The reviews embargo has lifted for Black Widow, the inaugural Marvel Phase Four movie. Scarlett Johansson finally gets her chance to dominate the spotlight, having made her Marvel debut way back in 2010's Iron Man 2. And, as if we could forget, the desire to see the Black Widow movie only escalated when the film was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic chaos.
The good news is it's finally here, offering a sturdy showcase for Johansson as the eponymous Natasha Romanoff reckons with her shadowy, pre-Avenger past. Florence Pugh co-stars as Yelena, David Harbour as Alexei/Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz as Melina, all of whom are former Black Widow operatives connected with Natasha's backstory.
So, what did critics make of the movie? Here's a sampling of the responses, which mostly praise the film (directed by Berlin Syndrome's Cate Shortland) as an appreciably grounded, punchy and intriguing addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
"It shouldn't really have taken 11 years for the Widow to get her own standalone adventure," writes Nick De Semlyen in Empire Magazine. "But thanks to some zesty new character dynamics and smart twists, Marvel have finally done her right."
"By the god of thunder, director Cate Shortland demonstrates that art in this Marvel spin-off, which basically functions as a wondrous, two-hour-long goodbye," says Charlotte O'Sullivan in the London Evening Standard. "The goof-ball-ish chemistry between Johansson and Pugh is a joy."
"Johansson brings new layers of vulnerability and self-doubt to a character who’s been given little to do but strike those poses for too long," writes Slate's Dana Stevens, "while Pugh proves that she is the golden girl of casting directors everywhere for a reason: She can nail any emotion from grim determination to childlike neediness and explode off the screen with energy in the action sequences."
"For the most part it’s as briskly enjoyable as the studio’s output tends to be, with likeable characters trading polished repartee while large computer-generated objects explode convincingly in the background," writes Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph. "As tyres screech, absurdly attractive stars dispatch enemy goons and dialogue zings around like ricocheting bullets, you remember why this recipe has worked for so long. But after a break, its shortcomings are that bit more conspicuous."
"Black Widow seems like a missed opportunity – an energetic placeholder in the Marvel Cinematic Universe meant to tide audiences over until a bigger, richer adventure comes along," is the opinion of Screen International's Tim Grierson.
Ann Hornaday gives the following verdict in The Washington Post: "As gratifying as it is that Johansson has finally gotten the movie her character has long deserved — not to mention a worthy and equally watchable foil in Pugh — Black Widow simultaneously feels like too much and too little."
Writes David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter: "Directed by Cate Shortland with propulsive excitement, humor and pleasingly understated emotional interludes, this stand-alone proves a stellar vehicle for Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, given first-rate support by Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour. Shifting away from the superhero template into high-octane espionage thriller territory, it makes a far more satisfying female-driven MCU entry than the blandly bombastic Captain Marvel."
"Black Widow” has action, but at heart it isn’t an action film," writes Owen Gleiberman in Variety. "It’s a tale of people trying to carve out emotions from a place where they can barely feel any... it’s Scarlett Johansson who holds the film together and gives it its touch of soul. Natasha’s desire for vengeance is pulsating, but so are her inner wounds, and Johansson, unusual for the comic-book genre, makes the most vulnerable emotions part of the humanity of her strength. She’s a flame-haired dynamo who needs to slay her former mentor to defeat her own damage."
It'll soon be time to make up your own mind about the first big-screen Marvel movie in two years. Click here to book your tickets for Black Widow, opening on the 7th of July.