Black Widow: A Step Out of Marvel’s Comfort Zone, by Allison Krivda
While typical superhero films involve the expected ups, downs and intense action, they often lack depth beyond the conventions of the genre.
As I sat down in the theater to watch Black Widow, my one hope was for it to not let me down. I specifically hoped that it would give Black Widow’s character the development it deserved for a long time. At large, the movie did not disappoint, but more than that, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
The cast of Black Widow includes Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour, who all meld with one another so well that you forget they’re actors in a film.
Despite already being an Avengers fan, I found myself very interested in this separate storyline with new characters. The new dynamic of female leadership was refreshing and important to see. The story and events alone were interesting enough for me to not focus on the aspect of The Avengers. However, the relevancy of events in terms of the Marvel Universe does present itself. Ties to other Marvel events is shown through mentions to the Avengers and an ending that shows where in the Avengers timeline the film takes place in.
Do not read further if you want to avoid spoilers.
To give a brief overview of the film, Black Widow shows the life of Natasha Romanoff and her sister. It shows how they are indoctrinated into a corrupt system of spies. Then, it fast forwards to their adult lives and shows their attempt to defeat the system that had control of them for so long.
The beginning of Black Widow shows a typical family in Ohio, living a generally normal life, hanging out at home on a calm night. This is learned to be Natasha’s childhood family. Everyone seemed happy with each other and the family seemed to be living a loving, happy life. While confusing, this beginning was intriguing, as it was unexpected. But as you might suspect, this happy narrative was short-lived. Soon, chaos erupts as viewers see how the character of Black Widow came to be.
Suddenly the perfect family is on a mission, running down an airport runway, leaving their average life behind for an escape to Cuba. It’s soon revealed that the mother and father are not actually parents, but rather Russian undercover agents sending their “children” to be trained as "widows," meaning that they are trained to be spies and assassins.
Well, there went my happy-sentimental feelings for the movie.
Fast forward a bit in the movie, and we see Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, and her thought-to-be sister Yelena reunited as adults. At this point, Natasha had been involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers for several years (however, at this point the Avengers had just broken up) and Yelena was working to free Black Widows from the control of Drekov — the main antagonist and current head of the widow program. .
Apart from the plot grabbing me, what I appreciated was the fact that two female leads were carrying the movie- something we do not see from Marvel often. It served as inspiration for others. The empowerment shown through all of the scenes with the sisters was captivating and refreshing.
Now, to find Drekov, the women set out to get information from their former “father”. This starts a family reunion that goes quite unexpectedly, but carries the film because of this.
The humor that their "father" — played by David Harbour — brings to the film helps bring the whole cast together and add a light element to the movie's heavier subject matter. Eventually, the whole family from the start of the movie reunites and the girls make their pent-up feelings of abandonment known to their former parents. This moment of reflection in the midst of chaotic events strayed from the typical Marvel formula , bringing the whole story together and giving it depth beyond the typical “superhero-saves-the-day” narrative.
Even though the “family” is reunited, Natasha and Yelena often feel disconnected from their former parents, as they grew up without a true family. They were tricked early in life, leaving them abandoned and abused. But eventually, the once-fake family becomes a real family.
They realize the only people who can understand and sympathize with their past traumas are each other. This goes to underline a deeper lesson: The definition of family is not always determined by blood relation. Rather, family can be determined through who sticks by people’s sides and helps them through both good and difficult times. As they learn this, the newly-reunited family is able to accomplish their mission together. This was one of the first superhero movies that I have seen with a family combining forces to defeat the antagonist, and it was enthralling. It felt this way because the whole film builds up a story of betrayal and reunion, which is cemented through the family defeating the evil together.
Rather than defeating a single individual whose motives are not always clear, the Black Widow is fighting to defeat the whole system of corruption that creates fellow widows. When widows are created, control of their minds is taken over and they are programmed to kill.
While an imaginary situation, this makes clear parallels to real-world issues of suppression and abuse of power. The goal of defeating the program as a whole and setting many women free is a large statement, both inside and outside of the film. Currently throughout the world, so many groups of people fight for justice from oppression, and this film serves as inspiration for many.
From the initial typical family setting, to the action packed events and the attempt to defeat a corrupt system, the Black Widow movie keeps viewers on their toes. It gives much more meaning to its characters within the MCU, along with giving Black Widow the independent narrative that her character deserved.