“BLACK WIDOW”

Published On July 11, 2021 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“BLACK WIDOW”
​Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, Ray Winstone, William Hurt
Screenplay by Eric Pearson
Story by Jack Schaeffer and Ned benson
Based on characters and comics from Marvel Comics
Directed by Cate Shortland
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Gabriel Beristain
Edited by Leigh Folsom Boyd and Matthew Schmidt
Music by Lorne Balfe

“Black Widow” is a disappointment–yet another doomed, tired, big-budget average movie that is over-done, over-long, meandering, lacking in a clear focus, disjointed, disappointing overall and generally un-funny, un-suspenseful, un-original and un-interesting.

“Black Widow,” like most–most, not all–of its comic book predecessors going back at least forty years now, tries far too hard to be far too many things–is it a comic book movie, is it a family drama, is it a Cold War spy movie, is it an intrigue movie, is it a comedy, is it a drama, is it a fantasy sci-fi movie, or is it something else?–and in the end, which can’t occur soon enough, it’s just another loud, special effects-laden average ordinary cookie-cutter cliched comic book movie.

Is this the movie to welcome people back to movie theaters in some grand, celebratory manner? No.

Is this movie worth wasting thirty bucks to watch it on a small computer screen? No–and if you do see this movie, it should ONLY be seen on a movie screen.

Is this the summer movie blockbuster of the summer of 2021? No.

Does anyone really need to rush out to movie theaters and see this movie? Alas, no.

Save your time, energy and money: “Black Widow” is a scattered, meandering, un-focused disappointment.

The movie also doesn’t really break new ground, doesn’t become any more original or daring or provocative or propel the comic book movie forward any more distance just because a so-called independent director–in this case, Cate Shortland, who directed the feature films “Somersault” from 2004 and “Lore” from 2021, the television film “The Silence” and who also directed episodes of the television show “The Secret Life of Us”–has directed the movie. Alas, despite several previous attempts by studios to enlist so-called independent directors—these directors are labeled and stereotyped often with the term independent, but many of them are just as refined and educated and talented as any so-called mainstream directors, they just have made smaller, more low-budget films–to direct comic books movies in a misguided attempt to make the movies more different, original or daring, this gambit and strategy fails yet again with “Black Widow.” Actually, the attempts to make big-budget comic book, superhero, fantasy, science fiction, horror and supernatural movies more independent, alternative, dark, depressing, bleack or different merely bring down all of the genres by ridiculously veering the genre movies away from their original sources, away from their original origins, away from their original instincts and just plain away from what they really should be.

One would think producers, directors, writers and studio suits would have figured out more often–they do occasionally, of course–that the best remedy for a successful film in these particular genres–comic books, superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, horror and the supernatural–is simply to stick to the basics, stick to the origins, stick to the originators’ original visions, and, for goodness sake with comic books movies–make the dern movies feel like a comic book! Alas, sadly and unfortunately, of course, the great film director Richard Donner just died on Monday, July 5, 2021–four days before “Black Widow’s” wide release in theaters and on rip-off streaming platforms–and to this day, many producers, directors, writers and studio suits simply often appear not to have learned one lesson, one iota of filmic knowledge, from Donner’s mastery of not only the comic book movie genre, but of just about every other genre. Donner’s brilliantly-directed “Superman” from 1978 and his equally-brilliantly-directed “Superman II” from 1980 (Donner directed most of the sequel, then left the movie after arguments with the films’ egocentric producers) remain, to this day in 2021, the gold standard for comic book fantasy sci-fi movies.

