Black Widow review round-up: Critics praise ‘gritty’ film that’s ‘the least Avenger-like movie in the series so far’

·3-min read
Black Widow (Marvel)
Black Widow (Marvel)

The reviews are in for Marvel’s delayed superhero blockbuster Black Widow– and according to many critics, it was very much worth the wait.

The first entry in phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe sees Scarlett Johansson reprising the role of former KGB spy Natasha Romanoff.

She is joined by an all-star supporting cast including Stranger Things star David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh.

Directed by Cate Shortland, the standalone Black Widow follows the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and finds Romanoff reckoning with her past.

Originally expected to arrive in May last year, the chaos of the pandemic resulted in its release date being shifted multiple times and it has finally settled on a release date of 9 July in the UK.

The Independent’s critic Clarisse Loughrey gave the film three stars, writing: “Black Widow is a valiant but chequered attempt to do right by the legacy of Marvel’s first female Avenger.”

She added that while “the action often dissolves into a predictable CGI gruel”, the film does “build a more hopeful future for the women of the MCU – one with stories that not only invoke real and relatable experiences, but are actually being told by women behind the camera”.

The film has gone down well with many reviewers, with The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw awarding it four stars. He praised it for both being entertaining as a standalone feature while delivering something new for long-time fans.

He noted Harbour’s “scene-stealer” performance, writing: “For fans of Black Widow and everyone else, this episode is great fun and Harbour could well ascend to spinoff greatness of his own.”

Black Widow also received four stars from the BBC’s reviewer Caryn James.

She described the film as “entertaining and full of action,” saying it was “unexpected” that Black Widow “may be the least Avenger-like movie in the series so far”.

James praised Shortland’s handling of the film’s high-octane moments, writing that “she quickly demonstrates that she can create exhilarating action”.

In another four-star review, the PA news agency’s Damon Smith described Black Widow as a “hugely entertaining spy thriller”.

He applauded the film’s action sequences, script and score, which comes from Scottish composer Lorne Balfe.

Smith said while Shortland’s “vertiginous denouement falls victim to the same CGI overload as other MCU strands”, there is a “clear focus on characters in peril in the eye of a digitally rendered storm that breaks the film’s fall”.

The Hollywood Reporter’s verdict was also positive.

Shortland’s direction was commended by critic David Rooney for its “propulsive excitement, humour and pleasingly understated emotional interludes”.

The film “proves a stellar vehicle” for Johansson, while the supporting cast is “first-rate”, he said.

And he compared Black Widow favourably to another Marvel female-led film.

He wrote: “It makes a far more satisfying female-driven MCU entry than the blandly bombastic Captain Marvel.”

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman celebrated Black Widow’s balance between blockbuster thrills and its more understated moments.

The film “features just enough kinetic combat to give a mainstream audience that getting-your-money’s-worth feeling”, his review stated, but "most of it has a gritty, deliberate, zap-free tone that is strikingly – and intentionally – earthbound for a superhero fantasy”.

The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin offered tempered praise for the film in his three-star review, saying that the film is as “briskly enjoyable as the studio’s output tends to be”, but found fault with how it handles some of its heavier themes.

Villain Ray Winstone delivers “blood-curdling” commentary on the female recruits he transforms into operatives, Collin said.

However, he found “the film lacks either the nerve or the moral vocabulary to so much as spell out, let alone reckon with, the implications of his statement”.

Additional reporting by Agencies

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