It felt like forever.
In fact, it’s only been about two years, but the pandemic has a way of casting an ethereal fog around perception. Maybe you, Dear Reader, have experienced this as well?
My rational mind has been noticing how the world is slowly waking up: masks disappearing, restaurants opening, events cranking up…
…however nothing had really felt “normal” to me until last night.
Last night, I gleefully watched, Black Widow, the first post-pandemic Marvel Cinematic Universe feature film release.
Yes, yes…I decided to stream it in the comfort of my own home, with meatloaf and potato salad, kickin’ it in my boxers with my faithful doggo buddy Jack Jack. The method itself is a fortuitous Covid holdover, obviously, but see, the thing is, I had the option of going to the theater if I wanted.
Cinebarre just happens to frown on a guy who shows up in his drawers.
I digress, tho…
It wasn’t about the method.
It was about the material.
I honestly did not realize how much this meant to me until the first release date was pushed back. The delay provoked a small, yet very real, sadness. I discovered I needed me some Black Widow. I needed her bad. I needed a fresh dose of a good guy kicking a bad guy’s ass.
There’s a little bit of a story here, so let’s rewind a bit to 2010.
My wife, at the time, and I sat in the Albany Regal Theater with a couple of our kids as Iron Man 2 played on the screen. I’ve been a Marvel fan since I was about 6 years old and, after the many hiccups and burps the MCU had in its’ earliest years, the first Iron Man left me supercharged and expectant.
I was totally stoked for Iron Man 2.
In all honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Scarlett Johansson. Prior to that day, she had merely struck me as the newest Hollywood ingenue…someone who got by more on looks and sex appeal than true acting talent.
Then that hallway fight scene happened.
Yeah, this one here…
I was mesmerized.
Yes. Johansson’s portrayal of a lesser known female comic book spy in a supporting role to Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man completely changed my perspective of her acting capabilities.
In short, I became a Scarlett Johansson fanboy.
Since her debut as Agent Natasha Romanoff, she’s appeared as a main character in the following Marvel Cinematic Universe movies:
- Iron Man 2
- The Avengers
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Captain America: Civil War
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Avengers: Endgame
And, finally, her character’s origin film, Black Widow
I’m not going to give an in-depth play by play analysis of the film. Mainly because I want to avoid spoilers.
I do want to give a two-way perspective of this film however. So that’s what you’re getting.
First Perspective – Nothing but a Good Time
If you’re a casual fan, or someone who just enjoys a rollicking action film, you won’t be disappointed here.
The film is full of incredible fight scenes and the amazing shoot ‘em ups that are a hallmark of an MCU film. Some of the cinematography is just downright breathtaking.
Most notably, Johansson is joined on screen by a truly enjoyable Florence Pugh, who plays Romanoff’s equally bad ass, yet wonderfully cynical, wisecracking “sister” Yelena Belova, who is also a spy that was subjected to the same Red Room trauma as Romanoff.
The two balance each other extremely well. Romanoff’s tense finesse and Belova’s bull-in-a-china shop performances keep the action and dialogue from going to extremes at either end.
So there’s that.
Second Perspective – The Die Hard Fan
While I didn’t feel bad about the $30 I dropped to Disney for the pleasure of sitting in my skivvies and watching a big budget superhero film on a Friday night, this is where things start to get complicated for me in a few ways.
Let’s count them…
Gripe 1 – How About Some Respect?
I really feel like Johansson got fucked over. I do, and I can’t shake it.
For everything that the MCU has gotten right over the past 13 years: the merging of all the crazy story arcs, the excellent inclusion and highlighting of female characters, the first fully Black powered superhero feature film and so much more…for all of this great stuff, their treatment of this character and the woman who has portrayed her for 13 years is something that fell way short in a few different ways.
I mean…consider the timing of everything and how it’s just…weird.
This movie comes after Avengers: Endgame. Romanoff dies a heroic death in Endgame.
I remained reserved about this whole timing situation until after actually seeing the movie. I mean, in a franchise full of surprises, twists, and flashbacks, it could have worked out fine. She could have miraculously survived the sacrificial flinging of herself off the cliff. She could have been magically resurrected by Banner’s wish when he had the gauntlet on and just teleported to some island with amnesia.
So I guess I’m kind of giving a spoiler in a way…she’s not resurrected. Not in this movie, anyhow.
So yeah, given that her origin movie doesn’t somehow factor into some looped Endgame twist, something just hits me as weird in regards to how they waited as long as they did to put out a feature on Romanoff. Romanoff is one of the original six (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow).
Iron Man had three films. So did Cap and Thor. Hulk had been poorly featured in a few films prior to the modern MCU. Hell…Ant-Man had two films.
Notice anything here?
Maybe a sausage fest? (Maybe?)
You might be saying “Oh ho ho whoa whoa…wait there with feminist jazz there Joe, Hawkeye doesn’t have a feature!”
Whereupon I’ll tell ya that Jeremy Renner will be heading a Hawkeye mini-series on Disney+ this year, similar to what’s been very successfully done with Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, and, most recently, Loki.
Gripe 2 – This Character Deserves a Good Telling of Her Story
I kind of wish they would have given Romanoff a mini-series.
Let me explain…
Romanoff’s back-story is so incredibly complex and it involves some very serious social, cultural, and political issues that are compelling and relevant right now. Given all of the really terrible things that are happening with human trafficking, where the UN reports that a whopping 71% of trafficked humans are female…what an opportune time to present a platform that really speaks loud and strong against patriarchy and misogyny.
Really. Think about it. She was a product of the Red Room…an organization that specialized in abducting young girls, sterilizing them, controlling their minds, and using them as espionage operatives.
So was her “sister”.
And you’re going to try to fit this whole storyline in with a modern storyline about bringing this thing down, when you thought you had already brought it down a decade earlier?
In all honesty, it seemed like some kind of hastily dashed out plot to fulfill a studio contract. The story was kind of empty.
It was the great chemistry between the actors, and all the special effects wowsa, that kept my attention to this film.
It was not the storyline.
I honestly think that if Romanoff’s story were adapted for a five part mini-series, it would have given the writers so much more time and space to flesh out the storyline she deserved, both in terms of her back story as well as a present storyline, One that matched the depth and intensity of Romanoff’s character while also showcasing Belova’s comet like entry into the Marvel Universe.
Gripe 3 – The Bitter Taste of Irony
The irony of it all would almost make me laugh.
We have a (weak) story that at it’s heart, centers on patriarchy, misogyny, exploitation, and abuse of women.
And here we have a movie franchise that has relegated one of it’s most complex, nuanced, interesting characters, repeatedly, to the role of den mother, secretary, and afterthought.
Just like it’s repeatedly pointed out in the movie, itself.
As much as I love the “she’s not alone” moments in the Avenger’s films, she really was. I repeat, Johansson got fucked over.
The fact that she won’t be doing any more MCU films means they can’t fix it. This makes me sad. After 13 years, and a lot of awesome moments, she deserved more than this.
So that’s kind of where I’m at with it all. I give the actors and production team a thumbs up for salvaging what would have been a dog of a film without their skill and talent.
I give the producers a fat razzberry for failing to envision how good this could have really been and not creating something for Johansson that was as compelling as any of her male co-stars.