Grade:  B+
Rated PG-13

There are two kinds of Marvel movies: the puzzler that requires a vast knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make sense of the plot, and the stand-alone that’s more closed form and self-contained. Black Widowwill satisfy people who take comfort in the latter.

In this 24th film in the Marvel Universe, we get the information that Thanos has killed off most of the Avengers and that Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha (Black Widow) are on the run. Though it takes place after the action in Captain America: Civil War (2016), you really don’t have to have seen or remember that film to make sense of this one.

Black Widow features a lot of blockbuster special effects action, but there’s enough back story to give an emotional backbone to those sequences and make them matter. There are fewer characters to keep straight, and just enough comic lines and moments to change the pace from time to time.

Scarlet Johansson stars as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. The film was partially shot at Pinewood Studios and features location shots of Norway, Budapest, and Morocco. If the film has a Bond feel to it—and I think it does—maybe it’s because of those locations, the Cold War Russian vs. American high stakes covert operations, and a villain with a grand scheme to control the world.

Just as Black Panther featured a cast that was mostly Black, this 2021 film, by design, has a sisterhood feel to it. Directed by Cate Shortland (The Secret Life of Us), Black Widow pairs Johansson with Florence Pugh and shows them in an early flashback as sisters raised in a Russian sleeper cell in Ohio. Ripped from their lives, they are turned into Red assassins. Throughout the film the two have great chemistry, which gives Black Widow a quirky buddy-cop feel to it as well. But it turns out that they’re not alone. The villain (Ray Winstone as Dreykov, one of only two prominent male characters) is trying to build a network of trained female assassins.

Viewers might also find themselves thinking of Disney’s The Incredibles, because the four main characters are the ones we meet in that opening flashback:  that Russian sleeper cell “family” consisting of father Alexei (David Harbour), mother Melina (Rachel Weisz), and the two girls. As the plot twists and turns, they split, reunite, work together, turn against each other, and always keep viewers guessing as to what they’re real intentions are. That level of character development adds a lot to the film, and Harbour is hilarious in the second half as he tries to get back into character as a male Red scourge before the villain decided female scourges would be better. But Pugh’s and Johansson’s banter can also be quite funny.

It must be hard for filmmakers to conceive of original and shocking action sequences for every film, but here too Black Widow doesn’t disappoint. There are a few stand-out special effects moments to add occasional peaks to what at times feels like non-stop action.

Black Widow may not be among very best Marvel movies, but it’s a solid B+, marred only by a few jarring edits and the usual smattering of hard-to-believe sequences that seems to come with the action-film territory. Johansson acquits herself well as the star, but if she were Michael Jordan, then Pugh is her Scottie Pippen. The two of them together make this movie work. Sister power!

Entire family:  No (Junior high and older)
Run time:  134 min. (Color)
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Studio/Distributor:  Marvel/Disney
Bonus features: B (several short features, gag reel, deleted scenes)
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Code
Amazon link
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material

Language:  4/10—Mostly in Russian with subtitles, and all lesser curse words

Sex:  0/10—Nothing here aside from a bra in one shot and a bare back

Violence:  7/10—Aside from the usual crashes, explosions, and weaponry there’s a considerable amount of stabbing, head-slamming, punching, and no-holds-barred fighting; one man’s wrist is broken in a shocking scene played for laughs

Adult situations:  3/10—Drinking but no real drunkenness

Takeaway:  If Marvel wasn’t so hell-bent on killing off everyone, I think people would welcome many more single-character films