Black Widow, as played by Scarlett Johansson, has had a rough time in the MCU. While she has had some amazing moments in many Marvel films, fans have often felt she was not given the attention she deserved. This is most evident in the handling of her fate in Avengers: Endgame. Tony Stark gets all the honor and Natasha Romanoff's sacrifice is brushed over. With that, Black Widow has a lot to reckon with.
Set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow's narrative serves as a bridge between those films while also trying to fill in the gaps of her origin and introducing a new key character into the MCU. Like most Marvel films, it is trying to do too much. There should be freedom here to make a standalone film to honor the character and yet Black Widow often feels like it is in service of many other things than Natasha. Fans may not feel that Black Widow will ever get her proper spotlight.
As is now part of the Marvel formula, Black Widow takes a genre, the spy film, and tailors it for the MCU. The biggest influence here is the Bourne films. The fight scenes and one excellent car chase feel like they could have been in any one of those films or maybe even a modern Bond film. While the action scenes are serviceable, they are rarely unique or memorable.
The strongest part of Black Widow is the family dynamic it introduces. Florence Pugh, whose movie this really is, plays Yelena Belova, Natasha's "sister" who has been in the field working for a sinister baddie played by Ray Winstone. Natasha and Yelena were raised by two KGB operatives Alexei Shostakov a.k.a. The Red Guardian (David Harbour) and Melina Yostokoff (Rachel Weisz). After growing up in Ohio, both young girls are handed over to an evil organization called the Red Room, which brainwashes young girls into super-spies. The girls are separated for years until a special gas "wakes" Yelena out of her brainwashed state and she enlists her big sister to help her bring the Red Room down.
Director Cate Shortland moves from indie films to the MCU here. She brings a great sense of rhythm and emotional heft to the family scenes. She does a fine job with the necessary action scenes, in particular how hard she makes these women hit and fight. Black Widow may be the most violent film in the MCU and that violence is often perpetrated by women. However, you can feel a tension between the family dynamics Shortland is interested in and the required action scenes for a Marvel film.
The other issue Black Widow never quite figures out is how to create tension or even a character arc for its main character. We know Natasha's fate and at this point in the MCU, we know a fair amount about who she is. The film seems to be done with her early on, focusing on setting Yelena up for a TV series or movie. This isn't a bad thing since Pugh is great here. She is very entertaining and continues to prove she is an actor to watch closely.
Black Widow is messy and not the film Natasha deserves. While it is often entertaining, it doesn't make much of an impact. You can feel the tension between the director's sensibilities and the Marvel machine that dictates so much of what happens here. This is not the fitting end to this character that fans wanted.