'Black Widow' Review: Not too little, but a little too late

Black Widow's back. For now.

Scarlett Johansson and the cast of 'Black Widow.'
(Image: © Marvel Studios)

What to Watch Verdict

An action-packed and emotional look at Black Widow's past delivers on its premise, but struggles with being so late in Natasha Romanoff's story.


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    ⏳ Brimming with strong action scenes.

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    ⏳ Johansson and Pugh have exceptional chemistry as sisters.

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    ⏳ Black Widow is finally given the opportunity to reconcile both with her past and her future.


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    ⏳ Would have had a lot more impact 5 years ago.

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    ⏳ Fans of the comics may be disappointed by the Disney-fied Black Widow program.

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    ⏳ Some of the humor feels misplaced.

This post contains mild spoilers for Black Widow

Since her introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2010's Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff has been cleaning up after the boys. Tony Stark gets uppity? In comes Nat. Warring factions of Avengers? She's the lynchpin that saves the right side. World gone to hell? Black Widow's the one making the sacrifice play. So of course she's the last one to get her own film.

That may seem like beating a dead horse — gods know how long we've been harping on the fact — but it's actually pertinent to the enjoyment of Black Widow. It's a strong enough film that gives Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) a solid backstory and complicated emotional beats. It also loses some of its impact because we're watching it after her death. While Black Widow does manage to avoid being strictly a set up for Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova to take over the Avenger's mantle, there's little joy in the ending's emotional growth because we know the character will never be given a chance to benefit from it. Natasha Romanoff will go straight into Avengers: Infinity War followed quickly by her untimely end in Avengers: Endgame. But with that in mind, no one directly involved in the creation of this film had any control over how long it took Disney and Marvel to greenlight a flick on the first female Avenger. So, let's take a look at the rest of the film! 

While it may feel like you've seen most of Black Widow already due to the sheer number of trailers, there's a lot you don't know just yet. I'm going to do my best to keep it that way in this review. The gist is pretty simple: Natasha's on the run for violating the Sokovia Accords, and her sister, Yelena, stumbles across something that changes her life for good. This all results in Nat being thrown head-first back into a family dynamic that was never real, and a complicated chapter of her life that she had thought closed after Budapest all those years ago.

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The emotional moments of the film are juxtaposed against a lot of humor — not all of which lands. The sisterly snark between Yelena and Natasha plays like gangbusters in every scene. Describing the horrors of the Red Room and the Black Widow program in a scene that's meant to be solely comedic because Disney's too afraid to get real with its media? That's maybe something we could have done without. The delivery is on point, and using humor to deflect is normal among both trauma victims and these women's characters. It's just frustrating to see the MCU shy away from the terrors that these women are shoved into in favor of hysterectomy humor in the face of a character who is never really forced to reconcile with his crimes. That is to say that David Harbour is exceptional as Red Guardian and Red Guardian is a slime who is never held accountable for his actions outside of a swift punch in the mouth.

With that in mind, enough cannot be said about Florence Pugh and Scarlett Johansson's sisterly chemistry. They bicker their way through the film like many of the MCU's greatest pairings (Thor and Loki, Sam and Bucky, etc.), but they hit the emotional beats just as hard. It's nice to see all the ways Yelena differs from Natasha while still being as strong and capable as her big sister. She's more reckless, but it also makes her a little bit more fun! If you watched Batwoman move from Kate Kane to Ryan Wilder, the two's dynamics will make a lot of sense to you. 

You've already seen a lot of the kitchen fight if you've watched any of the clips, but the action extends much further than that. Black Widow may take more time than other MCU films to focus on emotional impact, but it still kicks the same amount of ass. The Taskmaster fights are an appropriate standout, with the aforementioned full kitchen scene ranking pretty high as well.

There are moments in the third act that may feel subdued, but they hit much harder that way. While Natasha is forced to stare down the problems of her past she had thought she already solved, she remains every bit the spy she's always been. Sleazy men who believe they're three steps ahead of her are no match for Black Widow, Yelena Belova and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). (Weisz is a dream in everything she does, there's just not a lot of ways to talk about her without spoiling the story!) 

Black Widow's ending will leave fans satisfied, though there is a moment that the writers seem to have decided they didn't have an answer to so they just skipped past it and onto the resolution. I'm not here to call out plot holes, but you'll definitely know it when you see it. 

All told, Black Widow is a strong entry into the MCU's cannon. It should have come earlier, and it would have been improved if the creative team didn't have mouse-ear muzzles keeping them from the true horrors of the Black Widow program, but there's a lot to love otherwise. The character deserved her moment in the sun, and she got it. As for Yelena? Well, we'll be seeing a lot more of her in Hawkeye

Amelia Emberwing

Amelia is an entertainment Streaming Editor at IGN, which means she spends a lot of time analyzing and editing stories on things like Loki, Peacemaker, and The Witcher. In addition to her features and editorial work, she’s also a member of both the Television Critics Association and Critics Choice. A deep love of film and television has kept her happily in the entertainment industry for 7 years.