Black Widow: From Budapest with Love

Black Widow
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For a quick read, go to Review. For a complete summary, go to Recap.

KBear Recap [Read  time: 5-7 min]

Ohio, mid 1990s. A young Natasha Romanoff (Ever Anderson) is riding her bike in her peaceful suburban neighborhood. She arrives home and sees her little sister Yelena Belova (Violet McGraw) walking upside down and she joins her. Yelena chases after her sister and falls bruising her knee, their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) comes out of the house to comfort her. Their dad Alexei (David Harbour) arrives home, looking suspicious. He is barely listening to the girls describe their day. He quietly speaks to Melina and then announces the family must leave immediately. They get in their car and head to an airport. Yelena listens to American Pie. When they get to the airport the authorities [SHIELD] arrive. Alexei uses his super strength to get to the plane. He gets on the wing to shoot at the authorities. Melina is shot so Natasha is forced to take off. They escape and fly the plane to Cuba. The girls are separated, Natasha grabs a soldier’s gun and threatens everyone, but Alexei talks her into handing him the gun. He tells them his girls are the toughest girls. The girls are tranquilized and pass out. The opening shows girls from all over the world being herded like cattle and trained in the Red Room while a slowed down version of Smells Like Teen Spirit plays.

Twenty years later, Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Secretary Ross (William Hurt) and his task force are hot on her trail. She talks to him on the phone, when his task force charges into the bathroom, they think she’s in, they only find her tracker. Natasha is nowhere near that location; she’s boarding a boat. Yelena (Florence Pugh) leads a team of Widows to capture a Widow who is trying to defect. Yelena catches up with the Widow and stabs her, the Widow breaks a vial, and a mist covers Yelena, freeing Yelena from her programming. She tries to help her comrade, the dying Widow hands her a small case of the vials. Yelena ignores her team and takes off.  Natasha made it to Norway, she drives to an isolated trailer, where her contact Mason (O-T Fagbenle) naps on her bed. She wakes him up, he gives her supplies and brings her mail from the Budapest safehouse. Natasha leaves to get petrol for her generator, a truck hits her car and nearly knocks her off the bridge. A masked figure gets out of the truck and attacks Natasha, the masked figure [Taskmaster] mirrors all of Natasha’s moves. Taskmaster sees the vial case and heads towards it, Natasha realizes Taskmaster wasn’t after her and retrieves the vials before Taskmaster can get it. Taskmaster knocks Natasha in the river, not realizing she has the vials.

Natasha goes to the Budapest safehouse, Yelena is already there, the two immediately fight. After they beat up each other, they begin talking, but they are quickly interrupted by a squad of attacking Widows. They escape through the window, but a Widow is in hot pursuit, Natasha tries to save her when she slips off the halo they were escaping on. Dreykov (Ray Winstone) remotely forces her to kill herself. A big car chase ensures, a Widow is chasing them on a motorcycle and Taskmaster shows up in an armored personnel carrier. She crashes their car down into a subway station. Yelena is slightly hurt and bleeding, Taskmaster follows her blood trail to a drainage tunnel, Natasha and Yelena didn’t go down there, they are up in the air vents. Natasha hid there with Clint Barton when she defected from the KGB. The two later arrive at a convenience store outside the city. Yelena tells her that Dreykov is using mind control to control the Widows, the vials contain an antidote. Natasha is shocked to hear the Red Room still exists, she thought it ended after she killed Dreykov. Yelena asks her about it, Natasha explains that to defect and join SHIELD, she had to kill Dreykov, to locate him she used his young daughter Antonia (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). With her in his office, they blew it up. Obviously, they didn’t kill him. Yelena asks why she didn’t come for her; Natasha tells her she thought she was fine. Yelena thinks Natasha didn’t want her little sister tagging along with the Avengers, Natasha reminds her they aren’t sisters. Yelena winces when she hears that. Yelena cracks on Natasha for her fighting pose, calling her a poser. After hearing more about the horrors of the Red Room, Natasha plans on killing Dreykov for real this time. They are back on the road, Yelena asks if Natasha ever wants kids, she wants a dog. She proudly shows Natasha her green vest, it’s the first thing she ever bought for herself. Yelena loves it because it has so many pockets, Natasha agrees it is cool, Yelena thought so. They meet up with Mason, he got them a helicopter, they are going to use it to break Alexei out of a Russian gulag. They need him to find the Red Room.

