The best thing about Black Widow, besides its widescreen wanderlust whittled down to a viral velocity, is not Scarlett Johansson. Don’t get me wrong. She is fantastic in the title role. But Florence Pugh who plays her sister is even better. What a find she is! Pugh (not to be confused with Kareena Kapoor’s vain and self-absorbed Poo) gives to the sibling’s role a kind of subtle thrust that makes the whole family thing work within the plot’s adrenaline rush of action and reaction.
At its heart—and this is one rare super-hero film that does have one—Black Widow is about keeping the family together and it doesn’t have to be a family forged from blood. A lot of blood is spilt to get to this realization. Somehow the director Cate Shortland (whose earlier works Lore and Berlin Syndrome indicated cursorily the epic route that she has adopted in Black Widow) never leaves the narrative short of breadth even when the plot gets furiously flimsy, inducing wasteful action sequence in the name of whimsy.
The later sequences where the two “sisters” (who are not really sisters) battle the blustering baddie Taskmaster (the Ukranian actresss Olga Kurylenko) and her daddy dearest Dreykov (Ray Winstone) feels like attractive padding in a plot where the ladies, if given an opportunity, would rather expend their emotional energy than their vent their superhero spleen.
Admittedly the chase sequences are to die for. Which is what the villains in hot pursuit do, as the two sisters flee their common enemies and from one another with uncommon stealth and splendour. The action scenes are spectacularly staged and Johansson is fully up to it. She doesn’t allow the brilliant camera (Gabriel Beristain) to control her agility. This is fully physical performance, virile and sexy in a very asexual way.
But I felt the younger sister played by Florence Pugh (memorable earlier too in Lady Macbeth) stealing up stealthily from behind, outdoing Johansson in both the stunts and the drama (sometimes the stunts are so dramatic, it is hard to tell one from the other). Another memorable performance comes from Rachel Weisz as Natasha and Yelena’s adopted mother. Wiesz beings in a motherly wisdom, countering her screen husband (David Habor)’s fumbling parenting with an instinctive wisdom.
The film is well paced and allows the characters to grow naturally from dormant to driven.
Black Widow is not a great super-hero film by any stretch of the imagination. But it allows the plot to dilate and spread its wings without unnecessarily complicating the storytelling. The fact that Johansson won’t be returning for another Black Widow film dampens the spirit. Damn, just when the proceedings were warming up!
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