'Black Widow' first reactions praise big action and bigger heart

Scarlett Johansson's swan song marks Marvel's return to theaters

Written by
Andy Kryza
Black Widow
Photo: Marvel Studios

The highly anticipated Black Widow doesn’t debut for three more weeks, but early social-media reactions have begun to trickle in, and it looks like Marvel's female-centric future is off to an explosive start. 

The prequel film follows Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff — elite KGB assassin turned Avengers MVP — as she reconnects with her “family” in the wake of the events of Captain America: Civil War. The Cold War-influenced plot sees Natasha join forces with Florence Pugh’s younger assassin Yelena, Stranger Things’ David Harbour as Red Guardian (consider him an out-of-shape Russian Captain America) and Rachel Weisz as Natasha’s mother figure/the first Black Widow. They’re faced with fighting off a horde of highly trained baddies led by Taskmaster, a masked super-spy who can mimic others’ movements and style. 

The movie has a lot on its plate: It serves as a long-overdue solo adventure for Johansson and a eulogy for a character who met her demise in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s a passing of the baton between Johansson and Pugh that’s also rumored to set up other Marvel properties. And were that not enough pressure, it’s also the first Marvel film to premiere in more than two years thanks to the pandemic. 

According to early reactions, though, it was worth the wait.

Most critics found the film’s central relationships between the slapdash “family” of Russian assassins surprisingly tender, especially the scenes between star Johansson and newcomer Pugh. 

Many praised the film’s action, which seems to ditch Marvel's standard "heroes vs. a big beam of light" template for something more akin to an old-school espionage thriller and the balletic choreography of the John Wick films. 

According to critics, the film does justice to the beloved character — and Johansson — by filling in her backstory and rounding out a character who became the beating heart of the Avengers franchise.

But it's Pugh who seems to be getting the most attention. The Oscar-nominated star of Little Women and Midsommar is said to steal the movie, emerging as welcome heir-apparent to Johansson. 

It’s not all vodka and azaleas, though. LA critic Scott Menzel laid into the movie, calling it generic and saying that the film does the very thing its predecessors were criticized for: Sidelines Johansson’s Black Widow in favor of world-building… in her own movie. 

Black Widow hits theaters July 7. 

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