‘Black Widow’ Review: A Superhero Movie That’s Grittier, More Layered With Feeling, Than You Expect

It’s always been telling that Batman, one of the only superheroes not graced with superpowers, may be the most popular superhero. Masses of comic-book fans identify with his humanity, imagining that they could be him (though he does, of course, have all those toys to make up for his lack of steel muscles, etc.). Natasha Romanoff, better known as Black Widow, draws from the same basic well of appeal. She was trained as a Russian spy and fights like a whirling dervish, though without special powers — so she too, in theory, could be you. “I doubt the god from space has to take an Ibuprofen after a fight,” snarks a character in “Black Widow,” the new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That Natasha does makes her relatable. But audiences going into “Black Widow” may still wonder what, exactly, they’re going to get to see the title character do. In Scarlett Johansson’s appearances in the MCU thus far, going back to “Iron Man 2,” she’s been a kick-ass fighter in sleek leather with a few signature jackknife moves. I wondered, or maybe feared, that “Black Widow” would be two hours of that.

It’s not; it’s much more interesting and absorbing. In the highly suspenseful prologue, set in Ohio in 1995, we meet Natasha (Ever Anderson) when she’s around 13, along with her younger sister (Violet McGraw). Natasha has her hair dyed fiberglass blue, which no teenager in the Midwest did in the ’90s, but we’ll let that pass. At home, the girls’ mother (Rachel Weisz) has just sat them down to dinner when their father (David Harbour) arrives with a worried look and says that they have an hour to ditch the place. They drive out to the countryside, where a prop plane awaits them in a dusty hanger, and with the authorities shooting right into the plane they take off and land in Cuba, where the two girls are given a knockout drug and hauled away.

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