If there was an origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe we were really waiting for, it was Black Widow's. Enigmatic and with enough hints at a history guaranteed to be gripping, we wonder why the producers left it on the backburner for so long. That the pandemic pushed it's release further is worse.
Our patience seems to have borne sweet fruit though. The film, in a visible departure from MCU's style of storytelling so far, is sensitive and self-aware. When Yelena (Florence Pugh) pokes fun of Natasha's landing pose during fights, we cannot help but laugh out loud. We catch Natasha in exile watching James Bond in Moonraker, which foreshadows the way the villain will bring about his own downfall by talking too much. Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz) up the spirit of the film with their own excellent performances which are cognizant of the genre's campiness. When Natasha's family gets together after ages, their chemistry over the meal is hotter and more delicious than the meal itself. The actors are geeking out and we enjoy it thoroughly.
Many Black Widow loyalists may find it problematic that this film doesn't put her at the centre, rather choosing to give equal screen time and great lines (maybe better ones) to Yelena. Even Alexei and Melina have ample presence in a story meant to be about a singular character rather than an ensemble cast. However, considering Natasha's character is now dead, this becomes a fitting vehicle to introduce us to Yelena, rumoured to be the next Black Widow. The post-credits sequence tell us she is going to have it out with Hawkeye, which seems to make for a thrilling entry into Team Avengers.
The movie does have its flaws. The villain, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) does not inspire as much fear or awe as the trauma and pathos of the Black Widows he has been manufacturing. We would have loved to see more of the Taskmaster's prowess. Nevertheless, the franchise's shift from action to emotion is welcome and for that we have MCU's first woman director, Cate Shortland to thank.