(note: I've done my best to not reveal spoilers... even from End Game if you haven't seen it)
It's been too long since Marvel had a blockbuster in a theater. And the first 10 minutes of Black Widow certainly fills that void. Welcome to stage 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We get the backstory of Natasha and her "family" of Russian spies in an exciting escape scene that satisfies our yearning for big screen action.
Fast forward to the movie's present day, the era in which the Avengers have divorced and are on the run for crimes against the Sokovia Accord. Natasha (the always-on-point Scarlett Johansson) is on the lamb, alone, and longing for the time when she called the Avengers family. But she's right back where she spent much of her life, in solitude and kicking and punching her way through survival. And trying to reconcile her acts as a master assassin long ago.
But soon, she finds out the nefarious organization she once worked for in Russia, is still in action. It was not destroyed as she thought. She meets up with the younger Yelena, played exceedingly well by the versatile Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Little Women). Yelena, freshly turned from the mind control of her Russian overlords and unimpressed by Natasha's Avengers resume, reluctantly joins up with Natasha for the big take down.
They soon meet up with an old friend, Alexi, played by Stranger Things star David Harbour... an aging and slightly scatter-brained former super-soldier. And an all too familiar family friend and scientist, played by Rachel Weiss, shows up. The agents aim to take down the Russian villain , his army of black widows, and his one super-henchman.
Black Widow endeavors to sort out Natasha's ever-continuing quest to explore the meaning of family and belonging. In between some incredulous fight scenes and chases, she comes to realize the Avengers may not be her only family. Her definition of family is stretched to its limits as she comes to terms with the people she grew up with and worked with. Are they motivated by the organization that made them trained killers, or is there a bond between them that goes beyond training and ideology?
It's easy to get carried away with this movie because the franchise hasn't been around in theaters since End Game. But in reality, we have the backstory of one of the characters we've always liked but didn't love. Natasha is easy to respect, but hard to embrace lovingly as a character. While there is some solid repartee and comedy between she and Yelena, it's merely a shell of what we have come to expect from MCU phases 1 through 3. In Black Widow, it's often hard to believe in the intentions and quick turnabouts of character. "Wait. They are a good guy now?" kept running through my head.
I find it hard to believe Black Widow is not trying to serve two purposes. One, it is trying to give the sendoff to Natasha we never got in End Game. And two, it definitely feels like an origin story movie for Yelena (Pugh) and her misfit Father to appear later in the franchise.
Vaguely satisfying and adrenaline filling, Black Widow gives us enough of the familiar and something new to grasp hold of. But some of it is a bit hokey and seems like it's serving the planning board at Disney/Marvel. I wish it served good storytelling first. Not quite a Bourne or Bond movie that much of the movie emulates, it does give us a decent amount of bang for the buck.