This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame

Say what you will about the MCU, it is without a doubt cinema’s most punctual franchise. With 23 films released over 11 years, the arrival of a new MCU film was as regular – and, in the UK, often more predictable – as the changing of the seasons. And then The Event happened (no, not that one), and suddenly two years have passed since their last big screen outing.

No one could have predicted this uncharacteristic gap, but Black Widow is fortuitously well-placed to end it. The first standalone feature for OG Avenger Natasha Romanoff, the action takes place in the recent past, miring the proceedings in the nostalgia of the Infinity Saga’s simpler time – both on and off screen. It builds on the MCU’s mythology while refusing its occasional operatic tendencies, resulting in a contained film that is more taut spy thriller than involved worldbuilding.

Natasha has long been one of the Avengers’ most interesting members – a human amongst superheroes, a woman amongst a horde of ego-driven men – and this film gives her, if not her due, then space to breathe. Moments of quiet intimacy lend some psychological complexity to a character hitherto deployed as a tool for narrative and flirtatious propulsion, and Scarlett Johansson’s double act with Florence Pugh’s adopted sister Yelena grounds Natasha’s moral conflict and desire for atonement in something emotionally real.

Is it, however, too little, too late? It is no coincidence that every woman-led film in the MCU is out of timeline, an afterthought in an otherwise meticulously crafted universe. That Black Widow happened only after the character was killed off in Endgame is a reminder that in this cinematic universe, profit, not innovation, will always drive the story. It’s an undercurrent of cynicism that unsettles, but does not quite throw off, Black Widow’s wholly capable stride.  



CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone

DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland

WRITERS: Jac Schaeffer, Eric Pearson, Ned Benson

SYNOPSIS: Avenger Natasha Romanoff’s past catches up with her in this latest instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.