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My Black Widow (2021) Review (best movie of 2013 with 1985 geopolitics for some reason)

My personal frustration with MCU things, especially at this point in the franchise, is that the stories can be so large-scale in their stakes, so inevitably intertwined with each other, reliant on knowledge of previous content from the universe, that the stories blend together and feel less impactful on their own. Despite, or maybe because of this frustration, Black Widow ended up standing out to me, and I wasn’t even originally planning to see this movie. I know that enthusiasm for a Black Widow movie ended up waning significantly over the years due to both Time Passing as Normal, Natasha Romanoff’s less-than-tasteful death in Avengers Endgame, as well as folks understandably becoming more jaded about liberal white feminism’s focus on (white) female representation without taking into account other intersecting factors. Partially because of the aforementioned reasons, I wasn’t necessarily the most interested in seeing the movie right away, but yesterday I ended up seeing it with some family and friends at the theater and thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Black Widow has its references to the rest of the MCU events in order to give it context within the timeline, but thankfully doesn’t just feel like a parade of external references and easter eggs to keep track of for the casual viewer. The action is engaging, never once feels tedious, and has consistent compelling emotional and physical stakes to it. The family angle is a nice framing that really helps to keep the story’s tensions and relationships feel more intense and intimate in contrast to the wider globe-hopping narrative. Unfortunately, its adherence to classic action movie tropes gives it some annoyingly Cold War geopolitics and tiring comic book Eastern European cliches, but it’s ultimately a work that knows what it’s trying to do, and executes it very well in a way that works almost as a standalone movie.


I REALLY appreciated that the movie doesn’t feel the need to constantly stop and obnoxiously Over Explain all the details of what is going on, and actually trusts the intelligence of the audience to figure out what’s going on from…..you know….. actually watching and observing the movie. It allows itself to have its moments of sincerity and vulnerability without feeling the need to laugh its way out of it constantly with snappy banter or clever wit. Yelena and Natasha have a lot of funny and clever conversations, but their interactions feel very intentional and reveal more about their relationship, with the undercurrents of familial love through frustration and bitterness feel very heavy and apparent throughout. 


If I had to summarize the most standout part about Black Widow, it would be that it knows the scale of the story it is telling, chooses its priorities to focus on, and doesn’t attempt to bite off more than it can chew.  An action movie isn’t necessarily the best medium for conveying the most complex aspects of trauma, familial relationships, and political dynamics; it’s inherently a story that will be highly stylized and simplified by nature. The movie is very aware of this, and when it comes to establishing its world, it leans into its cartoonish backdrops, funky technology, and character types, painting them in broad, but bold and stylish strokes. Rather than being surprised at new revelations or universe twists pulled out of the blue, the way that the movie moves through and hits all the fun action movie expectations–the car chase, the tense shootings, the prison break, the plan that goes wrong but then goes right, the vulnerable villain encounter–it all feels satisfying. It promised a meal and delivered it. And to top it off, without a lot of the tiring and bullshit misogyny associated with older spy/action movies, for that matter!


Unfortunately, this strength of knowing its scale and genre very well is also what makes the movie feel incredibly dated. This movie, which already feels like it should have been prioritized and put out in 2013, has the geopolitical politics of 1985 for some reason. I understand that the aesthetics and tropes of the action movie, as we know it, is inextricably linked with Cold War politics, but it just feels incredibly cringe to sit through the Russian Stereotypes of the Evil Organizations who are evil specifically because they are Ruining the idyllic existence of the American Family. Not that it’s super surprising from the MCU, given that the idea of the American Nuclear Family™ is often upheld as a narrative shorthand for virtue, desirability, and normalcy, especially with the events of endgame where Natasha ultimately sacrifices herself so that Clint Barton can return to his homestead. Expected, but tiring. 

sees the opening sequence of this movie, which I cannot reproduce here: Wait that looks familiar, I too have watched (some of) The Americans (2013) lmao. Although to be FAIR I’m not versed enough in aesthetics and it could really just be a “pulling from similar source materials” thing. But also seeing the (switching to new exotic location with Big Bold Letters explaining Where you Are) Just made me really really miss Killing Eve so there’s that too……stylized spy stuff sure is a Thing I guess


