At long last, and more than five years overdue, Black Widow has her own movie. The teaser for Black Widow was released this morning, and it looks…fine. If this was coming out sometime between 2012 and 2015, when fans were most loudly clamoring for a Black Widow standalone movie, it would probably play better. But now it’s past due, and worse, it has to justify the long-ass wait. I am not sure this teaser justifies waiting almost a decade to make a Black Widow movie, and then making one that looks just fine.
The time for a Black Widow movie was either right after The Avengers or after Captain America: Winter Soldier, two of Natasha Romanoff’s strongest character appearances in the MCU, and also two movies that touched on her mysterious past, providing perfect opportunities to open the door further and learn more about the First Lady of the Avengers. By the time Avengers: Age of Ultron came out in 2015, it was too late. Fans were moving on to the second generation of characters, and Natasha got saddled with an ill-fated and ill-suited romance with Bruce Banner—I understand why he is the Avenger she would be attracted to, but it never should have been played past casual flirtation—which turned a lot of fans away from her character. And then Scarlett Johansson started talking, and didn’t stop talking, and even more people checked out on ScarJo, and Natasha by association. Then she f-cking died in Endgame and so the character is now a dead end (no pun intended). We’re getting the backstory just in time for it to contribute nothing and go nowhere. This is truly the first major, and arguably only, character misstep Marvel has made. They never really seemed to have a handle on Natasha, they underestimated the fans’ desire to see a feature movie about a girl, and then they chased down the bus and hopped on long after the party ended.
But I think maybe they know all that, because Black Widow isn’t just about Natasha, it is also our introduction to Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh. The reason to stick with Black Widow is less about Natasha, and more about Yelena. She’s going to be the legacy handoff; she’ll be the Black Widow of the next decade. And Florence Pugh, in case you somehow missed her over the last couple years, is AWESOME. All the best stuff in this teaser is either Pugh or David Harbour (as Red Guardian, the USSR response to Captain America). We don’t see enough of Rachel Weisz to get excited, but I am generally interested to see what she does in this movie. We also get a glimpse of the villain, Taskmaster, in action. That’s not Hawkeye chasing Natasha, that’s Taskmaster, who absorbs the fight style of everyone they come into contact with, which includes, obviously, Clint Barton. This movie is set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, so this is presumably Natasha on the lam, teaming up with her old Soviet murder family to take care of some business.
I like the idea of the murder family, I’m just not super into the business. You know what bums me out in this teaser? The shot of Natasha free-diving amongst assassins and debris. I am way more into the bit with Natasha and Yelena going at it in the apartment—shades of Atomic Blonde—and the last bit with the murder family at the table. The big comic book-looking action stuff totally turns me off. We’re in the second decade of the MCU, these movies can look different. It’s okay if one of them doesn’t end in city-destroying action. If ever a Marvel movie could go small, it’s Black Widow, but apparently it’s not going to. It sort of looks like a Mission: Impossible movie, with the combination of spy story and large scale action. But the appeal of Mission: Impossible is Tom Cruise doing ludicrous stunts—we know Scarlett Johansson didn’t hurl herself off a collapsing building and dodge live bullets mid-air—so the appeal here is not the same. Still, I’m going to watch this movie, and I bet you are, too. I’m watching for Florence Pugh, though, and I hope we don’t have to wait years for her character to get her own movie, too. I hope Marvel has learned something from Natasha, and they’re ready with a full plan for Yelena. They whiffed with Natasha, so there is no excuse for not hitting a home run with Yelena.