If there was ever a happier time for Natasha Romanoff, it was lie; an enemy agent who had to demonstrate her loyalty to be accepted in S.H.I.E.L.D. and later become one of the Avengers before they fell from favour, when everything fell apart it was her who accepted that the Infinity War could not be won without sacrifice, the girl who knew from childhood that everything was just a pretence covering an ugly truth.
Raised in Ohio, she and her sister were nothing more than window dressing to add veracity to the cover story of their supposed parents, Alexei Shostakov and Melina Vostokoff, the Red Guardian, Russian equivalent of Captain America, and one the original Black Widow squad; charged with infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D., when their mission was blown they fled America and were split up.
Her second constructed family the Avengers, when they fell into disarray following the attempted enforcement of the Sokovia Accords Romanoff went into hiding, emerging only when a package found its way to her in Norway, apparently an attempt at contact by her long-lost sibling, Yelena Belova, drawing her to a former safe house in Budapest with a squad of hostile Black Widow agents on her tail, also seeking the rogue agent.
Astonishingly the twenty fourth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though chronologically the majority of the action takes place shortly after the events of Civil War, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has featured in eight previous films but Black Widow marks her debut as a lead character, joined by Midsommar‘s Florence Pugh, Hellboy‘s David Harbour and The Fountain‘s Rachel Weisz as her fractured but still functional family.
The first film of Phase Four, rather than marking a new direction for the series Black Widow is more “Natasha’s year out,” allowing her to breathe beyond fighting, strategizing or soothing the green beast, exploring and tying up the loose ends of one of only two major character who were never given their own introductory film, the other being Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, an omission which will be addressed in his own television show currently in post-production for a proposed launch later this year.
Writer Eric Pearson and director Cate Shortland taking a different approach, Black Widow does not attempt to out-dazzle the epic defeat of Thanos or emulate the light relief of Far From Home, instead finding new ground to break on a cross-continental journey in the genuinely felt but often difficult relationships of the lead quartet and the quest they find themselves on, not just to take down the enemy but to rescue the current inductees into the Black Widow programme.
Her “father” a serum-created supersoldier, Romanoff has no super powers herself nor a suit of flying power armour, only her training, skills and determination, fuelled by her regrets at past actions, collateral damage which cannot be justified if the intended target escaped, resolved that no other should be kidnapped and brainwashed as she was in the elusive Red Room, the Black Widow dressed in white as she strikes a defiant pose.
With Harbour and Ray Winstone’s General Dreykov the only substantial male characters yet never sharing a scene, Black Widow is also significant in that it inverts the Bechdel test, going further even than Captain Marvel with a story of mothers, daughters and extended sisterhood and all that implies, forgiving failure and weakness in others without judging and finding a way forward without beating each other senseless, an approach which might have made Civil War a considerably shorter film.
Black Widow is now on general release and also screening in IMAX