film? The Conservative Critic will let you know by asking: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And most importantly – is it liberal propaganda?
SPOILER FREE (as best as is practicable for a review)
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: Black Widow
Overall Rating: Excellent
The character of Natasha Romanoff aka ‘Black Widow’ in the Avengers franchise appeared in Iron Man 2 revealing little to nothing about her background and growing throughout the series to unveil incredible skills which almost match those of her friends with actual super powers.
One of two humans with no artificially enhanced “powers” on the Avengers team, Romanoff makes very little sense as an equal but Scarlett Johansson’s unmatchable charisma and the character’s spunk along with her more relatable human super skills have made her a fan favorite.
Black Widow was a huge release for fans who have watched Romanoff morph from a black cat-suited sex pot to credible warrior over the course of ten years and gives them a peak into her past while allowing her to stand out on her own two feet showing off her prowess in her world where God’s from outerspace aren’t there to outshine her.
Black Widow is a special installment in the Marvel Avengers universe as by far the most gritty and truly human pieces of film the studio has put out (it reminds me of the incredible Logan instalment of the X-Men franchise albeit less committed to its departure). Black Widow explores themes well beyond the shallow husk of saving the world from extraterrestrials while maintaining its pace and fun. Joined by a brilliant Florence Pugh as Yelena, Johansson has never shined brighter in her role as Romanoff.
With some clunky CGI, shoe-horned cheesiness (I blame Kevin Feig) and safe, formulaic plot choices – Black Widow truly snatches good out of the mouth of great. It came so close to being exceptional that it hurts to think of what a few slightly different choices could have done for it. That being said there is plenty of pro-America and pro-family values to counter some over the top “girl power” wokeness to keep the political agenda neutral and give the film an excellent overall rating.
Is it Entertaining?
Rating: Action-packed fun
Living up to its franchise fame, Black Widow is loads of fun. Somehow more action packed than the majority of its predecessors, Natasha and her gang never can catch a break. With car chases, plane chases, fist fights, gun fights, prison breaks, sky-diving, avalanches, and witty banter the whole way – Black Widow leaves no room for boredom in its 2 hour and 13 minute run time.
Somehow, and this is the most impressive part, it also manages to be genuinely thoughtful and deeply emotional. Wasting not a glance and not a single line from its impeccably performed main characters, viewers go from tear jerking emotionally exhausting sequences exploring the depths of trauma to the edge of their seat for an action sequence and back to a laugh or two as the dialog steps back in. Director Cate Shortland and writer Eric Pearson make a savvy team in drawing in viewers to completely sell the experience as a whole.
Black Widow is fully entertaining, giving action and real feelings hitting well above its weight in dynamic viewer emotional experience, rivaling films based on real life wars more than its superhero genre counterparts.
Does it Have Intellectual/Artistic Value?
Rating: Maddeningly close to being great but instead, pedestrian
Black Widow was truly so close to greatness. There are a few crucial flawed choices that sully the film enough to knock it way back from brilliant to just high quality.
The acting performances are not one of these flawed choices. Setting aside my disdain for accents (no Russian accent sounds real why do we do this?) the core cast featuring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Florence Pugh (Little Women, Midsommer) as Yelena, Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, My Cousin Rachel) as Melina and David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy) as Alexi, delivers.
Johansson is always at her best with a strong co-leading lady and Black Widow is no exception. With Academy Award nominated Florence Pugh delivering trauma induced sardonic quips frame by frame, Johansson delivers the heart and it works. It reminds me of her days as Mary Boleyn acting alongside fellow Avengers alum (and Academy Award winner), Natalie Portman in the Other Boleyn Girl.
Pugh of course as a rising ingenue is at the height of her power where simultaneously enamoring and charming viewers into total buy-in. Weisz always works for me and is one of the more underrated Hollywood women and Harbour brings a cooky comedic relief to frost the edges of a sharp story.
It’s worth noting from a character treatment perspective the growth Black Widow allows Natasha Romanoff to show off. Carefully balancing Romanoff’s signature sexiness (one of her many weapons) with respect and a warrior’s integrity, Romanoff’s aesthetic is at its best in the franchise. This growth in character design is not an indictment of the original Iron Man 2 treatment of Black Widow but instead a carefully calculated mirroring of passing time. As Natasha grows, as she forgives herself and finds her freedom and as the trials at hand continually escalate – she changes. And so too must her appearance.
The film presents to viewers a chance to feel what it would be like to be torn between two worlds where the choice is to kill or to also kill. It takes on the morality of war from an extremely personal perspective and offers a truly remarkable glimpse into how trauma can forever impact choices and change our futures. However, it stops to wave a bit short of the finish line. With some absolutely beautiful moments, Black Widow seems to not be quite ready to take the Avengers to new depths. There are times when the plot takes the viewer to a really interesting place and then will immediately drop it and insert some derivative formulaic action movie trope instead. If I had to guess, the original film saw these interesting decisions to their full fruition and the producers stepped in to “Avengers it up” a bit. I take exception to this decision because the film didn’t lack action or fun or charisma with its deeper path. Had Shortland and Pearce let Black Widow stand out as the humanizing film it was meant to be – it could have been the best in the franchise (the title remains with Winter Soldier in my opinion, Black Panther a close second).
Finally, while the film is overall very well shot and extremely beautiful (an arty film lover’s dream hidden in a superhero movie), the CGI was surprisingly terrible. The explosions look extremely fake like a movie made on the scy-fy channel or in 1999. I have no idea how or why this happened in a film of this budget but it was really bad and some of the action sequences were well beyond suspension of disbelief. A human woman can only fall from so high without dying let alone without breaking a bone. It’s math. Why on earth the franchise wont just say Natasha got exposed to radiation or something to explain why she’s always fine after these fights – I will never know.
Is it Liberal Propaganda?
Rating: Equal Liberalism and Conservatism found therefore a wash
On the one hand, you have a very cartoonishly slimey male who has no love in his heart whatsoever even for family controlling an army of hot women who he controls with a push of a button promoting the idea that big bad men are bad and women are all good and there is no nuance whatsoever #feminism.
On the other the whole narrative is fairly anti-Russian and very pro-American and pro-family with some heavy anti-Fed undertones.
Overall the effect is that the vaguely at conflict political narratives cancel eachother out leaving not much of a political agenda to be found.
Black Widow is without question a Theater worthy film so get to the movies! I know it’s on Disney+ but its worth the big screen.