Entertainment

'Black Widow' Can't Make You Care About Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow

But it will get you excited for Florence Pugh's Yelena.

Disney
Disney
Disney

After nine movies and one tragic death, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, is finally the subject of her very own Marvel movie. Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland, zaps back in the now overly confusing MCU timeline to give Natasha a solo adventure that succeeds more as an introduction to her successor, Florence Pugh’s Yelena, than it does as any sort of ode to the original Black Widow herself.

When Pugh is on screen, the sometimes slick, sometimes clunky movie comes alive, just proving that, in over a decade, Johanasson never really figured out what makes her assassin tick. When it comes to Black Widow herself, Black Widow is too little, too late.

Johansson swung into Iron Man 2 with long curly locks and a skin-tight catsuit and was immediately, and now infamously, described as a potential “sexual harassment lawsuit.” She got more screen time in 2012’s The Avengers, where the villain Loki dissed her by way of her anatomy as a “mewling quim,” and from then on was a company player in nearly every team-up. But for as often as Natasha appeared in the MCU, she also became an example of how the massive property had failed its female characters. Seemingly the most prominent woman in the franchise had little to no interiority. Whereas hours of material had been spent explaining the motivations of various men, she was a blank slate.

Black Widow attempts to offer a corrective to her lack of development. With a story by Ned Benson and WandaVision‘s Jac Schaeffer and a screenplay by Eric Pearson, it establishes that Natasha spent her early years in the US posing as the child of “illegal” Russian spies, a la The Americans. When her fake parents, Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei (David Harbour), are discovered, they drag Natasha and Yelena back to Russia where the girls are immediately captured by Ray Winstone’s mastermind Dreykov-whose motives beyond general evil are vague-and put into assassin training camp.

Disney
Disney
Disney

The story picks back up after the events of Captain America: Civil War when Natasha is on the run from the US government. Yelena is still working as a Widow and has come into the possession of the movie’s MacGuffin, a package of vials containing an antidote to the mind control technology Dreykov has been using to keep his army of highly trained fighters under his thumb. Trying to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands, she sends it to her “sister” Natasha-they are not related by blood-which reunites them at a safe house in Budapest where they fight one another until they realize they have to work together, ultimately bringing Melina and Alexei into their plot. 

The initial action sequences unfold with a Bourne-like energy that eventually gets relinquished in favor of more classic Marvel blandness, but the movie comes alive whenever Pugh is on screen. Affecting a Russian accent that is better than anyone else’s in these movies, Pugh handles the quips that are de rigueur for Marvel screenwriting with a confident naturalism, while still allowing the trauma of Yelena’s life to seep through. Her fighting style lacks Johansson’s practiced sleekness, but it feels effortful in a way that aligns the rest of her take.

Pugh is matched, at least in energy, by Stranger Things star Harbour, clearly having a great time as Alexei, who is just attempting to relive his glory days as Soviet hero the Red Guardian. His bombast might be over the top for some, but he and Pugh are working on a similar level that adds a surprising amount of fun and humor to the movie. Weisz is greatly underused as Melina, whose allegiances are at first questionable, but then all-too-easily resolved. 

But there’s a black hole at the center of Black Widow where, unfortunately, the titular character sits. Around the time Johansson took on the role, she started reinventing herself from indie queen into alien-esque action star, turning in unnervingly chilly performances in the likes of Under the Skin and Lucy. But the actress never seems to have reconciled the icy trained killer of Natasha’s past with the warmth Marvel asks of its heroes.

Black Widow explains what happened in Budapest, an event Natasha alludes to during banter with Hawkeye in The Avengers, but it never really plumbs her psychology. It’s a movie ostensibly about confronting your past and embracing makeshift families, but Johansson never seems to figure out what this journey means for her character. 

In some ways, that’s not entirely her fault. Black Widow is a retroactive layover for the MCU, an attempt to fix the mistakes of its past and imbue new meaning into a major moment that has already happened in Natasha’s death. Coming out more than a year after it was supposed to, it feels like an awkward reminder of what Marvel failed to do early on in its run, but occasionally, mostly whenever Pugh is in control, it’s a thrilling preview of what’s to come. Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.

Entertainment

Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.

Victoria

Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.

Queensland

BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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