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Black Widow First Reviews: A Thrilling Spy Movie Absolutely Worth the Wait

Critics say the latest MCU entry is spectacularly cast, feels more grounded in its storytelling and its action, and signals great things for the rest of Phase Four.

by | June 29, 2021 | Comments

There’s a lot of excitement to be had with the release of Black Widow (out in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9). For one, the title character, played by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2010, finally has her own solo movie. Also, MCU fans finally get a new theatrical feature after two years of drought due to an unfortunate delay. And, finally, it’s also apparently pretty good and worth those two waits.

The first crop of reviews for Black Widow, most of them positive, highlight additional things to be excited about specifically, from the performances by Johansson and Marvel newbie Florence Pugh to the relatively grounded action scenes and darker emotional themes for the franchise. It’s obviously not as epic as the last two Avengers movies, though, and whether that makes this a lesser entry or a breath of fresh air will be up for debate.

Here’s what critics are saying about Black Widow:


Is it worth the wait?

Black Widow is finally here after years of delays and pushbacks due to the state of the world – but does it deliver where it needs to? The short answer is yes.
– Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

After the extended delays of Natasha Romanoff’s long-overdue solo film, Black Widow was certainly worth the wait.
– Doug Jamieson, The Jam Report

Our patience pays off… Marvel Studios does it again and delivers the goods.
– Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

Black Widow manages to be an extremely welcome case of “better late than never.”
– Jamie Jirak, ComicBook.com

Truly better so very late than never.
– Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

There is a too little, too late sense of closure that makes some of the film’s narrative choices confusing at times.
– Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant


How does it compare to other parts of the MCU?

The best aspects of Black Widow echo the ‘70s spy movie tone of one of the best films in the MCU, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

Think a scaled-down version of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Joey Magidson, Awards Radar

Better than Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Probably not. Superior to anything with the word “Ant,” “Doctor,” “Hulk” or even “Thor” in the title? Most def.
Joey Morona, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Black Widow is certainly no Thor Ragnarok or Black Panther and has fairly average MCU visuals and fight scenes.
Nicole Ackman, Next Best Picture

Black Widow reminds me the most of Doctor Strange — a movie about a complicated adult character facing up to their own actions and redefining their place in the world without blaming it all on bad daddies.
Evan Dossey, Midwest Film Journal

Shifting away from the superhero template into high-octane espionage thriller territory, it makes a far more satisfying female-driven MCU entry than the blandly bombastic Captain Marvel.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Black Widow may be the least Avenger-like movie in the series so far. No offense to the other Avengers, but after all this time a tweak in the formula is a good thing.
Caryn James, BBC.com


Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Does it bring anything new to the franchise?

More than other Marvel movies, Black Widow tries to ground the story in a personal, character-driven narrative.
Brian Lloyd, entertainment.ie

It has some of Marvel’s best character dynamics to date.
Jamie Jirak, ComicBook.com

What sets Black Widow apart from the other MCU movies is that it embraces the darkness inherent in the premise of the character.
Evan Dossey, Midwest Film Journal

Much of it doesn’t feel like a Marvel film at all, thanks to the darker tone.
Nicole Clark, IGN Movies


Does it work as a standalone movie?

The plot… feels small by MCU standards, but that simplicity is a refreshing change of pace for a franchise that’s too often about saving the world.
Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

It’s the palate cleanser the franchise needed… a self-contained, back-to-basics adventure that works just as well for newbies and casual viewers as it does for longtime fans.
Angie Han, Mashable

Black Widow is a pleasure exactly because it is inessential.
Nick De Semlyen, Empire Magazine

Black Widow reminds us of the pleasure that can be offered by an MCU movie that isn’t having to do the legwork of setting up the next five chapters.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

Something is definitely set up for the future, but… Marvel could use these occasionally more self-contained films.
Joey Magidson, Awards Radar

Black Widow is a rare Marvel production… that almost, almost pulls off the trick of being wholly its own thing.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Black Widow is merely a stepping stone film that fills in a few blanks that weren’t really there to begin with.
Matt Rodriguez, Shakefire

This movie feels more like an introduction and set up for what is to come, than the solo film this character deserves.
Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky


Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

How is the action?

The film has some of the best action sequences in recent memory.
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant

A vast team of choreographers, stunt folks and trainers… gives the movie a visual coherence that most Marvel movies lack.
Roger Moore, Movie Nation

The fight choreography and stunt work here is impressive and occasionally thrilling, but more often than not, the effect is undercut by the over-cutting.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

The editing of the fight scenes is perhaps a touch too unrelentingly fast, often blurring the choreography, but the physical side never feels overwhelmed by CG enhancement.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The physics are different here than in other Marvel movies, more finely attuned to the hardness and weight of things. It all feels a bit more real.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Feels more grounded than many MCU entries… while we still get some comic book antics showing the expected disregard for physics we also see the physical toll that all that fighting takes on a human body.
Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

The (comparatively) grounded choreography leads to some of Marvel’s most thrilling battles since at least Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Angie Han, Mashable

It’s a nice dial back from Marvel films whose heroes can feel immortal… feels satisfyingly street level, in a Jessica Jones kind of way.
Nicole Clark, IGN Movies


How is Cate Shortland’s work as director?

