Movie review: Black Widow (2021)

Score: 2/5

Since the Black Widow character (played by Scarlett Johanson) dies in the 2019 movie “Avengers: Endgame”, you wonder why Marvel would release a posthumous movie about this hero.

The answer is (unsurprisingly) money. The movie is only here to set up the original Black Widow’s sister, who happens to be younger, prettier, and more talented, as the replacement Black Widow, so future Avengers movies can continue to have a young pretty woman in tight black leather.

Of course it also fulfills the practical goal of replacing an aging Scarlett Johansson, who by almost-40 is getting a little old to play a beautiful femme fatale superhero without blowing up the CGI budget. If you were cynical about it, you might think the “Avengers: Endgame” writers had her character killed off for exactly this reason.

No wonder ScarJo is a bit salty about the whole thing. Sure, she has some nice feminist talking points rationalizing it, but the fact is that Marvel is replacing her with a younger woman, much like immoral billionaires do with their spouses when they get too old to be eye candy.

Aside from the ghastly practicalities of trying to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe gravy train going, the movie is the usual post-Disney-takeover Marvel fare. Like “Thor: Ragnarok”, it includes lots of slapstick moments and fourth-wall poking, all while trying to tell a dark and depressing story about small girls being captured, sterilized and turned into mind-controlled super-soldiers. A tonal mess.

There’s a long, awkward scene where the now old and fat “Red Guardian” character tries to squeeze into the costume that fit him when he was younger and in shape. If I wanted to see Hollywood actors out of touch with reality, I would not need to visit the world of fiction.

The movie even uses “Mission: Impossible”-style face-swapping (albeit with holograms rather than rubber masks) at the end. The scientist that worked for the villains until a moment ago had invented this, but the villains are completely unaware of this, and are easily fooled. Of course, this is set up as a twist to fool the unsuspecting viewers.

Then there’s the perennial problem of the MCU, in a world where the Avengers exist, how can you have solo-hero movies with big-action set pieces without other Avengers getting involved. All the other Avengers were busy that day? The villain has a massive flying fortress lair, and no one ever noticed? And yet, S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up out of nowhere only minutes after it crashes? Somehow, this army of women super-soldiers, originally controlled by Russia, never affected the plot-lines of previous movies?

To ask these questions is to answer them. So to avoid asking them and make sure the omission isn’t too jarring, the writers have to make complex contortions to make the plot seem important and world-endangering, yet not world-altering.

In another painfully obvious scene, the replacement Black Widow is falling to her death, but the old Black Widow jumps after her with a parachute to save her. Moments later, old Black Widow falls to the ground without a parachute, but survives.

The movie has a happy ending. For Disney’s gravy train, that is. We know old Black Widow has her date with death in “Avengers: Endgame” and the replacement Black Widow and the rest of the woman super-assassins will get to serve as eye candy and background decoration for future MCU movies and TV-series.

Coming soon to a streaming service near you.