That being said, because the focus of the story is ultimately focused on Natasha and aspects and history specific to Natasha, it’s not attempting to be a political story as much as it is a personal one. Her story exists in a stylized world of cloaks and daggers and mind-controlled spy girl agents that is just as fantastical as Thor on Asgard, a world where the Bad Guy can sit in a creepy looking James Bond looking vintage office with a giant map showing all the people he can control from his fingertips. The political messages, like how they are in most Marvel movies (or most media in general I feel) , are incidental, a result emerging from the story’s construction, existence, and context in time, and not a “theme” of it per se. I think this makes for a stronger story, as it is purposefully NOT trying to make slightly-cringey Vague Statements connecting or paralleling it to the seriousness of how The Real World Works or whatever, which is what I felt The Winter Soldier and Falcon and the Winter Soldier were trying to do, and what I dislike about both those works. 


(Sidenote, but it’s really funny to mention but as a big MCU Steve/Bucky shipper it may seem surprising but I am of the Unpopular Stucky Opinion of NOT really liking Captain America: The Winter Soldier all that much–I like lots of individual parts of it, since there are many scenes that are just beautifully executed, and I love the extreme romantic drama of it all, but god it sure took itself so seriously. Whenever the MCU tries to Do A Serious Politic it just feels very weak, honestly, and ends up getting undone in the next movie bc a different director has a different vision. Like guys we KNOW you’re getting that US Military dollar…or if not, you’re basing it off stylistically off older movies that WERE funded by US military dollar…this makes it all feel so damn hollow. If ur gonna be an idealistic fantasy lean more INTO IT, but that’s just my personal taste.)

(Sort of Spoiler Warning)


Hearkening back to what I said earlier about the movie not necessarily over-explaining how its world worked and leaving a lot of it up to imagination, for barely showing it, it did a really good job of establishing the role of the Red Room and the Black Widows quickly and efficiently. The in-story explanation that the girls are picked specifically because the villain implies that there will always be an endless amount of discarded, abandoned girls in the world to be exploited as resources for their spy army–and with the further assumption from the audience that this is a direct result of patriarchal norms and devaluation of young girls across the globe–was very chilling. It did not make that statement aloud, but I felt like it was something that would probably be understood. It doesn’t allow itself to get into the darker implications of that subject, but lingers on it enough and moves past it quickly enough to allow the story to keep its fantastical tone. 


In the end, as I mentioned, and as a casual and somewhat-cynical Marvel enjoyer, I’m glad I got to watch this, especially on the big screen. I like things that are well-put together, I like some good action and sisterly relationships, I like stories that most of all know what they are and what they’re trying to do. It does feel frustratingly politically dated and stereotypical in very cringey ways, but for a “Strong Female Character Movie” I appreciated that it was less focused on the “Girlboss” feminism style of character (to be honest, I feel like that’s been passing out of style for a long time anyways) and allowed its protagonist to have a focus on vulnerability and sincere relationships alongside kicking ass. Most of all, I was glad to not have to be reminded of having to watch or reference 10 different other MCU movies for once in the middle of watching one, and just be swept up in the ride of the action. 

BONUS THOUGHTS:

-Why the hell was Spiderman Far From Home a weird globehopping tech spy flick. Now THAT’s a movie that very much is a “doesn’t know what it is” and “biting off subjects much uncomfortably bigger than it can chew” in my humble opinion.

-Even Endgame knew what it was about and it was “Magic intense ultimate result of power-creep extravaganza” and “nuclear family idolization propaganda.” Neither of which I find particularly Fun but it had intention I Guess

-I haven’t read the comics so I don’t really have the COMICS perspective on how this or that should’ve been regarding Black Widow and her backstory. Which on one hand I think works out for me because I could see the movie without preconceptions and didn’t get to be disappointed by what was changed or included.

-As far as Trailers go I also have no idea what GI Joe Snakeeyes is about but the trailer looked really compelling and I might want to hop in to see it just to see another hopefully well done Action Movie (that to me seems to have a 90s/early 2000s classic feel as well. Also as much as I did enjoy her performance in this movie, after seeing Scarlett Johanssen I feel like I need to Extra Support my fellow Asians I guess /hj

Author: maiden theory

I'm just a Bird whose intentions are good

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