Scarlett Johansson plays Natasha Romanoff, a Russian super-spy turned Avenger in this semi-origin story that opens with her as a tween in suburban Ohio. Her bucolic life shatters when authorities discover her family is a sleeper-cell, forcing them to flee to Cuba. There, she’s separated from her kid sister and shipped off to the Black Widow super-spy training program.
Fast-forward to the present. A message from her sister—now a Black Widow herself played by Florence Pugh—reunites the siblings, but they’re pursued by a mysterious assailant able to mimic the fighting style of anyone it sees.
This part of the film works the best, with some Russo-brothers style action chases. But soon the sisters are breaking their father out of a Gulag prison and the film slows. It struggles to mesh the prior comic book escapism with an earnest exploration of family dynamics and female empowerment. Early on, there’s a scene where Johansson’s watching a Roger Moore James Bond entry. This film’s tonal shift feels as organic as it would in that film.
Even worse, the finale sees the sisters battling not an Avengers-level big-bad, but a sleazy glorified pimp. Granted, Ray Winstone shines in the role, oozing smarm at every turn, but he seems minor league compared to other Marvel antagonists. Black Widow is an Avenger. She fights alongside Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk, not behind them. She deserved better.