And Donner, of course, produced equally brilliant classics in the horror realm (“The Omen,” 1976); the cop buddy comedy action movie (“Lethal Weapon,” from 1987); fantasy (“Ladyhawke,” from 1985); kids comedy-fantasy-adventure movie (“The Goonies,” also from 1985); drama (“Inside Moves,” from 1980); fantasy ghost comedy movie (“Scrooged,” from 1988); drama (“Radio Flyer,” from 1992); western (“Maverick,” from 1994); and many others, of course. Once again, this is all relevant in regards to “Black Widow” when one considers that most–not all, but most–of the comic book movies during the last forty-three years have basically, generally, wholly lacked the mastery, professionalism, artistry, style, charisma, originality, overall sense of joy, fun and adventure and basic comic book style entertainment that Richard Donner brought to those two “Superman” movies with those great all-star casts, great stories, great writing, great humor, great acting, great production values and overall great work on behalf of all of the cast and crew.

It’s been noted here before, but, yes, several of the Marvel Comics and DC Comics movies from recent years have been able to vault over the myriad problems plaguing their fellow comic book movies, succeed and even register as highly-recommended, enjoyable, fun and entertaining movies that are indeed reminiscent of Richard Donner and his great, classic style of moviemaking: “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the first “Iron Man,” “Wonder Woman,” “Captain Marvel,” “Ant-Man,” Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” the first “Hellboy,” “Darkman,” Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy,” “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool,” and maybe perhaps just a few others. These movies have succeeded. However, most of the others, as noted, have not succeeded. And there’s many of them–far too many of them, of course.

Which brings us right back to “Black Widow,” as it falls into that latter category.

The story attempts to tell what should have been a super-cool, modern-day, retro-style homage Cold War-style, James Bond-style spy intrigue suspense thriller action movie–however, the movie throws all of this potential straight out the window and oddly, strangely and weirdly, ends up being absolutely none of these things. Of course, this should have been just that–basically, a Bond-homage Cold War-style U.S.-versus-Soviet spy intrigue suspense action thriller. Of course, with the right script, dialogue, writers, story, plot, director, producer and possibly with another more inventive movie studio–instead of the increasingly-bottom-line-oriented, unoriginal and increasingly over-saturating Disney Studios and Marvel Studios–the movie could have been and should have been all of these elements. However, what does occur is a muddled attempt to be some type of dark, depressing, psychological family drama, a movie that often seems more focused on delving deep–too deep–into an unsuccessful psychological study of family relationships. Of course, such dramatic themes are commonplace in comic books and comic book movies–we all know that–but it’s the producers, directors and writers who somehow creatively figure out how to balance those family relationship and underlying psychology themes with, say, good stories, good writing, comic book and action and comedy sensibilities, an over-arching positivity and sense of actual hope and about four-hundred other filmic qualities who succeed in producing quality films. This is what Donner achieved with his “Superman” movies, what Nolan achieved with his “Batman” movies, and what the creators achieved with the other successful films listed above–that sorely-needed balance of comic books, superheroes, comedy, drama, tragedy, action, suspense, fantasy, sci-fi and the supernatural that doesn’t lean too far and too heavily on the dark, depressing, morbid, bleak and generally negative. Comic book movies, after all, should be positive, happy, fun and entertaining in the end, no matter the concurrent tragic underpinnings attached to the characters and over-arching story lines.

Thus, “Black Widow” wallows foo much in the realms of the bleak, dark and depressing–heck, the darkness starts with the basic story, plot, characterizations, premise and background. And when you start out dark, and the darkness remains, there doesn’t end up being much sunlight. Throughout most of the movie, the Black Widow character, who is actually a spy named Natasha Romanoff, isn’t even technically a hero, much less a hero that could even begin to be considered super. She’s a former KGB assassin–not too likeable; she’s being pursued by the government–not too likeable; she’s constantly on the run, without the backing, money, legal help or assistance from the government or even some cool renegade rogue expendable gang of operatives, agents or mercenaries–not too likeable; she’s consistently morose, angry or argumentative–not too likeable; and she’s not even a part of her former gang of superheroes, the Avengers–not too likeable. The Avengers aren’t even together in this movie–definitely not too much fun and not likeable on any level.

