The wait for the premiere of ‘Black Widow’ is over 1:18
(CNN) – “Black Widow” finally hits screens big and small after a delay of more than 14 months, during which time the Marvel banner has been streamed on Disney +.
While that stretch has likely fueled pent-up demand, it has also shown that the comic book-based pop culture titan can tell a variety of stories. And this one is close to the formula from a Jason Bourne movie.
The approach works, to a large extent, in a smaller way, thanks in part to the sharpness of the action, whose fight sequences have as much in common with the kinetic look of the Bourne saga as the superhero-style pyrotechnics. Although there is a good amount of that as well.
However, what really defines the film is meeting the main character’s other “family”, whose members are equally colorful, eccentric and deadly.
Set during the window between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” the film begins with an extended prologue that includes additional details about the childhood and origins of young Natasha Romanoff.
An assassin turned Avenger
Jumping forward, the plot finds Scarlett Johansson’s killer-turned-Avenger on the run from the government. That leads her to reconnect with her spy family and to the discovery of a nefarious program – used to control other “widows”, trained with their special abilities – that needs to be stopped.
Like the Bourne films, Natasha was the product of an obscure government team rooted in the Cold War mindset, only on the Russian side. That includes a ruthless mastermind named Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and his desire both to atone for the past and to end the source that caused it.
The mission reunites Natasha and her sister Yelena, played in a scene-stealing style by Florence Pugh. Not only is she as deadly as she is, but she gets most of the best thickly accented lines.
Yelena, who is a bit foul-mouthed – like everyone else here – has followed Natasha’s career with interest, leading to many references to the Avengers between fights and flashbacks.
Other key figures from the couple’s youth are the self-absorbed Alexei (“Stranger Things” David Harbor), who spends a lot of time fondly exaggerating his glory days as a Soviet hero, the Red Guardian. And Melina (Rachel Weisz), whose role is significant but relatively limited.
Another Marvel bet on a heroine in “Black Widow”
Directed by Cate Shortland from a script attributed to Eric Pearson (“Thor: Ragnarok”) with contributions from others, “Black Widow” has the advantage of being positioned as a standalone adventure given Natasha’s ultimate destiny. Sure it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without spreading seeds that could be harvested elsewhere. Inevitably, the climactic part is a bit chaotic in the quest to present varied players at once.
While Marvel has made concerted progress in establishing heroines, “Black Widow” represents a welcome showcase for Johansson. The actress originated the character for “Iron Man 2,” as the studio used the Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor films as its initial building blocks.
Both she and Marvel have come a long way since then, adding emotional weight to the character, who expresses her desire to prove that she has become “more than a trained assassin.”
Thus, the film plays like a sentimental closing of a door as the company turns to its next carefully orchestrated phase. An opportunity to say goodbye to an old friend while expanding the rather limited view of her world.
If that’s not the same epic feeling as the last time fans saw Natasha, it’s certainly not a bad excuse, especially after this long wait, to get back to a movie theater.
“Black Widow” opens this July 9 in theaters in the United States and for a premium rate on Disney +. It is classified as PG-13.