In 1995, supersoldiers Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), also called The Red Guardian, and Melina Rostokoff (Rachel Weisz), also called the Black Widow, are undercover Russian agents posing as a family in Ohio with Natasha Romanoff (Ever Anderson) and Yelena Belova (Violet McGraw) as their daughters. They steal intel from SHIELD agents and escape to Cuba. Their boss, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) has Romanoff and Belova taken to the Red Room for special training. Shostakov is imprisoned in Russia and Belova (Florence Pugh) and Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) become dangerous assassins. Romanoff defects to SHIELD after helping Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), or Hawkeye, bomb Dreykov’s Budapest office.

In 2016, Romanoff is a fugitive for violating the Skovia accords. She escapes from U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and hides out in a safe house in Norway supplied by Rick Mason (O-T Fagberie). Belova kills a rogue former Black Widow but comes in contact with a gas that neutralizes the Red Room mind-control chemicals. She sends the antidote to Romanoff, hoping she and the Avengers can free the other Black Widows. Romanoff is driving with the vials in her car when she is attacked by the Red Room agent called Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko).

Romanoff escapes, finds Belova, and discovers that the Red Room is still active. They are attacked by the Taskmaster and other Black Widows but escape in a helicopter provided by Mason. Romanoff and Belova break Shostakov out of prison to learn Dreykov’s location and he brings them to Rostokoff at a farm near Saint Petersburg, where she is refining the mind-altering drugs. It’s a strange kind of reunion for an artificially created family. Romanoff convinces Rostokoff to help them and they switch places with masks.

At the Red Room, in an aerial citadel, Rostokoff helps Shostakov and Belova to escape. They learn that the Taskmaster is a created perfect soldier, able to mimic the actions of anyone she sees. Romanoff breaks a nerve in her nasal passage to neutralize a pheromone lock that prevents Black Widows from attacking each other. Shostakov and Romanoff destroy one of the engines of the aerial facility.

Other Black Widows attack Romanoff, but Belova exposes them to the antidote. As the facility begins to fall out of the sky, Romanoff copies the locations of Black Widows hidden everywhere. Belova crashes Dreylov’s aircraft, killing him. After landing, Romanoff frees Taskmaster with the antidote and gives the rest to Belova with the addresses of the Black Widows. Mason gives Romanoff a Quinjet to free the imprisoned Avengers. There is a denouement at Romanoff’s graveside, she having been one of the few casualties of  the Infinity War.

The complexity of this story pretty much arises out of the complexity of the Avengers stories it follows and the several production delays and rewrites that bedeviled the film. Johansson’s Black Widow was a fan-favorite character and she was used in more Avengers films than originally planned. She waited patiently for the standalone she was promised and by the time they got to it, the character was dead. I too loved Black Widow and, to be perfectly frank, I think she was treated with the usual neglect that movies with female superheroes in the title suffer. They receive more criticism than the males and make less money. Somehow, Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman has triumphed over this. But there are plenty of kick-ass females in Black Widow. It helps to have a female director.

It was directed by Cate Shortland from a screenplay by Eric Pearson. It was much delayed by the pandemic. There were many visual effects companies at work on it, including Industrial Light and Magic, Digital Domain, and Weta. It was announced at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con. It was set, more or less, between Avengers Civil War and Infinity War. It was finally screened on 9 July 2021. Johansson sued Disney because it was released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ in violation of her contract. Critics were positive, particularly as regards Johansson and Pugh’s performances, and despite being release simultaneously online, it performed very well in theaters. By this time, Marvel Fans were starving for a good movie.

Mattel’s Barbie released two Black Widow dolls, one in black and one in white. Scarlet Johansson asked her husband Colin Jost to rehearse lines with her, but he is a big Marvel fan and wanted to avoid spoilers. She played Black Widow in nine movies. Talk of a Black Widow solo film had been going on for ten years. Ever Anderson (Young Natasha) is the daughter of Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Alien vs. Predator, Death Race, and the Resident Evil movies). We can think of Black Widow as Leeloo’s daughter, if we like.

A scene featuring Black Widow in t-shirt and panties was cut because of “male gaze.” It’s not fair, you know: we get to see Thor’s butt naked, but not Black Widow in her panties. They both worked hard to look that good. I’m just saying. It was not the only prequel film in the Marvel Universe—Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel also qualify. The music score uses a 118-piece orchestra and a 60-voice choir singing lyrics inspired by Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tolstoy. It was William Hurt’s last film. Olga Kurylenko (Antonia Dreykov) was one of the top three contenders for Wonder Woman. I love Black Widow. The movie delivers on action, character, and some great performances. It’s just too bad that it kind of feels like an afterthought.

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