Thus, from the start, things are bleak and not too much fun to follow in “Black Widow.” Even Natasha’s childhood was horrible–her so-called parents, who weren’t really her biological parents–were nasty, terrible, undercover Soviet spies trying horribly to pass themselves off as a typical American family. Romanoff and her fake-phony sister, who wasn’t really her biological sister, Yelena Belova, were even stooges planted by the Soviets. Nothing about the girls, their parents or their lives was real–they were just Soviet stooges planted in the U.S. And when the girls were very young–pre-teens–they were drugged, taken away and turned into some type of world-destroying zombie mind-controlled fembot-style vixen killers, along with other mind-controlled fembot vixen killers–a storyline that is so horribly, terribly, offensively, obviously and stupidly–yes, stupidly–completely ripped off from Peter Hunt’s and Richard Maibaum’s classic James Bond film from 1969, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” that Bond fans should be sitting back stunned at the brazen rip-off nature of this movie and they should be rolling their eyes and sighing loudly in disgust. Drugging and controlling and sending out beautiful women to destroy, endanger, control and take over the world WAS the main plot point of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”–which, again, was released fifty-one years ago, in 1969.

“Black Widow” offensively dares to have as its villain a crazed, mumbling, sexist, psycho lunatic who has built himself a hard-to-find, remote, reclusive, high-tech, heavily-fortified hideout headquarters–wow, just like main villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld did in–remember?–“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” back in…..1969. The legions of fans worldwide who still marvel at Telly Savalas’ classic, gold-standard performance as Blofeld in that great Bond classic will be alternately so disappointed and confused by the actor Ray Winstone’s garbled, under-played, non-scary, non-threatening, non-suspenseful, non-creative portrayal of “Black Widow’s” lumbering, aging, slow-moving character Dreykov, they, too, should sit back and roll their eyes and sigh loudly in disgust. Winstone’s boring characterization of Dreykov is one of the absolute worst comic book movie villains in quite an ever-lasting, non-stopping movie series franchise world while. Often, it seems that Winstone the actor and Dreykov the charcter would rather be just about anywhere other than on the set of “Black Widow.” Like, perhaps, on the set of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Of course, to add to the increasing pile of insults to the Bond franchise, Dreykov sounds suspiciously like Drax, as in Hugo Drax, the main villain in another great Bond classic, 1979’s “Moonraker,” which was written by Christopher Wood and directed by Lewis Gilbert. We should note for the record that Hugo Drax also planned to destroy the world from a reclusive hideout base–and his planned base of operations was in space!!

All of these too-similar and non-homage elements in “Black Widow” could have been fun, actually, if the filmmakers had the smarts to have made “Widow” a knowingly, nod-nod-wink-wink, in-joke, and to make the movie more of a funny and open and honest tribute to and homage to the Bond films. But, as previously noted, that doesn’t happen here on any level, even while including a bit of an in-joke by including a very brief film clip of Drax from “Moonraker.” Writer Eric Pearson, director Shortland and increasingly tone-deaf over-saturating producer Kevin Feige just are not clever enough, insightful enough or original enough to achieve that kind of inside homage and tribute to Bond-style, Cold War-style and espionage-style spy, intrigue and action-thriller films. Not only is the homage and tribute not attempted, but–are you ready–in the end, alas, “Black Widow” doesn’t even manage to work as a decent spy and intrigue movie!

Interestingly, “Wonder Woman,” from 2017, and “Atomic Blonde,” also from 2017, wholly managed to succeed on this particular level–and on every other level–to be not just successful comic book movies, but also successful spy intrigue action-adventure suspense thriller movies! “Wonder Woman” and “Atomic Blonde” are the movies that “Black Widow” wanted to be, could have been and should have been–but “Widow” fails to reach the level of those movies.

