(director:Cate Shortland; screenwriters: Eric Pearson/story by Ned Benson & Jac Schaeffer/based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee, Don Heck and Don Rico; cinematographer: Gabriel Beristain; editor: Leigh Folsom Boyd; music: Lorne Balfe; cast: Scarlett Johansson(Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow),Florence Pugh (Yelena Belova), David Harbour (Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian), Rachel Weisz (Melina Vostokoff), William Hurt (Thaddeus Ross), Ray Winstone (Dreykov), O.T. Fagbenle (Mason), Ever Anderson (Young Natasha Romanoff), Violet McGraw (Young Yelena Belova); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: PG-130; producer; Kevin Feige: Walt Disney Pictures/A Marvel Studios release; 2021)
“A not your average Marvel comic book action movie.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland (“Berlin Syndrome”/”Somersault”) directs, with a few pleasing respites, puts on some needed mustard and gives it some light fun, a film I could take or leave even if it’s a not your average Marvel comic book action movie. Which doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good or bad film. The ‘stand alone episode in the Avenger series’ is written by Eric Pearson and based on a story by Ned Benson and Jac Schaeffer (WandaVision creator).
Scarlett Johansson appeared in seven Marvel films, becoming a fan favorite though her parts were spotty and she never carried the film. This is Johansson’s long-awaited solo movie, but it disappoints as it feels like it’s not enough her in it.
It’s a prequel film that takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Because of MCU’s careless past depictions of the Johansson character, the film now serves as a bridge between the two movies, as it works backwards (through flashback) to try to fill in the missing parts in her past and offers a lot of explanations.
The film is inspired by the Bourne movie “The Bourne Legacy” and the Mission: Impossible movies (copying its chase scenes), and mixes those two popular movies into this one. If that’s not enough of a genre mix, it throws into the mix some James Bond heroics and a “secret weapon” used in one of his goofy films.
Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh, Brit actress) is the younger sister of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Both were raised as sisters (they are not real sisters) by two KGB operatives posing as their parents: the Russian super soldier Alexei Shostakov/The Red Guardian (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a Black Widow and scientist working for the Red Room, the mysterious Soviet training program that turns the girls into spies. After three years living undercover in Ohio, in 1995, as an American family, both Natasha and Yelena are turned over to the Red Room by the pair they falsely thought of as real mother and father, and are trained to be ruthless killers when their cover is blown. Meanwhile the phony dad, speaking with a phony Russian accent, now is arm-wrestling in an American prison, while his agent wife is back with her Soviet handlers doing bad things.
With the Avenger breakup after Civil War, Natasha is alone until discovered by the nerdy tech support guy, Mason (O-T Fagbenle), as she lives life as a fugitive.
Natasha, loving the thrill of fighting, assembles a misfit group of allies to take down the Red Room. She also muses over the family relations between herself, Yelena and her villain phony parents, as family life is in her DNA and she tries to resolve the issues she has with her gleeful killer sister Yelena.
The plot tells of an anti-brainwashing chemical to liberate all Black Widows from the control of Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the Stalin mustached puppet-master evil head of the Red Room. The pic uses his scenes to send a messy message how women can easily be made vulnerable by evil men with controlling power.
The story caught my attention as wacko fun at times (but at 130 minutes it was too long). Its most enjoyable moments were when it was stuck on being a weird family drama between Natasha, Yelena, Alexei, and Melina, and during its outrageous fight scene with the Black Widow going against a dozen or so Red Room graduates under the glare of a red-light gel.
If there was a theme of sisterhood that was promoted, it wasn’t well-promoted.
This loopy action pic, not my cup of tea, never completely got me aboard its scenario, even if it checks all the MCU boxes that should please its loyal viewers. Also, the fights were just plain nasty. It was OK as a popcorn summer film, well acted by Johansson, Pugh and Harbour, but too inconsequential to mean much.
REVIEWED ON 7/3/2021 GRADE: B-