The new Marvel Comics entry Black Widow adds to the franchise with one element of originality: its heroine needs no love interest. This distinguishes it from the DC Comics Wonder Woman, which already demonstrated box office success despite breaking ground with both a woman superhero and female director. Black Widow Director Cate Shortland stages big scenes smoothly. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson blends physicality with the acting authority to make roles feel human even though they require phenomenal agility, exaggerated body parts, and incredible beauty.
Given how the Marvel Universe finds separate stories for most characters, it only seems fair that the Black Widow gets her own origin story. This one goes back twenty years when the Widow…a.k.a. Natasha, lived in Ohio as part of a small family. But the nuclear unit gets disbanded when the U.S. government descends, not a bad idea since the fake parents actually work under cover as part of a terrorist cell. All these years later, it turns out each individual in the cell liked that sense of family—and aside from all the chases, explosions, and stunts in between, that pretty much covers the plot, no romance required.
While I certainly enjoyed Wonder Woman’s use of Chris Pine, it turns out Black Widow works just fine without a leading man in the mix. With effects laden action in place of story, the movie bears both the good and bad points of any Marvel franchise entry. On the good side comes a cast of strong performers with awards credentials: Oscars for Rachel Weisz and William Hurt, plus a turn on the 2019 Academy circuit by Johansson in Jo Jo Rabbit, competing for supporting actress against Frances Pugh with Little Women. Pugh, in a humorous and well-written role, steals all her scenes from her fellow performers, though none of them seem to mind.
Humor plays a helpful role in Black Widow, as it does in other Marvel projects with Thor and Ant Man. Those characters, along with Captain America, get mentioned in Black Widow, and as with any franchise, having some background in the series helps viewers. Given that the franchise includes the biggest moneymaking movie of all time, millions—or is that zillions?—of viewers know the key names and backstory in Black Widow’s life. A huge audience anxious for a new entry in the series means reviews probably work primarily as a calendar reminder about the release date plus notice that the movie screens on both Disney Plus and in theaters—with an additional reminder: all those stunts and explosions look better on a big screen.