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She may be gone, but the story of the Black Widow is not over yet.

On the run following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff ( Scarlett Johansson ) is out in the world alone and in hiding.

However, as Natasha begins to get used to her solitary existence, she finds herself confronted by a masked villain named Taskmaster with the ability to perfectly mimic their opponent’s fighting techniques.

This new opponent carries links to Natasha’s past as a Russian spy for the ruthless and abusive Red Room and also to her own brief surrogate family.

The reason for Taskmaster’s attack brings Natasha to Budapest and into a confrontation with her surrogate “little sister”, Yelena Belova ( Florence Pugh ).

Together the two Black Widows venture on a quest to prevent further damage from the Red Room and protect women and girls just like them.

Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) team up in Black Widow
(Image: Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

As you can expect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, director Cate Shorthand blends her filmmaking style seamlessly into the house style of the series but also imbues events with an added dose of femininity, aided by a script that prizes a sisterly bond between two women above all else.

Impressively, the earlier action scenes boast the best hand-to-hand combat choreography since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with one brawl between Natasha and Yelena in a kitchen evoking the kinetic ferocity of Atomic Blonde.

Florence Pugh plays Natasha's 'little sister' Yelena
(Image: MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT)

The opening scenes are perhaps the darkest and emotionally wrought scenes in the franchise, with the mystery element and tension in the first half of the film feeling more at home with films such as the Bourne series.

This is not to say that Black Widow is perfect – some morbid jokes about womanhood and hysterectomies won’t go down well with everyone, while some of the humour and banter feel at the cost of mining some more emotional depths.

David Harbour as Natasha's surrogate father, Red Guardian/Alexei Shostakov
(Image: MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT)

This is particularly true of the handling of Russian super soldier and Natasha’s father figure Red Guardian/Alexei Shostakov ( David Harbour ) and the apparently maternal scientist Melina Vostokoff ( Rachel Weisz ), whose banter and bucket loads of personality mask a lack of interrogation of the murkier moral depths of the story.

In fact. this continues to be a greater issue as the film devolves into a more standard CGI smash-up finale in the sky that the majority of Marvel entries give us, but thankfully we have some more character investment than usual for some of this – even if the Taskmaster arc doesn’t get the level of detail it deserves to have the optimum impact.

Rachel Weisz as maternal Red Room scientist Melina Vostokoff
(Image: MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT)

Yet there are great choices there in spades as Pugh has a hell of an introduction into the MCU as Yelena, bringing charisma, excellent comic timing, animation, and vulnerability as the dynamic anti-heroine. She is also awarded the best quips and running gags and so it is easy to see her becoming a fan favourite.

Elsewhere, O-T Fagbenle has very little to do but has a natural easy chemistry with Johansson as Natasha’s ally Rick Mason, while William Hurt has only a glorified cameo as Secretary Ross who is seeking to hunt down Natasha.

Natasha and Yelena must face-off with the mysterious villain known as Taskmaster
(Image: MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT)

Alternatively, Ray Winstone’s turn as Dreykov, a figure from Natasha’s past, offers a malevolent turn even if he is somewhat questionable in terms of his Russian accent.

Most importantly, however, the film gives Scarlett Johansson the chance to bring out some further emotional depth to Natasha in her final appearance, all while still bringing her reliably luminous on-screen presence.

The film doesn’t trade too heavily on the knowledge of Natasha's death in Avengers: Endgame, but instead focuses on her confronting her need for a family, her sins, and her desire for redemption.

Scarlett Johansson gets a poignant swan song as Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow
(Image: MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT)

Natasha’s solo outing is a long time coming and the stand-alone feeling of this outing and the smaller scale feels more at home with earlier phases of the MCU – when the film should have been released – but still is a highly entertaining blockbuster nonetheless.

Ultimately, Black Widow boasts thrills and laughs but is an emotional swan song for Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff.

Verdict

Black Widow sees Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff get her much-needed swan song in this thrilling but imperfect Marvel outing that also boasts a wonderful arrival to the MCU with Florence Pugh.

*Black Widow is released in UK cinemas on July 7, 2021, and is then available on Disney Plus through Premier Access on July 9, 2021.