So in “Widow” we have Romanoff and Belova as grown woman tracking down those Soviet spy plant fake parents, Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour, having some fun, but at the same time, his character also always looks like either he just woke up, is about to fall asleep, just drank a case of bad beer, is hungover or is about to die from lack of exercise and a general case of dementia or idiocy) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz, who is obviously still stunningly beautiful, but whose beauty is crazily and moronically beautied-down and hidden by the filmmakers–for no clear reason) and then trying somehow to invade, infiltrate, conquer, destroy and kill Blofeld, er, Drax, er, Dreykov; somehow completely destroy Blofeld’s, er, Drax’s, er, Dreykov’s reclusive remote hidden headquarters; and somehow stop the fembot-like vixen killers from destroying the world. With little money, little resources, few weapons and little help from what normally would have been a literal army of soldiers on their mission, these misplaced, displaced, mis-cast and dis-jointed Russians manage to kill Blofeld, er, Drax, er Dreykov, destroy the headquarters and stop the evil fembot-like vixen killer mission. And all of it is completely unbelievable, even in this most outrageous comic book suspension-of-disbelief setting.

Additionally, “Widow” also brazenly, daringly–and also offensively–stupidly steals one of the most clever and always-surprising tactics, gimmicks and spy tricks from the original television series “Mission: Impossible,” which ran for an always-above-average, always-entertaining and always-fun run on CBS from 1966 to 1973. This should cause the legions of fans of that great original television show–certainly not the crappy, unoriginal and boring movie series that ripped off the name of the series–to sit back, roll their eyes and sigh loudly in disgust. The great, classic original television series “Mission: Impossible” was created by the talented, creative Bruce Geller.

Alas, with some work, “Black Widow” could also have been a homage and tribute to the original “Mission: Impossible” television series–but that doesn’t happen, either.

To be clear: “Black Widow” is nothing like a James Bond movie, the movie does not succeed as a spy thriller, and the movie is nothing like “Wonder Woman,” “Atomic Blonder” or even the Bourne movies. Scarlett Johansson even said in one interview that she didn’t want “Widow” to be a spy intrigue thriller. Well, what on earth did you want the movie to be? The movie has all of these spy intrigue elements, but they are wasted. The movie obviously should have been a spy intrigue action suspense thriller. That latter clarification above regarding the Bourne movies is made because someone somewhere bizarrely mistakenly compared “Black Widow” to a Jason Bourne movie. Again–“Black Widow” is absolutely nothing like any of the Bourne movies. And since that distinction is being made here, it’s time again to remind anyone and everyone that that over-done Bourne series suffers from many of the same problems plaguing the consistently over-done, over-long and over-saturated Marvel and DC series. In studied, professional reflection, insight and analysis, there’s only one really good Bourne movie, and that was the above-average, enjoyable first one, “The Bourne Identity,” from 2002. After that, really, none of the other Bourne movies should have been made.

As always, the hundreds of talented, creative, detail-oriented and hard-working special effects workers at the several companies who contributed special effects to “Black Widow” need to be praised and congratulated for their hard work on the effects for “Widow.” However, as always, great special effects do not a great movie make (bad grammar intended for stylistic support of the inherent point). As always, those great special effects need to be supported by, backed up by and balanced with a good script, a good story, a good overall plot and subplot, some dramatic character, story and plot development, good direction and good overall production. And, as noted, that just doesn’t occur with “Black Widow.”

Disney and Marvel producer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has threatened the real world with an upcoming plague of more Marvel comic book movies with more back-story and origin-story characters and settings. Please, Feige–enough is enough. The point has been made–far too often. Please take at least a ten -year–yes, a decade–break from this over-saturated, over-done, over-long and un-original comic book movie series and just move on to something else, anything else. Even a series of Gothic romance television movies on the Hallmark Channel would be better–maybe.

Meanwhile, Feige, please issue an apology forthright to Michael Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, other members of the family of Albert Broccoli, the family of Harry Saltzman, Peter Hunt, Richard Maibaum, George Lazenby, Lewis Gilbert, Christopher Wood, Roger Moore, Peter Graves, MI6, the Impossible Mission Force and Ian Fleming.

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