A heavily tattooed Alexei is arm-wrestling with his fellow prisoners, easily beating them while he brags about fighting Captain America. A giant convict doesn’t believe him, the time period Alexei said he fought Cap, he would have still been frozen. Alexei breaks his wrist. His girls send him a Red Guardian action figure, it has an earpiece in it, Natasha gives him instructions. Instead of being stealth, Alexei causes a prison riot, Natasha jumps out of the helicopter to help him. [Natasha lands in her pose, and Yelena calls her a poser.] The guards shoot at the helicopter, Yelena shoots a rocket launcher at the guard tower, the explosion causes an avalanche. They get Alexei and escape. [Who knows what happens to the guards and prisoners in the gulag.] Alexei is proud of ‘his girls’. Yelena punches him, he asks if it’s her period, she and Natasha clinically explain how they can’t have periods since their uterus were removed. He doesn’t want to hear this. Alexei doesn’t understand why they would be mad at him; he thinks he helped them become successful, the best assassins possible. Natasha asks him where the Red Room is, he doesn’t know, he was just the muscle, Melina was the scientist, the brain of the operation. She would know where it is. Yelena and Natasha are shocked that she’s alive, Alexei tells them she lives on a farm experimenting on pigs, he knows where the farm is. The helicopter crashes when they run out of fuel. They begin their hike; Alexei asks Natasha if Captain America ever mentioned him. Natasha wants him to get back on mission, he proudly hugs his ‘daughters’ Yelena tells him he stinks.

Alexei, Yelena, and Natasha show up at Melina’s farm. Once they are in her house, Alexei goes to the bathroom and wrestles back into his old Red Guardian suit. Melina explains that she uses her pigs as test subjects. When they were in Ohio, they stole work that SHIELD, [HYDRA] was doing on taking away free will. She demonstrates by having her pig, Alexei stop breathing. Her research was used by the Red Room. The spy family sits down for dinner and reverts to their old family roles. As they begin to bicker the ‘parents’ and big sis Natasha agree they were never a family, this upsets the baby Yelena. She was so young during their mission that she thought it was real. Even though it was a lie, it was the best time of her life. Yelena tells Melina the research she has been doing was used on her, she tells Natasha that when she escaped, it made Dreykov use mind control to keep any other Widows from defecting, and she tells Alexei that she loved him but he didn’t want to be there with them. She leaves the table. Alexei follows to comfort her. Melina asks Natasha how she kept her heart, Natasha attributes a lot of it to Melina’s teachings. Melina confesses that she contacted the Red Room, they will be there soon. Alexei tells Yelena a story about his father, the story is pointless and only upsets her more, he finally starts singing American Pie which connects with her. The troops from the Red Room attack, they use over a dozen tranquilizer darts to knock out Alexei. Yelena escapes from the bedroom and sees an unconscious Natasha on the floor. Melina wearing a Black Widow suit uses the electric darts from the suit to knock her out.

The Red Room is an air station, hiding in the clouds. Melina meets with Dreykov. He tells her he is going to study Yelena’s brain. She is strapped to a gurney. Alexei wakes up, he’s in the cell next to Natasha, he apologizes to her for being such a bad dad. Here’s the twist, he’s not talking to Natasha, he’s talking to Melina, after she told Natasha she had contacted the Red Room, they switched places, both are wearing the masks Natasha used in Civil War. Melina talks to Yelena; they had put an earpiece in her ear when she was out. Melina tells her there is a knife in her boot. She uses it to cut her restraints and knockout the medical personnel.  Alexei tries to talk to her, but they didn’t give him an earpiece. Dreykov can tell this is Natasha because of her eyes. He brags she can’t hurt him because he has a pheromone that keeps the Widows from hurting him. Since he’s so pleased that he’s outsmarted her, he reveals that she didn’t kill Antonia, she was severely injured, and he turned his daughter into Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko). What he doesn’t know is that Melina had already told Natasha about the pheromone, and instructs her she’ll have to break her noise so she can’t smell him. She taunts him to get him to hit her in the face, Dreykov doesn’t hit hard enough to do it, so Natasha breaks her own nose. She proceeds to kick his arse. Taskmaster had already left and is fighting Red Guardian. Yelena retrieves the vials while Melina causes the Red Room to lose altitude and begin plummeting back to earth. Dreykov contacts the Widows to fight Natasha, their arrival allows him to escape. Natasha fights them but they overwhelm her, luckily, Yelena shows up with the vials and turns them into a bomb, an antidote mist touches the Widows, freeing them from Dreykov’s control. Dreykov and his men get in their plane, Yelena sabotages it, causing it to explode, killing Dreykov and his men. It knocks her off the plunging Red Room, Natasha grabs a parachute and jumps after Yelena, Taskmaster follows Natasha, she puts the parachute on Yelena and then fights Taskmaster midair. She rides Taskmaster’s parachute safely to the ground. She uses a vial of the antidote to liberate Antonia. Natasha finds Yelena and in Russian apologizes to her little sister for not finding her. Alexei and Melina get off the crashed air station. They and Yelena fly off with the freed Widows. A caravan of vehicles with Ross and his task force arrive. [Natasha had contacted them; in a deleted scene she is arrested but escapes.] A few weeks later Natasha has dyed her hair blond, she meets with Mason, he’s gotten her a Quinjet. She is going to join Cap and free the rest of the Avengers who are in the Raft.

