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MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Black Widow — sisters are doing it for themselves

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Super spy Natasha Romanoff discovers that the organisation behind her conditioning is still active and decides to take it down permanently. Dan Jensen checks out the latest instalment in the Marvel franchise.

★★★☆☆

BLACK WIDOW is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet serves as a stand-alone chapter with minimal ties to the other films. If you've never seen a Marvel film before, you could easily pick up what is going on in this one. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha Romanoff, the sleeper agent/super spy who had been working with the Avengers until her demise in 2019's Avengers: Endgame. For those curious as to how she's back again, Black Widow is set in 2016 and works as a backstory to the character where we learn about her past and what led her to become a human weapon.

The plot of the film is incredibly simple: Natasha teams up with her “sister” Yelena (played by the brilliant Florence Pugh) when she discovers that the organisation behind the brainwashing of her and several other girls is still active, setting about on a global mission to put a stop to it once and for all. In the meantime, the man behind the operation, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), sends a new human weapon, Taskmaster, out to stop our heroes from completing their objective.

Here's the thing, if you're one of the many people out there who is tired of the abundance of comic book movies hitting our screens for the past decade or so, you're not likely to be entirely enthusiastic about Black Widow. But this movie is detached from the overall story arc in the MCU and works on its own as a fairly solid, female-led action flick. It's pure popcorn fun and won't change the world, but if you're after two hours of a good time at the cinema, you could do a lot worse than this.

Directed by Australia's own Cate Shortland, Black Widow takes place in various locations around the world including Norway, Budapest and Morocco, utilising the most picturesque aspects of these regions to create an often gorgeous-looking film. The pacing never lets up throughout the entire run time and even scenes of expository dialogue are handled well and never boring. In typical Marvel fashion, there's quite a lot of humour added to the narrative, mostly from Natasha's father figure Alexei, aka the Red Guardian, played by David Harbour. Adding Rachel Weisz as the matriarch of Natasha's faux family solidifies the supporting cast into an ensemble of highly talented actors who each do the best they can with their roles.

After playing the role of Black Widow in the MCU for 11 years now, Scarlett Johansson clearly enjoyed her time (possibly) saying farewell to the character and handing the mantle over to Florence Pugh, who was without a doubt the highlight of the film. Pugh rose to fame in 2019 with breakout roles in Fighting With My Family, Midsommar and Little Women, winning audiences and critics over with vivid performances and establishing herself as a rising star. In Black Widow, she delivers another engaging performance among the explosions and breaking bones and is clearly having a blast as the newest inclusion into the MCU

While Black Widow delivers plenty to satisfy action movie fans, it's definitely not without its flaws. As mentioned previously, the plot is incredibly simple, but that is also the film's biggest downfall. There's just not much substance here and while the character of Natasha Romanoff could easily fit into a spy thriller with a more complex plot, this film doesn't offer much in the way of intrigue. There are positive themes present of female solidarity (aside from a female director, Johansson was also executive producer) and accepting that sometimes family isn't always made of blood relatives, but in the end, you won't feel like you've seen anything new. At its core, Black Widow provides a fairly cut-and-paste action movie formula that requires little in the way of thought and most definitely won't resonate on an emotional level.

But if you're the type of cinema-goer who buys a ticket to just have a good time at the movies, by all means, check it out. In a time where the cinema industry has been crippled by the pandemic, it's important to get people back into theatres and Black Widow offers two hours of pure entertainment. And in typical Marvel fashion, make sure you stick around for a post-credit scene. It's one that will make more sense to those who have seen the Falcon and the Winter Soldier series on Disney Plus, but also serves as a great teaser for the upcoming Hawkeye series.

Black Widow opens in cinemas nationally on Thursday 8 July and on Disney Plus with Premier Access on 9 July.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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