[Russian] Winter Soldier

Black Widow’s villain Dreykov (Ray Winstone) bares more than a passing resemblance to Harvey Weinstein. That’s not accidental. His master plan, revealed near the finale, find Dreykov eliciting full control and obedience from women under his orders. Unable to resist his commands, they stay silent by way of his pheromones. It’s eerie as he so effortlessly battles Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen), her strikes powerless, his forceful. Women serve him. He uses them. To fight back is to lose everything. Why only control women? Self-belief in masculine superiority, nothing more.

The intended theme and imagery isn’t subtle. Black Widow suggests a confluence of real world events were the result of such control. That’s a fiery statement, and not without truth, although Black Widow’s comic book tinge escalates things to show entire middle eastern wars were set in place by control over helpless, terrified women in a chain reaction of historical cataclysms. To see them wake up – by way of a red liquid – is Marvel’s thematic summation of the entire Me Too era, and to some extent, justifying Black Widow’s late, almost apologetic inclusion in this winding storyline.

There’s another half to Black Widow though. The first, in which Romanoff bounces off metal barriers, survives ludicrous car crashes, and walks away without a scratch breaks past absurdity. What made Romanoff intriguing was her ability to fight alongside Hulk or Thor, proving resourceful (or plain intellectual enough) to stay on the team. Here, she’s equivalent to Captain America, wholly invulnerable. Already lacking tension given Romanoff’s known finality, it’s as if the script were making up for lost time.

Free will and truth become tethers to this story, set within a fun, often comedic family squabble. David Harbour’s aged Alexei is a joy, depressed over losing an opportunity to be Captain Russia, shield and all. The Cold War clearly took its toll, and background political machinations kept him from the spotlight. Much of this is merely suggestive though, and as Romanoff watches classic James Bond, there’s a hope Black Widow achieves even a fraction of the spy thriller material those films did. But it doesn’t.

It sounds grumpy, but in Black Widows hyper-CG state, never does the action feel particularly plausible, even in a saga involving trans-dimensional aliens. The sheen is artificially dull, the explosions desperate, the fights over edited. That’s what Black Widow relies on for the first half, failing to ground much of its narrative, character, or place. There’s also a lack of wit. Harbour drives a majority, but the comedic zingers limp into the dialog, often depressive and emptying booze as they go.

Black Widow’s difficulty is in finding a purpose, closing leftover gaps in Marvel’s opening cinematic salvo. Certainly for a while, there’s little to no interest in making that a reality, rather ushering in a post-COVID world with summer theatrical boom. Seems though a few beat Black Widow to that goal, and Marvel’s overall output is vastly superior to this – and Black Widow is dangerously close to average, tonally awkward DC were it not for a thematically potent finish.

Black Widow
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Unusually bland and hollow in its first half, Black Widow finds substance by the end but by then, it’s already lost its way and purpose.

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