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At The Movies: Marvel’s ‘Widow’-maker

“Black Widow” should please fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Those not in the Marvel Cinematic Universe orbit: Not so much.

As for me, I need a remedial course at MCU, as in the Marvel Cinematic University.

“Black Widow” has an overwhelming number of Computer Generated Imagery and special effects-driven scenes, which makes it feel and look like other recent big-budget movies, including “F9: The Fast Saga” and “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

At some point, the violence of martial-arts style fighting, amazing stunts, vehicle chases, jet-plane and helicopter derring-do, buildings being blown up and crashing down, and the pyrotechnics of fireballs becomes all too much.

When is too much all too much? I am not sure. But I think we’ve reached critical mass in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as in the Hollywood Blockbuster Universe.

This is not to say that “Black Widow” isn’t impressive. On multiple levels, it is. The action is incredible, and for much of the film, is nonstop. The production values in directing, cinematography, editing and sound are top-notch. The actors are excellent.

What’s not to like?

For some reason, I just didn’t care enough about the characters. I wasn’t emotionally-invested in what was happening to them or what they cared about or what they were thinking. Maybe I am too old for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am not in the MCU orbit. I prefer something more down to earth. I guess I’m in the AARPU (American Association of Retired Persons Universe).

A scene at the very end of the movie is intended for MCU fans to come back for more. Call it the CAU (Cinematic Addiction Universe). Marvel has been doing this for years. “Black Widow” is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I, as with the other MCU curious, probably will be back for No. 25.

And yet the surprise, excitement, delight and the fun of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just isn’t there for me anymore.

“Black Widow” begins with an origin story, a flashback to a young Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (the adult is played by Scarlett Johansson). The intent is to establish an emotional core for Natasha, to explain why she became cold and non-caring. This is one of the problems with the Natasha character, which works against the casual MCU fan, creating a distance and preventing an emotional investment in the proceedings.

Natasha’s younger sister, Yelena Belova, also a Black Widow (there are dozens, if not hundreds and thousands of Black Widows), is played by Florence Pugh. She is a bundle of energy, contradictions and humor. “Black Widow” becomes Yelena’s film. Pugh steals the show from the stoic Johansson.

From young Natasha and Yelena, the story propels forward to events right after those of “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). Romanoff died in “Avengers: Endgame” (2019). This is not a spoiler. MCU fans know this. Non-MCU fans will need that refresher course.

We enter the Red Room, atop a space station or floating tower of some sort, where amidst computer screens, serums and devices that rival the best lair of a “James Bond” movie villain (or Dr. Evil from “Austin Powers”), we meet the mastermind behind the mayhem, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), who looks and acts like what one would presume a Russian oligarch to be. He doesn’t seem smart enough or nasty enough. Then again, it might be an accurate portrayal of a Russian oligarch (where is the troll farm?).

Dreykov controls the Black Widows, including his daughter, Antonia Dreykov, aka Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), like some throwback to Hugh Hefner. Call them the Stepford Widows. It’s a really stupid plot device.

Which brings us inevitably to the screenplay, a colossal Hollywood cut-and-paste botch job by Eric Pearson (“Godzilla vs. Kong,” 2021; “Thor: Ragnrok,” 2017; which right there should tell you something if you’ve read my movie reviews of those films); from a story by Jac Shaeffer (Primetime Emmy nominee, “Wandavision,” 2021; “The Hustle,” 2019) and Ned Benson (“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” 2014, 2013). To which, I ask: What story?

Australian director Cate Shortland (“Berlin Syndrome,” 2017; “Lore,” 2012; “Somersault,” 2004) makes the best of what she’s given, providing us with some sensitive scenes that resonate between Natasha and Yelena; the two of them and their mother, Melina Vostokoff, aka Black Widow (the always intriguing Rachel Weisz), and some humorous scenes between them and Alexei Shostakov, aka Red Guardian (David Harbour, having and giving us a rollicking good time).

The verdict on “Black Widow”: See it if you are a Marvel Cinematic Universe fanboy or fangirl. Take your teens or children for a fun time at the cinema.

Still, for a Marvel movie, it’s simply not that marvelous.

“Black Widow,”

MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and thematic material; Genre: Action, Adventure, Science-Fiction; Run time: 2 hrs., 13 mins. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

At The Movies:

“Black Widow” was seen in the Dolby Cinema at AMC, AMC Center Valley 16, Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, Upper Saucon Township. “Black Widow” was delayed three times from its original May 2020 release date because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown. “Black Widow” opened at No. 1 with $80 million in its opening weekend, surpassing the post-pandemic box-office record of $70 million, set by “F9: The Fast Saga.”

Credit Readers Anonymous:

Stay to the very end of the end credits of “Black Widow” for a graveside appearance, at Natasha Romanoff’s grave, by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) from “The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” (2021), seen on Disney+ . There’s also a voiceover by Clint Barton-Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The roles are uncredited. “Black Widow” was filmed in Hungary, Norway, Morocco, Pinewood Studios, United Kingdom, Bahamas, and George and California in the U.S.A.

Movie Box Office,

July 16-18: It was a slam dunk at the weekend box office for “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” as King James, that is, LeBron James and his Merry Band of animated Looney Tunes opened at No. 1 with $31 million, in 3,965 theaters, outplaying “Black Widow,” which lost its one week at No. 1, with $25.8 million, in 4,275 theaters; $131.6 million, two weeks, as “Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions” opened at No. 3, with $8.8 million, in 2,815 theaters, one week.

4. “F9: The Fast Saga” dropped two places, $7.6 million, in 3,368 theaters; $154.8 million, four weeks. 5. “The Boss Baby: Family Business” dropped two places, $4.7 million, in 3,449 theaters, $44.6 million, three weeks. 6. “The Forever Purge” dropped two places, $4.1 million in 2,735 theaters, $35.8 million, three weeks. 7. ”A Quiet Place Part II” dropped two places, $2.2 million in 1,995 theaters; $154.9 million, eight weeks. 8. “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” $1.9 million, in 927 theaters, one week. 9. “Cruella” dropped three places, $1.1 million, in 1,175 theaters; $83.4 million, eight weeks. 10. “Pig,” $970,935, in 552 theaters, one week.


July 23:


PG-13: M. Night Shyamalan directs: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell and Alex Wolff in the Drama, Mystery Thriller. A family on holiday at a secluded beach ages rapidly. Maybe they saw their room tab.

“Snake Eyes,”

PG-13: Robert Schwentke directs Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Samara Weaving and Úrsula Corberó in the Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction Thriller. The “G.I. Joe” spin-off rolls the dice.

“Joe Bell,”

R: Reinaldo Marcus Green directs Mark Wahlberg, Connie Britton, Gary Sinise and Morgan Lily in the Biography Drama. A father walks across the United States in a crusade against bullying after his son is bullied in high school for being gay. It’s said to be based on a true story.

“How It Ends,”

R: Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein direct Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Whitney Cummings and Tawny Newsome in the Comedy. A woman parties in Los Angeles like it’s the end of the world.

“Midnight in the Switchgrass,”

R: Randall Emmett directs Emile Hirsch, Megan Fox, Bruce Willis and Lukas Haas in the Thriller. An FBI agent and a Florida police officer investigate unsolved murders.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES Florence Pugh (Yelena Belova), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff-Black Widow), “Black Widow.”