Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone
The first solo (and posthumous) outing for the Marvel heroine is a fun if overlong and busy mashup of 70s era Bond globetrotting espionage picture and dysfunctional family comedy drama.
It gets off to dramatic start in the 1995-set prologue in Ohio where a seemingly all-American family consisting of the thirteen-year-old Natasha, her younger sister, mother (Weisz) and father (Harbour) have their evening meal interrupted when the dad announces they have to flee the country. Racing to the countryside with the authorities in hot pursuit, they barely make it on to a plane which takes them to Cuba. It turns out that they are a fake family, a cover for ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ who are Russian spies. Noting the girls’ fiery spirit, the sinister Russian General Dreykov (Winstone) has them drugged and transported to his secret base, the Red Room to be trained as ‘Widow’ assassins. This opening and subsequent title sequence owe more than a little to TV’s excellent ‘The Americans’.
Jump forward to after ‘Captain America: Civil War’ where the defected Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Johansson) is on the run from the US military. She makes her way to Norway then Budapest where she is reunited with her adoptive sister Yelena (Pugh) who is now working as a freelance assassin. After initially locking horns their sisterly bond kicks in and they agree to team up in order to enact revenge on Dreykov. They decide to get their ex-parents involved too, mother Melina (a compellingly enigmatic Weisz) who is living on a remote farm, and father Alexei, who it is revealed was once the Red Guardian, Russia’s answer to Captain America, but who has since gone to seed and is now languishing in a high security Serbian jail.
The plot is overstuffed, but it moves along at a propulsive rate and the cast keep the action grounded. Australian director Shortland who helmed such female-centred pictures as ‘Somersault’ and ‘Berlin Syndrome’ brings a refreshing intimacy and winning humour to the sequences where Natasha and Yelena become reacquainted. Pugh continues to impress as Yelena, spiky, irreverent and lethal but vulnerable and compassionate too, while Harbour is a lot of fun as the blustering Alexei, tearfully reminiscing about his glory days as the Guardian. Winstone’s Russian accent gives way to his native cockney on a couple of occasions but he brings a real sweaty, brutish menace to the patriarchal heavy.
The climax in which the family storm the baddy’s lair, while dizzyingly vertiginous, descends into the usual CGI-heavy plausibility-trashing action fare, but that’s pretty much a given at this point.
Black Widow is released on 7th July
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm