The Red Room

Black Widow is a solo movie 11 years in the making. As the twenty-fourth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow finally explored Natasha Romanoff’s mysterious past. Black Widow made her debut in the 1964 Tales of Suspense #52 created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck. Though she was always a Russian spy, her earliest appearances saw her with black hair and casual clothing. It wasn’t until the 1970 The Amazing Spider-Man #86 that John Romita gave Black Widow the red hair, sexy black catsuit, and Widow’s Bite wristbands that we all know and love. I recognized Black Widow for years before she officially gained worldwide popularity in the MCU.

As much as I loved Scarlett Johansson, I never thought a solo film was necessary especially after a major event like Avengers: Endgame. Black Widow is more known for joining teams like the Avengers than she is headlining her own comic book series. So it’s surprising to know a Black Widow movie was in the works since 2004. Marvel foolishly sold the rights to Lionsgate who thankfully didn’t see the potential in a female led action movie at the time. Black Widow is significantly better than Captain Marvel since Natasha grew into such a multilayered superhero over the years. Producer Kevin Feige promised to prioritize a solo movie for years. Making Black Widow the beginning of Phase Four seemed like the right decision for the next saga in the MCU…

51. Black Widow

Black Widow stands with Yelena Belova

Black Widow is specifically the first movie in Phase Four. Although Spider-Man: Far From Home was released in July 2019, Black Widow wasn’t meant to come out until May 2020. Leaving a 10 month window with little to no Marvel content. Then the Pandemic made 2020 the first year since 2009 with zero MCU movies. Black Widow was pushed back to November 2020, May 2021, and finally July 2021. A new line of Disney+ shows had to be fast-tracked in the meantime. Starting with WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki. I grew increasingly nervous that Marvel would give up and dump Black Widow on Disney+. They eventually compromised with a simultaneous release in theaters and on streaming, but it wasn’t free like Wonder Woman 1984. Although my excitement began to waver, my family and I were just happy to see an MCU movie on the big screen again.

Big budget superhero movies need to be seen in theaters. Scarlett Johansson seemed to agree since she sued Disney for the misguided release plan. I’m not saying Black Widow would’ve grossed a billion dollars, but $300 million is unfortunate. Black Widow is yet another female led superhero prequel, but it isn’t a traditional origin story. Setting it before Endgame was the only option after Natasha gave her life to save the universe. So Black Widow takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Lesser known female director Cate Shortland wanted a grounded tone similar to The Winter Soldier. Black Window is a genuine spy thriller with well choreographed action and very little CGI. Despite rumors, don’t expect Iron Man, Captain America, or even Hawkeye to make a physical appearance. MCU references are strictly off handed remarks about everyone from Ant-Man to Thor.

So Johansson finally gets a chance to shine on her own. Even though Hawkeye’s on screen absence makes little sense. The MCU made several changes to Black Widow over the years. Though The Winter Soldier mentioned her comic accurate name Natalia Alianovna Romanova, Iron Man 2 kept the name Natasha Romanoff. Johansson also used her natural speaking voice instead of a more authentic Russian accent. Which feels especially distracting in a heavily Russian solo movie. The Marvel Studios logo is updated to include the best scenes from Endgame. Black Widow begins in 1995 just like Captain Marvel. Ever Anderson looks just like a young Johansson from Just Cause with decade appropriate blue hair. Although Nat claimed the Avengers were her only family, turns out she had an entire Russian family she never talked about. Natasha spent part of her childhood in Ohio with her sister Yelena, father Alexi, and mother Melina. The latter two are revealed to be undercover KGB agents.

The overlong opening shows the family in hot pursuit on a plane with important S.H.I.E.L.D. intel, but not before listening to “American Pie.” When they arrive in Cuba, Natasha and Yelena are drugged and taken to the mysterious Red Room where they’re forcibly trained to become Black Widow spies. The implication of human trafficking is surprisingly dark, but the opening credits are set to a moody version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Some of Natasha’s past was seen in Age of Ultron, but Black Widow continues to be vague about how she met Clint Barton or their eventful trip to Budapest. Jeremy Renner is only a voice cameo when Dreykov’s daughter is killed by Romanoff. What started as a threatening comment from Loki, became the primary catalyst of the movie.

