(warning: spoilers ahead)
When Scarlett Johanson first graced us with her MCU debut of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, not many could have seen the impact she would have. Scarlett Johansson has risen above early stereotypes place on her character to become one of the most well respected Avengers in the MCU. After years of pushing for her own solo film and delays, things finally came to fruition this year. Marvel released the long-awaited Black Widow film in theatres and Disney+, Disney’s own streaming platform. Expectations were high and kept the world on the edge of their seat waiting for the film. What was supposed to be a love letter to a founding Avenger exposed a much larger problem within the MCU.
If you can remember, Black Widow made the ultimate sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame. Natasha Romanoff jumped off the cliff on Vormir as the needed sacrifice for Hawkeye ( played by Jeremy Renner) to gain access to the Soul Stone. As her story comes to an end in the present day, Black Widow showcases the missing time between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, where Natasha is on the run. While it’s not technically in order with the current state of the MCU, the film does a nice job exploring Natasha’s backstory.
Natasha Romanoff has successfully escaped the U.S. Government and its Sokovia Accords. She retreats to a normal quiet life that consists of binging on ice cream. It’s not long before the film works its magic on the audience. Natasha receives a package from her sister/fellow Black Widow Yelena (played by Florence Pugh.) Almost immediately, we are greeted by the merc, Taskmaster (played by Olga Kurylenko) herself as it attacks an unsuspecting Natasha.
Upon first view, Taskmaster is the perfect foe for some of Natasha’s abilities. Taskmaster has the ability to mimic the skill set of any fighter it comes across. Something like that makes it very impossible to defeat. When it was rumored for Taskmaster to appear, many expected the choreography to be on par with the spy/action film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While Marvel did succeed in living up to the hype in the larger sense, the film action Taskmaster scenes fell very flat.
In the third act, Taskmaster is finally revealed to be a woman. In Marvel Comics, Taskmaster is known to be a man. But, this isn’t what upset many of Marvel’s loyal fans. The overall villain arc of Taskmaster seemed very short and almost comic at times. Despite being the main villain, Taskmaster got the least amount of screen time and little engagement. Throughout the rollout for Black Widow, Taskmaster was cloaked in a sea of mystery. The identity of the masterful assassin was tightly under wraps. When the veil is pulled back, the fans are left standing dumbfounded. This isn’t the first time Marvel has foreshadowed villainous, but instead served us Mickey Mouse playing dress-up.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron, played by Kevin Spacey, the supreme advanced AI is most feared in Marvel Comics. In trailers leading up to its theater release, the marketing and PR campaign of Marvel portrayed Ultron as a sinister robot god. Coupled with eery music and shadowy overtones, you might have just forgotten about Thanos lurking in the background of the MCU. In the film, Ultron was very different than what was shown leading up to release. Too many one-liners, as Marvel films have been known to have, and a very anti-climatic showdown with the main villain.
Go further back and we come across Whiplash from Iron Man 2. Another character affected by Disney’s curse to appeal to everyone. In Iron Man 3, The Mandarin turned out to be nothing more than a crappy British actor (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will fix that. I hope.) In Doctor Stange, powerful dimension god Dormammu is trapped into a game of saying “uncle” to back off of Earth. Despite all the success Marvel and Disney have acquired over the years, they seem to repeat the same mistakes when it comes to their villains.
While the film left more questions than answers, in the end, the supporting cast helped pick up the slack. Florence Pugh’s Yelena does a fantastic job of making light of a rather serious situation. Fearless, strong-willed, and just a touch of comedic timing allows her to play off Scarlett’s rather stone-faced Natasha Romanoff. Yelena will fit in perfectly in the MCU going forward, filling the void left by Black Widow’s death. David Harbour’s Red Guardian (Soviet Union’s Captain America) adds for a one-time punch of comedy, even if at the wrong time. With all the jokes and lazy fight scenes, the final act does try its best to make up for the whole film. The reviews are coming in and mainly positive. But look past the explosions, colorful costumes, and cheesy jokes, we can get to the root of the problem Marvel has yet to solve. Judging by MCU loyal fans, they are starting to see the signs.