Imagine if people said this about women.
Bad accents abound and no amount of fun can salvage the third-act cliché of a giant burning object falling from the sky, but overall, “Black Widow” amounts to a satisfying addition to “The Bourne Identity” franchise. Of course, it’s actually a solid beginning to the latest cycle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the appeal of the MCU has always stemmed from the way it plays off existing formulas with dollops of spruced-up action strewn throughout, and the 24th entry hits all of those beats with style to spare.
Director Cate Shortland’s standalone adventure finds Natasha, aka Scarlett Johansson’s eponymous KGB killer-turned-Avenger hero, kicking ass and trading banter with her combustible sort-of sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) alongside gonzo adopted dad Red Guardian (David Harbour) and his wife Melina (Rachel Weisz). Their playful dynamic, based on a premise credited to “Wandavision” creator Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson and written by Eric Pearson, injects “Black Widow” with a spiky attitude that keeps this polished product engrossing throughout, at least until it comes crashing down to the usual busy mashup of mayhem that often mars the Marvel routine.
Like Jason Bourne, Natasha and Yelena were trained killers who defected, and the movie follows a similar kind of rapid-fire approach to the espionage genre as they pick up the pieces of their broken past and squabble through awkward family dynamics. The first MCU superhero movie to return to the blockbuster arena since the pandemic put the whole endeavor in jeopardy gets the job done; it’s also, by MCU standards, downright quaint. Set somewhere in the vicinity of five years ago, before the infamous Thanos blip and sitting around since pre-COVID 2020, “Black Widow” is a lighthearted bubble of a movie from simpler times.
Given that the cosmic events of “Avengers: Endgame” seemed to leave Black Widow dead as a doornail — have the statute of spoiler limitations lifted on that one yet? — this particular one-shot actioner takes place about five years earlier in the timeline, in between the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” as a rift between the superheroes found them splintering into factions. Natasha, perhaps to get a break from all those overheated masculine egos in suits, heads for the hills just in time to get word from her estranged sister that she’s needed in Budapest.
To make a wandering setup short: Though Natasha escaped the scheming KGB program that trained her long ago, her sister has only recently broken free thanks to sudden exposure to a gas that brings her back to reality and eager to liberate the army of brainwashed women forced into murderous servitude by the menacing Red Room program, overseen by bland Russian bad guy Dreykov (Ray Winstone).