That the supervillain of Black Widow is Taskmaster—a character able to replicate any technical moves they see—makes for such an obvious metaphor for the film itself that it would be lazy to reference were it not just as aptly mimicking the lazy final product. But this movie sure is a task.
Black Widow’s posthumous solo debut is even more rote than the usual Marvel effort, churning some recycled bits from Bourne, a couple Keri Russell secret agent efforts, some other generic spy movie tropes, and Fighting with My Family (Florence Pugh’s other, better movie about her overweight beardo dad and hot mom training her and her sibling to fight) into its latest beige pulp.
Marvel movies have three real strengths: They joyfully dive headfirst into superhero comic book bullshit; they’re so interconnected that they get the Game of Thrones soap opera “it’s goofy fantasy nonsense but I want to see what happens next” boost; and the casting is nearly always immaculate (we must admit it’s a shame Michael Peña is the better sidekick to Ant-Man than the Wasp and that we don’t know why anyone keeps putting Jeremy Renner in things).
Black Widow basically only gets the last of those benefits. The eponymous superhero is a superhero in name alone. (Hawkeye gets the most shit for being in the same league, but as this movie itself meta-acknowledges repeatedly, Natasha Romanoff mostly just squats in cool poses.) She’s already dead and this takes place in the past, so there’s not really a ton of consequences to its action. So Black Widow, movie and film alike, are left with just its cast. But it’s admittedly a pretty solid cast.
Stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz are charming enough if not completely age-convincing as a faux family. But there are a thousand better movies to glean its middling spy action from. And for as bland as this Marvel film’s ostensible chronological peer, Captain America: Civil War, looked, it’s not much of an upgrade that Black Widow half-asses some “style” with clichéd flourishes like “incredibly dour fluorescent light for badass woman having breakdown in a public restroom’s mirror.” That Black Widow didn’t chop and bleach her hair right there showed incredible restraint.
This may be Marvel’s most purposefully mediocre effort yet. There’s another downtempo cover in there (fucking “Smells Like Teen Spirit” this time, almost seven years since riding this decade-old trend with Age of Ultron); Taskmaster’s new costume, seemingly meant to normalize that Taskmaskter is just a dorky comic book Grim Reaper with a skull head and hood, now instead looks like 1991’s equally dorky fourth iteration of G.I. Joe’s Snake Eyes (his ORIGINS in theaters soon!); and it’s completely unclear why Florence Pugh’s character, entering Russia years after learning English in America, develops a cartoonish accent that would stand out in Party Down’s Russian mob episode.
Yet Marvel loosely succeeded in their, ugh… task. It’s certainly not their best but definitely not their worst effort—just another one shoved into the stack, a pair of socks forced down the side of the laundry bag to avoid doing anything with this pile of increasingly stinky clothes, good and bad alike. Its main fault is having a movie with Ray Winstone as a (sort of?) central character, making him say, “Using the only natural resource the world has too much of: GIRLS,” and not making this a raunchy college comedy. They could have remade Back to School with Ray Winstone playing it utterly dry, and, for better or worse, that would be a far more memorable movie than this thing that you will immediately forget William Hurt was in. William Hurt’s guy in a military outfit is back, folks! Don’t forget! Or immediately do. Who cares?
Director: Cate Shortland
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Runtime: 134 minutes
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, William Hurt(?)