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BLACK WIDOW (12A, 135 minutes)
With the original Avengers saga already told and the fate of Natasha Romanoff known to all but those embarrassingly late to the party, it’s difficult to see this overdue solo outing (further delayed by a year due to lockdown) as anything other than an afterthought or Kevin Feige keeping a 10-year old promise to the fans.
Set in the wake of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, apart from the inevitable post credits segment, this is a film that should have been made before the grand finale of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.
But if you can live with the prequel concept, Black Widow is something very special in the Marvel canon.
Because in a franchise based on superheroes and fantasy legends, this is closer to the Jason Bourne movies than it is about magic hammers and flying without wings.
First and foremost this is a spy thriller, with big budget CGI trickery, of course, as the trained assassin, played with such aplomb this past decade by Scarlett Johansson, gets a shot at redemption before Thanos arrives to change things forever.
With the Avengers well and truly split asunder, SHIELD agent Romanoff and Steve Rogers are both now fugitives from the authorities and a message from the past pulls Natasha back to where it all began, as part of a 25-year old Soviet programme to turn children into contract killers.
That includes a fake family created as a sleeper cell, but which, despite their estrangement, is the only kin Natasha has left.
As disfunctional families go, they don’t come any crazier than this quartet – dad Alexei (David Harbour), the Red Guardian, a long discarded attempt to create a Russian version of Capt America, mum Melina (Rachel Weisz), the brains behind running assassins through mind control, and little sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), another graduate of the Widows programme.
It’s the dynamic between these four that makes the film so enjoyable, even when it drops the ball by having a villain that barely makes an appearance, and when he does, it’s Ray Winstone with a cartoon accent that keeps dropping vowels back into east London.
Ray’s the guvnor at most things, but his rolled r’s make Ken Branagh’s attempts in Tenet and Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit look convincing.
Johansson had to wait until her ninth appearance as Natasha Romanoff for the character to get a vehicle to herself and with sturdy support from the relatives, Marvel have certainly done right by her in the end, even to the point of explaining the relevance of events in Budapest much discussed over the years with pal Hawkeye.
Black Widow provides a dotted i and crossed t to the agent with red in her file. It has all the cinematic bangs and crashes while fleshing out the past of a figure with no future.
Now the door looks open for Pugh to step into the spotlight.