Written by David Holland
Today we are diving into a spy thriller. Our story begins with a Cold War era family of apparently ordinary Americans. In reality, however, these are Soviet spies in deep cover on a top secret mission to infiltrate the United States and steal its secrets. That’s right, today I will be profiling the FX network’s hit show “The Americans”! Wait, that doesn’t sound right. Is that right?
One of my favorite MCU films is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“. It feels like a spy thriller, a Jason Bourne movie that also involves superheroes. “Black Widow” captures a similar feel, bringing a Cold War story into the present in a way that should make most recent James Bond movies jealous.
I won’t get into every nitty-gritty detail, but I will give a quick plot overview. Natasha is on the run after the events of “Captain America: Civil War“, but gets drawn back into a conflict she thought was long over. Years ago, Black Widow believed she had killed Dreykov, the man in charge of the Soviets’ training facility for female assassins known as the Red Room. Romanov herself was a product of the Red Room, as were Yelena and Melina, who played the roles of her sister and mother respectively, on a deep cover mission in America for several years. Alexei, who pretended to be her father, was the Soviet superhero known as Red Guardian, a Supersoldier now in prison on trumped up charges.
In the present, Romanov learns that Dreykov is actually alive, no longer operating the Red Room for the Soviets, but using it independently to serve his own needs. In an effort to bring Dreykov down, she reunites with her “sister”, Yelena. Together the pair break Alexei out of prison and then find their mother. They decide that they will bring Dreykov down, not with the help of the Avengers, but instead as the strongest group their is… at least in Fast and Furious logic.
Together, the Widows infiltrate Dreykov’s Red Room and confront him. His remaining Widows, literally enslaved at the neurological level, are freed. The Red Room is destroyed at last, and Dreykov is finally killed. The family goes their separate ways for the time being, until Yelena visits her sister’s grave after the events of Endgame. The touching moment is interrupted by Lady Hydra, who attempts to recruit Yelena to kill the man “responsible” for her sister’s death: Hawkeye.
What does it mean for the MCU?
I will admit that the timing of “Black Widow” feels odd. After all, it is set after the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, a film that came out in 2016. Kind of a lot has happened in the MCU since then, most notably the death of the main character of this film (Spoiler, I guess? Seems like you should know). It doesn’t seem likely that Natasha Romanov will have much of a role in the MCU in Phase 4 or beyond, although this is a comic book universe so nothing is certain. If that’s the case, we should ask a few questions:
First, why make this movie? On one level, it is way overdue. Natasha Romanov has been in the MCU since 2010. The year she made her appearance in Iron Man 2, Barack Obama was still in his first term as President, the band One Direction was formed, and Instagram was launched. In the first phase of the MCU, Phil Coulson played the role of “the glue”, a term affectionately coined by Coulson actor Clark Gregg. In many ways, Romanov picked up that role after Phase 1. She played a pivotal role in both “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War”, not to mention appearances in every “Avengers” film. By “Endgame”, Romanov was essentially running what remained of The Avengers and SHIELD, serving as the nexus of the intergalactic super-team preventing full-blown chaos in the wake of The Snap. The character deserved this movie. I have said before that it was shameful that it took the MCU so long to produce its first female-led solo movie. I don’t have a problem with that first movie going to Captain Marvel, but I do think it was a shame that it took the MCU so long to produce a movie for a character with a backstory that is ripe with material. Heck, fans have been making their own material for such a movie since “The Avengers” based on a throwaway joke.
Why make this movie? Black Widow is an interesting character, one who has grown and developed in fascinating ways over the course of other characters’ films. The character deserves to have her story told, and the audience deserves to see it.
Second, how does this movie advance the MCU? This question doesn’t have an obvious answer. After all, we know that Black Widow is dead. Professor Hulk with all of the Infinity Stones could not bring her back. So what does “Black Widow” tell us about the direction of Phase 4? First, we are getting a clearer picture of the breadth of the Supersoldier Serum. For most of the MCU, Steve Rogers has been the only Supersoldier, end of story. But obviously there is more to it than that. The Hulk only exists because Bruce Banner was trying to recreate the Serum. In “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” we learn that The Power Broker had more doses of the Serum, which were stolen by Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers. Not only that, but Isaiah Bradley was injected with functioning Serum. Now, Red Guardian is proof that the Soviets either stole a dose or created their own version of the Serum. If that’s the case, Supersoldiers could have a major role to play in this Phase of the MCU, as could the extended network of other Widows unleashed at the end of this film. And of course there is a character connected to both “Falcon and Winter Soldier” and the “Black Widow” end credits scene, there to try and collect another prize. Perhaps this means Yelena will take on the role of Black Widow in a similar vein to Sam Wilson becoming Captain America. This could be addressed in the upcoming “Hawkeye” series, due to drop later this year.
“Black Widow” mixes intense action with emotional depth and delivers an overdue story for a character with a long history in the MCU. Anyone tempted to overlook it risks missing out on a genuinely great installment in Marvel canon.
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