There are moments where Black Widow absolutely benefits from having a woman in the director’s chair.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

Shortland proves to be one of the few filmmakers to make the leap from the indie circuit and put her own singular fingerprint on the visual identity of the film — Black Widow is one of the most visually coherent solo films of the MCU, with a gritty, streetwise style that feels like Shortland didn’t just hand off the action scenes to a second unit director.
Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

Shortland’s previous work in psychological thrillers The Berlin Syndrome and Lore gives her an edge with the kind of pulpy material at play here.
Brian Lloyd, entertainment.ie

Shortland keeps things moving along, never letting you feel the runtime — efficiently paced and exciting.
Joey Magidson, Awards Radar


Cate Shortland and cast on the set of Black Widow

(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Marvel Studios)

What about Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Natasha?

Scarlett Johansson [is] at her best.
Jenna Busch, VitalThrills.com

Johansson shines in the role, layering her signature bad assery with a previously unseen vulnerability.
Joey Morona, Cleveland Plain Dealer

The actress makes the most of it and delivers a powerful, moving performance that serves as a fitting farewell to her tenure as this Avenger.
Josh Wilding, ComicBookMovie.com

It’s Scarlett Johansson who holds the film together and gives it its touch of soul… [She] makes the most vulnerable emotions part of the humanity of her strength.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety


Does Florence Pugh fit well into the franchise?

If you’re not already a fan of Pugh, you will be by the end of Black Widow. Yelena’s a firecracker with great one-liners.
Kirsten Acuna, Insider

One of the most exciting additions to the MCU in some time.
Josh Wilding, ComicBookMovie.com

She nails it with the spark of someone who’s been kicking around the Marvelverse since day one.
Philip De Semlyen, Time Out

She shares much of Natasha’s fighting style while displaying even more sass.
Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

Her deadpan is pitch-perfect, coaxing humor out of a traditionally stoic Scarlett Johansson. Where Natasha has coped by turning cold, Yelena has coped with humor.
Nicole Clark, IGN Movies

Pugh has a dangerous physicality to her as well, which lends to one of the best aspects of Black Widow.
Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm


Taskmaster

(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Marvel Studios)

How are the villains in the film?

Taskmaster certainly isn’t going to go down as one of the MCU’s best villains, but Black Widow makes good use of the character [as] a seemingly unstoppable force.
Josh Wilding, ComicBookMovie.com

Ray Winstone also makes a great antagonist as Dreykov, conveying an insidious cruelty that is more devastating than most other MCU villains that have come before.
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant

One of the better executions of villainy in the MCU… Dreykov’s character coheres effortlessly and successfully, feeling earned and without a hint of desperate pandering to feminists.
Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

Just having Winstone in this picture lifts it several notches, and he is deliciously fun and scarily authentic as the villain of the piece.
Pete Hammond, Deadline

Ray Winstone is one of the weakest in the franchise.
Joey Magidson, Awards Radar


How is the script?

The plot [is] blessedly clean, caulking the spaces in between the stepping stones with characters’ interpersonal dynamics while avoiding any convolution.
Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

There is a lot of talking here, and if you aren’t willing, interested or inclined to invest yourself in the characters, it will likely be at the bottom of your re-watch pile.
Evan Dossey, Midwest Film Journal

There is a moment that the writers seem to have decided they didn’t have an answer to so they just skipped past it and onto the resolution.
Amelia Emberwing, WhatToWatch

Black Widow feels of little consequence, delivering a story that has written itself into a corner with nowhere to go.
Matt Rodriguez, Shakefire


Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow

Ryan Fujitani

Is it a positive step for female characters in the MCU?

We finally get to see Natasha… in a film full of women. Sorry, I mean freaking badass women. And it’s wonderful.
Jenna Busch, VitalThrills.com

Black Widow puts female issues front and center without ever making it feel forced or preachy.
Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

Needless to say, the movie does a far better job than the rah-rah inclusivity gesture at the end of Endgame to play up its feminist leanings. Black Widow not only passes the Bechdel Test; it forces men to squeam as it puts them in their place.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Deriving strength from enduring suffering feels as slimy as it does tragic, a nail in the coffin to Marvel’s handling of women superheroes.
Nicole Clark, IGN Movies


Does the movie have any major problems?

Natasha is more of a driving force for the other characters around her… even with her name in the title, the spotlight is constantly on someone else.
Matt Rodriguez, Shakefire

The movie definitely wraps up a little too quickly; it’s as if Marvel Studios had suddenly remembered they had to get Natasha where she needed to be for Infinity War.
Josh Wilding, ComicBookMovie.com

Describing the horrors of the Red Room and the Black Widow program in a scene that’s meant to be solely comedic because Disney’s too afraid to get real with its media? That’s maybe something we could have done without.
Amelia Emberwing, WhatToWatch


Florence Pugh in Black Widow

(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Marvel Studios)

Will it leave fans hopeful for the future of the MCU?

The themes of family and women’s agency that it explores are a welcome addition to the MCU and hopefully a good indication of where Phase 4 is going.
Nicole Ackman, Next Best Picture

The swings that the film takes make it an interesting entry… I’m glad the studio was willing to go all the way with it. Here’s to Marvel taking more risks in the future.
Evan Dossey, Midwest Film Journal

[It] should hopefully set the bar of inclusiveness for the remainder of Phase Four.
Nate Adams, The Only Critic

By delivering a story that satisfies on its own terms… it makes a compelling case for moving ahead with this franchise into the future.
Angie Han, Mashable

The sorry thing of the film, really, is that this needn’t have been a Marvel movie at all.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


Black Widow releases in theaters and streams on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9, 2021.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

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