In present time, Yelena and her dog visit Natasha’s grave in Ohio. She whistles over it like she and Natasha would do when they were kids. After straightening up around her tombstone and crying, someone sniffles. It is Valentina Allegra de Fontaine “Val” (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Yelena works for her as an assassin. She gives her a job she might like, kill the man responsible for Natasha’s death, she shows her a picture of Clint Barton.

KBear Review [Read time: 1-3 minutes]

I saw Black Widow in the theaters back in July. Natasha is one of my favorite Avengers and I was glad she got her own movie, as late as it turned out to be. Action wise it’s your standard MCU movie. There were action pieces throughout the movie with the big over the top CGI action piece in the end. My favorite fight scene was between Natasha and Yelena, fight scenes are always good when the two protagonists in the fight have a strong emotional connection with each other. Even though they were beating the crap out of each other, you never felt that they wanted to hurt the other. My favorite action scene was the chase scene through the streets of Budapest. The stunt work was excellent. It was over the top, and in reality, both Natasha and Yelena would have been dead at the end, but in an action movie, if you’re entertained, you’ll give it the suspension of disbelief. I did that a lot when I watched F9 earlier in the summer. My least favorite action scene in most Marvel and DC movies is the final one. They are so over the top and impersonal that even though I generally like them, I’m usually glad when they are over. The falling Red Room was a nice set piece, but so much was going on that it was hard to keep up with it. I enjoyed the action in this movie and it held up on my second watch on TV.

What I really loved about this movie was the character work between Natasha, Yelena, Alexei, and Melina. When you get four actors of the quality, of Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz you’d be surprised if you got less. They went beyond my expectations and delivered a heartwarming, complicated, family drama in the middle of a MCU movie. This was a group of spies put together as a family to spy on the US, but they actually became a real family. The ties they developed during their mission still bound them 20 years later. Yelena was around six when the mission ended and thought it was real, so she was hurt the most that her ‘family’ basically abandoned her. Natasha had pushed them away in her memories so she could continue to move forward. Alexei wanted to get back to being Red Guardian but Dreykov betrayed him and sent him off to a gulag to spend the rest of his life. Melina who is the most logical, went back to experimenting on her pigs and trying to pretend her time in America was only a mission. These are hurt and broken people who needed to reconnect and confirm, it did mean something. Florence Pugh was outstanding I look forward to seeing her more in the MCU as the new Black Widow. She was hilarious throughout the movie but she could easily pull your heartstrings. David Harbour was great as Alexei, he was funny and abrasive, put he showed the heart that made ‘his girls’ love him. Rachel Weisz didn’t have as much to do as the others, but she was excellent as always, showing the cold scientist who loved the family she had in America. Scarlett Johansson proves again why she is a great leading lady; she holds the movie together and allows her co-stars to shine. I wish she had gotten a movie earlier; but studio politics prevented that, but I’m glad we got this.

My major complaint is the villain, Dreykov was just your standard mustache twirling villain. He was doing evil because he’s evil. The movie was trying to show the misogyny that powerful men and institutions use against women, but he wasn’t the character to do it through. The opening of the movie showing them rounding up girls, forcing them into the Red Room and killing many of them made the point better. There was no depth to Dreykov, which only made him a stock villain. Taskmaster was a disappointment. Taskmaster is a major villain/anti-hero in the comics, but they didn’t do anything with the character in the movie. I understand they wanted Natasha to have a personal connection with Taskmaster, but they didn’t go anywhere interesting with it. Having Taskmaster mostly be mute was a big mistake. Aside from the villain problem the MCU often has, this was a really good movie.  

Anthony (Kbear!) Nichols | Editor-in-Chief
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