Tropic Sprockets / Black Widow

By Ian Brockway

Black Widow is a positive femme fatale standing for the rights of the individual and the underdog amongst us. She is direct, self-assured, glib but not overbearingly so and she possesses empathy, but she doesn’t suffer fools gladly or tolerate half measures.

Now seen in several films and incarnated by Scarlett Johansson, Black Widow has a near cult following. In the stand alone film “Black Widow” directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault), we have an engaging origin story.

As a young girl, Natasha / Widow is captivated by insects and bioluminescence. She is surrounded by free thought, knowledge and loves her mom and dad.

Suddenly, an agency is after dad and the family is forced to flee.

Natasha and her sister are kidnapped by a secret agency and held against their will.

Their lives are not their own.

The villain here is played to nasty perfection by Ray Winstone, a corpulent man who relishes mocking others.

Adolescence has not been kind to Natasha Romanoff and this superhero film is unique for delving into some upsetting family torment. One does not always know who to trust.

Scarlett Johansson is terrific but the real stand out is Florence Pugh as Widow’s loner, individualist sister Yelena. There is spirit, ambiguity and punch to Pugh’s performance as a special and full bodied character.

While some of the scenes might feel rote or routine, Shortland imbues several combat scenes with momentum and charge. One fight in particular feels inspired by Brian De Palma’s “Carrie.” Each battle is laced with mystery.

While Natasha has non-stop energy reserves, Yelena seems to be guided by whim, emotion and caprice. Her solitary being is mercurial, living for sensation. She often remarks with curiosity on the best way to end her life.

David Harbour (Stranger Things) plays the father figure who tries in vain to capture his youth as a kind of Soviet Era ‘Captain America.” While his role has apprehension and drama, much of his exchanges are employed for laughs.

This is an amphetamine comic action story for the MeToo era—karmic and pointed with stern warnings for male authoritarianism.

What can you say about a superhero who can break her own nose and set it again with a half-smile? Romanoff is a wonderfully righteous, perpetually spinning industry all to herself and she doesn’t disappoint.

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