The Red Room Review: Natasha Romanoff is not a poser

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Marvel Studios. Photo used under Creative Commons Licenses.

Marvel Studios

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Marvel Studios. Photo used under Creative Commons Licenses.

Welcome back to another Red Room Review. Today, we’re giving you a review of the film that actually inspired the title of our column, so buckle up, it’s about to be good. In the movie “Black Widow,” released July 4, Marvel fans dive back into the past of Natasha Romanoff, the titular Black widow as she grapples with her time before becoming an Avenger, and the dangerous ways in which it’s catching up to her. The release of this show also allows for the introduction of her sister, Yelena Belova, into the Marvel universe. Belova is expected to appear in the upcoming television series “Hawkeye.”

The idea for the Black Widow movie predated even Scarlett Johansson’s appearance in Iron Man 2,” which was Romanoff’s foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It was in development even before the first “Iron Man” was released. Lionsgate originally began development of the movie in 2004. However, Marvel attained the rights to Black Widow in 2006, and promptly delayed production and release of the film for 15 years. Thanks guys.

Twenty two movies and 13 years later, Black Widow was finally given her chance on the big screen. Though she had originally appeared in countless other films, including each Avengers movie to date, she had never been given the chance to star in her own stand-alone. Watching this movie on the big screen was not only long overdue, but a chance for Romanoff to get the spotlight she deserved.

We have a lot to say about Black Widow’s delay. As two women who love Marvel, we were constantly frustrated by Marvel’s depiction of women in general. Romanoff was powerful, no doubt, but she was also always in tight clothes, with perfect hair and makeup and always had some sexy attitude or remark. Not to mention the thousands of unnecessary shots we saw thanks to our favorite male directors. Don’t mistake us, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman being so comfortable with her sexuality, but Romanoff was consistently subjected to the male gaze instead of being celebrated for her qualities, and she was rarely depicted in another light, especially in her earlier movies.

So, this movie was a long time coming. Seeing Romanoff as a truly three dimensional character, well it’s enough to make a girl cry. “Black Widow” offers a chance for viewers to not only see her in a movie of her own, but get the chance to learn about Romanoff’s past, a mystery that has been excluded in past Marvel movies, where she was given only side character roles and little background information, with only the smallest bit of information being revealed about her.

Romanoff herself, in a quick history, was sent to the Red Room as a child. The Red Room is an intense, brutal training center that recruited, and oftentimes kidnapped, young girls to turn them into highly specialized spies, known as Black Widows. We must insert some criticism of the overt demonization of the Soviet Union and the glorification of America. The depiction of the Red Room as a uniquely cruel Cold War era Soviet entity is a little over the top. Still, we were glad to see that the creator is a truly sexist villain who quote, “can finally come out of the shadows using the only natural resource that the world has too much of. Girls.” Kindly leave, Dreykov.

When making our reviews, we decided to rate each one based on it’s correspondence to the Infinity Stones. In terms of the soul stone, the characters absolutely blew us away. Introduced to the MCU, Romanoffs’s adoptive family was the definition of a trainwreck. After years of separation, Romanoff was reunited with her adoptive sister Yelena Belova due to the discovery of a Black Widow antidote, which releases a Black Widow from the neurological mind control that was used on Belova’s generation of Widows, but not Romanoff’s (whose generation was simply subjected to acute psychological manipulation and torture). 

The two assassins immediately began the process of attempting to kill each other, overcome with mistrust. Though this was possibly a bit of an overreaction, their relationship throughout the rest of the movie was iconic, their journey building back their relationship after all of the trauma they endured in the Red Room.

(L-R): Melina (Rachel Weisz), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment, Marvel Studios 2021. Photo used under Creative Commons Licenses.

While some thought Belova’s involvement in the film overshadowed Romanoff (which we would be rather upset about, given she has been waiting for her own movie for ages), her inclusion was necessary. Belova’s comedic lines and heartfelt relationship with her adoptive family brought the entire movie together. While she definitely stole some scenes, Romanoff was always given her space to shine, and shine she did. Plus, when it comes to well-written female characters the rarity that they are the more the merrier.

Two other new characters, Romanoff’s adoptive parents, Alexei Shostakov and Melina Vostokoff also made an appearance. Though the family first came together as an attempt to spy in the United States by posing as a regular American family, the roles they played could eventually be seen as some form of a reality. While they had their issues, including multiple attempts to kill each other no big dealthe family came together throughout the film and it could not be denied that eventually this ragtag group was just that a family. It’s safe to say that this movie has plenty of soul.

When looking at the power stone, emotions certainly run high. Riddled with betrayals, action, and plenty of complex plans, fans are left on the edge of their seats (we were at least). When watching, you are left with a constant loss of words. A rollercoaster of emotions, the movie is an amazing mix of comedy, drama and betrayal that left us absolutely stunned. Marvel again demonstrated its ability to move past a typical action film full of explosions and weapons. The characters were raw, and oftentimes vulnerable, something we very much appreciated.

Romanoff, particularly, was a thrill to watch. She is in constant struggle with her past, yet her training in the Red Room allows her to have such strong control of her emotions and those of others. Still, Johansson’s portrayal showed a lot of complexity within Romanoff’s character, particularly when she is faced with a direct victim of her past actions, no spoilers though.

Of course, none of this could be possible if the writing of this movie was nothing short of superb, the mind stone gaining a full point in our review. The movie managed to tackle complex family relationships, topple corrupt organizations and introduce amazing characters into the MCU, all while keeping the dialogue down to earth and realistic. While some people view the reality of the movie to be a bit of a stretch, with many of the stunts performed by Romanoff unrealistic for a regular human, what people tend to forget is that this is an action movie. The rules of physics do not always apply, especially for a highly-specialized trained assassin and Avenger. In terms of mind and reality, “Black Widow” hits the mark in terms of action, organization, and absolutely amazing female characters. What’s not to love?

For the space and time stones, which correspond to structure and pacing, we could complain that the movie was a little slow getting started, as it began with a very long flashback into Romanoff and Belova’s few years in Ohio, before they were both sent to the Red Room to become Black Widows. We felt this part could have been cut a little bit to make way for the main storyline, but it was still a valuable addition to the movie that we were happy to see.

Overall, we really couldn’t have hoped for a better Black Widow movie, and we’ve been dreaming about it for a long, long time. The movie had exceptionally written characters and exciting plot, and just enough emotion to tie it all together. We’ll be copying Yelena and Natasha’s braids and buying their earrings for years to come.

The Parkway West Pathfinder gives “Black Widow” 5.5 out of 6 infinity stones. (Mira Nalbandian)