‘Black Widow’ continues the Phase 4 transition

Scarlett Johansson (‘Marriage Story’) and Florence Pugh (‘Little Women’) portray the Romanoff sisters in ‘Black Widow,’ Disney’s latest installment in the MCU franchise. // Photo courtesy of Disney

Our Take: 4 Stars

Time and time again, Marvel Studios has used its blockbuster formula to serve up home runs. Taking a page out of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, Marvel’s latest, “Black Widow,” presents a solid action flick with a fun family dynamic thrown in.

“Black Widow” attempts to echo similar themes to “Captain America: Civil War,” the film that precedes it in the MCU timeline. With additional inspiration drawn from spy movies — going so far as to clip 007 — the movie has a much more direct motive than others in the MCU.

As the transition to Phase 4 of the MCU kicks off, “Black Widow” provides a nice send-off to Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, ‘Marriage Story) while successfully introducing her successor, her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh, ‘Little Women’). Pugh, who has been met with a warm reception, has ensured Yelena will not be a drop in Marvel’s deep pocket of characters. Pugh is coming back for Disney Plus’s “Hawkeye,” and fans are glad to see her stick around.

“Black Widow” begins with a flashback to the typical midwestern suburbs, where young Natasha seems to be leading a normal life with her parents and sister. The opening sequences are interspersed with flashes of the mysterious “Red Room” and the Widows who are trained there. The film then skips forward in time to find Natasha on the run after breaking the Sokovia Accords in “Civil War.”

After Natasha receives a package from her sister, she begins to understand what happened to the Widow program after she left, and the two of them reunite to learn the truth and shut down the program. As the film progresses, viewers finally gain some insight into the past that Natasha has been so hesitant to face since her character’s first appearance in “Iron Man 2”.

Seeing Natasha finally face her past only makes the sacrifice she made in “Avengers: Endgame” feel more powerful. The characteristic conflict between her lone wolf personality and her longing to be accepted into a family is fleshed out through her interactions with her makeshift family. The film’s insight into her softer side only makes her departure from the Avengers hurt more.

Much of the makeshift family dynamic in “Black Widow” is effective due to the wonderful cast of supporting actors. David Harbour’s (“Hellboy”) Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz’s (“The Lobster”) Melina create a lighthearted, aloof atmosphere around their ‘daughters’ and gave depth and humor to what could have been a no-nonsense action movie.

The film is a visual stunner, with an abundance of high-octane sequences and deep reds and whites to emphasize specific actions and environments. The score, produced by Lorne Balfe, isn’t in your face and obnoxious, unlike many MCU soundtracks.

In terms of action shots and choreography, Black Widow doesn’t miss, drawing from spy movie classics and an abundance of powerful superhero stunts. With enough chaos to keep a person engaged but not enough to make any frame cluttered, the choreography keeps viewers on the end of their seats.

While far from the MCU’s best or most memorable movie, “Black Widow,” provides an excellent story with a decent execution.

But more importantly, it has reminded Marvel fans that the MCU isn’t going anywhere and that Phase 4 is only just beginning.