In present day 2016, Natasha is on the run for neutralizing Black Panther and going against the Sokovia Accords in order to help Captain America. General Ross is the only character who returns hunting down a fugitive one last time. This was sadly William Hurt’s final MCU appearance before passing away. Nat goes off the grid in a Norway safehouse where she watches Russian movies like Moonraker. Rick Mason is her only contact who manages to find her important equipment throughout the movie. Although O-T Fagbenle claimed the agent would be a love interest, his character is ultimately forgettable. Black Widow has always been a sexy confidant spy, but Hollywood is too afraid to capture that now. The most we get are lingering shots of Johansson’s butt. The first family member from Natasha’s past is her symbolic sister Yelena Belova.

In the comics, Yelena is the second incarnation of Black Widow. The blonde Russian spy was a sort of protรฉgรฉ to Natalia, but they were never sisters. Breakout star Florence Pugh was perfectly cast as a sarcastic little sister version of Yelena. Pugh actually uses a Russian accent and has a scene stealing sense of humor. Black Widow isn’t humorless, but it is more serious in tone. Yelena continued to kill targets as a Black Widow assassin while Natasha became a public hero after joining the Avengers. She’s only cured of her chemical mind controlling agent by a rogue Black Widow using a red synthetic gas. Yelena sends the antidote to Natasha who is immediately attacked by the movie’s most recognizable villain. Taskmaster is a villain I’ve wanted to see for years. In the comics, Tony Masters is a charismatic talkative mercenary with a photographic memory who copies a superheroes exact fighting style. The movie version of Taskmaster is a disappointment in more ways than one.

This Taskmaster is more like a silent Terminator with no personality and a tech based photographic memory. The white hood, blue suit, and orange accents are accurate, but they couldn’t even give him a proper skull mask. Taskmaster uses a sword, shield, bow, and copies the techniques of Spider-Man, Black Panther, and other heroes. Their first fight is literally evenly matched with plenty of scissor kicks. Romanoff survives long enough to return to Budapest. Natasha and Yelena have a rough Bourne style fight as they reunite for the first time in years. Yelena informs Natasha that the Red Room is still very much active and the chemical antidote inspires them to shut the program down once and for all. Their sisterly relationship is fun with Yelena mocking the way Nat always poses in a superhero landing. They bond over the lives they wished they had and Nat talks about the mother she never knew.

Taskmaster and brainwashed Black Widows track the two former assassins to Budapest where a rooftop pursuit leads to a massive car chase. Black Widow is very much human even though she should’ve died several times in her movie alone. Like when she miraculously survives falling from a building or crashing a car. Since the Black Widows are merely victims of circumstance desperate to be freed, Natasha and Yelena head to a Russian prison on a helicopter in order to break out the next important family member. After the immense failure of Hellboy, David Harbor defected to the MCU. Now Harbor has had a role in a DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse movie. Playing a Russian prisoner named Alexei was perfect irony between Stranger Things. Alexei Shostakov is the seldom talked about super strong Soviet super-soldier Red Guardian. He has a friendly rivalry with Captain America that doesn’t exactly line up. In the comics, Alexei was Romanova’s husband, but in the movie he’s a symbolic father.

Harbor is perfectly good comic relief who manages to squeeze into his old comic accurate Red Guardian costume. The only change is his wild beard and Russian tattoos. Yelena and Natasha are mostly seen in civilian attire before they don white Black Widow suits to match the snowy mountains. I’m not sure why marketing decided to push the white costume so much. Natasha poses again when she fights off Russian guards in order to free Alexei. Yelena causes an avalanche that buries most of the prison. Alexei’s reunion with his girls has a little too much information when they describe the sterilization that they endured. When the helicopter humorously runs out of gas, Alexei directs them to the final member of their family. Rachel Weisz is a decent older Black Widow named Melina Vostokoff. She was originally the villain Iron Maiden in the comics, but now she’s a symbolic mother.

