Total Film

BLACK WIDOW

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At long, long, long last, it’s game on for Romanoff.

This standalone movie for Scarlett Johansson’s super-skilled but not superpower­ed Avenger feels like it’s been a long time coming - and not just because it’s been mooted since her MCU debut all the way back in 2010’s Iron Man 2.

As if the wait hadn’t been protracted enough already, the pandemic has seen Black Widow’s release postponed by more than a year until now, as it arrives both in cinemas and on Disney+ (with a Premier Access price tag). For a film that’s kicking off Phase 4, Black Widow is an atypical franchise instalment. By necessity, it’s a prequel, Natasha Romanoff’s arc having definitive­ly ended in Endgame. Mostly set in the time between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, the film doesn’t have the propulsive whathappen­s-next momentum the MCU

often trades on. Instead, it’s a breather, a chance to put the spotlight on a character who’s never quite been centre stage, and dig into her chequered past.

CURTAIN DOOM

It kicks off with a prologue set in 1995. In Ohio, a seemingly perfect family is happily playing outside. It’s only when dad returns home – from a day at the office so rough they have to evacuate the house – that it becomes clear all is not what it seems. It’s an immensely effective opener, demonstrat­ing the key strength director Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore) brings to the table: intimate character moments foreground­ed in a film that’s still largely a non-stop action ride.

When the story picks up 21 years later, Natasha is giving the slip to General Ross (William Hurt) and heading to a safe house in Norway, where a trusted fixer (O-T Fagbenle) has set her up with essentials. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Natasha to be sent on the run again, and into the orbit of Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, another Widow with whom Natasha shares an intensely personal connection. Their resolve to destroy the Black Widow programme and its overseer, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), sends them on a globe-trotting mission to reunite with parental figures Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour). Melina’s an OG Widow, and Alexei is Russia’s answer to Captain America (in his own mind, at least), the Red Guardian.

The Marvel movies have often found success by grafting comic-book

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