Review: Scarlett Johansson in Marvel’s Black Widow

Zak Labiad


Review: Scarlett Johansson in Marvel’s Black Widow

Scarlett Johansson returns as super-spy Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, after what seems like an infinity for her long-awaited solo film to arrive in cinemas. Unfortunately, this movie falls short of expectations, delivering a muddled, mercurial Marvel flick.



Set in 2016 after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha has become a federal fugitive, evading the government’s mission to stomp out superheroes. Like all spies, it isn’t long before her murky past catches up with her, inciting a strained reunion with her adoptive Russian family. Together they will act as a taskforce to defeat the mysterious yet uninspired Taskmaster, toppling Ray Winstone’s drab Dreykov, a slimy puppeteer who mind-controls other Widow agents.

Scarlett Johansson is ever reliable as the steely yet vulnerable Natasha. Despite being an Avenger, she is only mortal, at one point fixing her broken nose back into place without batting an eyelid. From stealth missions to flying helicopters, Romanoff manages to be both badass and chic, from sporting a soon to be iconic white catsuit to discussions of spy attire and the practicality of pockets.

Marvel continues to excel in casting and character work, particularly found in Natasha’s parental figures – David Harbour’s idiotic soviet super-soldier and Rachel Weisz’sstoic yet wily Melina. Yet this is also part of the problem. With the whole family a domineering presence, they act as a surrogate Avengers team, making it feel like Natasha is sometimes side-lined in her own adventure, when at long last it should be her time to step into the limelight, as the eponymous title suggests.



Director Cate Shortland tries to offer intriguing, introspective moments that boldly sidestep typical excuses for bombastic action. There are hints of Natasha’s struggle to cope with the mother she never was, her longing for her unknown parent, and the weight of motherhood she carries as the predominant female Avenger, inspiring and doing good by all the young girls who look up to her. But before the theme can be burrowed too deeply, Shortland fumbles, catering to the stubborn appetites of the MCU’s fanbase, serving up classic Marvel cheese. Prison-breaks, car-chases, fist-fight’s galore – it would all be welcomed if we cared about such setpieces. The film itself is pleasingly meta in its awareness of the spy-genre, even featuring a cameo of Roger Moore’s 007 in Moonraker. Yet the film’s flippant tone is mismatched against the semi-serious thriller it aims to be…

Considering the film acknowledges that she is not ‘one of the big ones’ in terms of Marvel’s impressive roster of heavy-hitting heroes, it would have been nice if Black Widow had been a more scaled-down affair. Of course nothing will top the grand culmination that was Avengers Endgame, so to compete through the same grandiose tactics of action and teamwork is folly.

Ultimately, Black Widow is quite fun for fans who yearn for another adventure with their favourite heroine, yet for viewers who have not kept up with the impressive cinematic tapestry Marvel has woven, they may be at a dead-end.