Unlike the others, Melina almost willingly works for the Red Room on a remote Saint Petersburg farm. She’s one of their top scientists who tests her mind controlling methods on pigs. An unusually disturbing scene sees Melina force a pig to stop breathing. Though the dinner scene was nearly cut, it was a perfect opportunity for an emotionally charged vodka fueled reunion. It just goes on too long. Like when Alexei flirts with Melina, the only Black Widow he is romantically linked to. Eventually Natasha has a private discussion with Melina and Alexei fails to comfort an emotionally compromised Yelena. Melina seemingly betrays them by having Dreykov’s forces capture them. A not quite dead Dreykov is the true big bad meant to resemble Harvey Weinstein. Ray Winstone is an accomplished actor, but his attempt at a Russian accent is a little too British. Dreykov remained undetected in a new Red Room hidden inside a flying fortress in the clouds. His evil plan is to deploy several more mind controlled Black Widows all over the world.

SPOILER ALERT! Taskmaster is revealed to be Dreykov’s daughter who was brainwashed by her own father. Turning your daughter into a weapon is definitely evil, but I absolutely hate the way they wasted such a cool villain for the sake of plot convenience. Olga Kurylenko plays the gender swapped Antonia Dreykov who leaves no impression. Natasha managed to get close to Dreykov by using the same facial disguising technology she used in The Winter Soldier. Black Widow’s final appearance is the closest she’ll ever come to full comic accuracy. Her long red hair is tied in a braid, her catsuit is both black & grey, her Widow’s Bite wristbands are finally yellow, and she has a backpack with batons. She switches places with Melina in order to kill Dreykov, but a convoluted pheromone prevents him from being harmed. Although Black Widow was never gonna get an R rating, Natasha being punched in the face by Dreykov and breaking her own nose is surprisingly brutal.

She even says “Thank for your cooperation” just like she did with Loki in The Avengers. Black Widows keep her from finishing the job, but they all get cured by a cloud of red chemicals. Red Guardian fights off Taskmaster by throwing his mighty shield, Melina takes out the Red Room, and Yelena does the Black Widow pose. She delivers the final blow to Dreykov by blowing up his aircraft. As the Red Room falls from the sky, Natasha heroically skydives in order to save her sister. It’s an impressive mid-air climax where Taskmaster attacks Black Widow one last time before being cured. The grateful Antonia is comforted by former Black Widows. Yelena promises to free the rest and gives Nat the green vest with pockets that she loves so much. Turns out that vest is the same one that she wears in Infinity War. As Alexei and Melina say goodbye to their symbolic daughter, Ross manages to catch up with Romanoff.

We just have to imagine what happens next, since the movie abruptly cuts to Natasha with the short blonde hair and vest that she had in Infinity War. She boards a Quinjet on her way to help Captain America. Sadly, that was the last we ever saw of Black Widow. The after-credits scene shows a present day Yelena visit the more intimate gravesite of “Daughter, Sister, Avenger” Natasha Romanoff. It’s an emotional moment interrupted by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was meant to debut in Black Widow, but constant pushbacks led to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier being her first appearance. All we know about the mysterious Val is that she wants to recruit morally ambiguous characters like U.S. Agent and Yelena. She somehow gives Yelena the identity of the man responsible for her sister’s death. Ending with a photo of Clint Barton was ominous, but you’ll have to get your answers in Hawkeye. Black Widow wasn’t entirely worth the wait, but it is the second best superhero movie with a female lead.

52. Black Widow

Black Widow and her family

4 thoughts on “The Red Room

    1. All of my MCU reviews are in depth, because I’m such a big superhero fan. It’s not always a fully enjoyable experience, but my longer reviews allow me to rant or praise them a bit more. We can at least agree that Scarjo is very sexy as Black Widow.

      Liked by 1 person

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