Running time: 133 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material.) In theaters and on Disney+ (for an extra fee) July 9.
When audiences last saw a new Marvel movie — “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” way back in June 2019 — the film began with half the planet returning to earth after a five-year disappearance (thanks, Thanos) that shellshocked earthlings dubbed “the blip.”
How appropriate, then, that the MCU restarts with its latest, “Black Widow,” in the wake of our own real-life blip.
Better still, it’s a blippin’ good time.
It helps that Black Widow, a k a, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), is the most enticing Marvel lead in ages. She’s an Avenger, but not of the alien (Thor, Captain Marvel) or genetically-altered (Spider-Man, Hulk) variety; Natasha is a fully human Russian agent groomed by the KGB to be a deadly assassin. So, while there are myriad special effects in director Cate Shortland’s film, the fight scenes are badass in spite of them.
Black Widow’s first standalone movie acts as both an origin story — we see her placed in the hands of a fake family of Russian spies on American soil, as they are forced to flee to Cuba — and a continuation of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” when the Avengers temporarily disbanded and sent Romanoff on the run from the US government.
For the precious few of you who spent time, I dunno, reading books and bonding with family the past year instead of binge-watching all 23 previous Marvel films, don’t fret. There are two types of MCU movies: One in which it’s crucial to know the events that came before so you don’t run out of the theater screaming, “What the hell is a Tesseract?!” and one in which the old details are little more than extra credit. “Black Widow” is the latter.
The movie’s vibe isn’t like your average MCU entry at all, really. What it reminded me of are the many James Bond films where 007 goes rogue and cavorts around world cities seeking his revenge du jour. Johansson, who actually watches “Moonraker” in one scene, has Bond’s same confidence and swagger — if not his retro libido — which is so often missing from these wisecracking Marvel actors who look like they got lost on the way to a Judd Apatow set.
Her journey to take down the evil Russian boss who groomed her, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), and his top-secret espionage agency the Red Room reconnects her with her stunt family. Fake mom Melina (Rachel Weisz) is a scientist who works for Dreykov; fake dad Alexei (David Harbour), a has-been super solider once known as the Red Guardian; and fake sister Yelena (Florence Pugh, channeling Villianelle in “Killing Eve”), a Red Room agent. They all get roped into Natasha’s scheme.
Harbour is the only weak-ish link of the four. The actor is here to provide broad comedic relief, but the movie doesn’t need it since every character has a dark, Russian sense of humor already. His silly jokes stand out like a sunbather in Siberia.
“You both have killed so many people!” he says hugging his bogus daughters in tears. “I’m so proud of you!” In the old days, you’d crumple up that page and throw it in the trash.
No matter — because we’ve got Scarlett. Johansson is one of the best-cast actors in the entire MCU. Even Oscar-winning performers don’t always work out (cough, Brie Larson, cough). How unfortunate that we have two “Ant-Man” films and soon will have a pair of “Doctor Strange” flicks, but in all likelihood just a single “Black Widow” — a much deeper, more fascinating, more exciting character than either of those two duds, sorry, dudes.
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