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A promotional still from "Black Widow," featuring Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and newcomer Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova.

OPINION: “Black Widow” top-tier acting saves it from disappointing villains

This review contains spoilers

Finally, after two years of no theatrical releases, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) returned with its 24th installment, “Black Widow.” This film is an action-packed spy thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as the title character. With well-acted protagonists and a heavy focus on family, it’s a genuinely good time from start to finish, despite some villain development problems. 

Soon after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) is on the run when she receives the antidote to the mind control that she and the rest of the Widows have been subjected to. Together with her little sister Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh, they reunite with their parents and set out to free the rest of the Widows under the control of Ray Winstone’s Dreykov.

This movie uses Natasha’s family of spies and super soldiers as a vessel to elaborate on her past, while also teaching Natasha to forgive her families — both this one and her family of Avengers — and come to terms with her past and traumas. In the end, this highly dysfunctional family is able to come together and save the day.

My favorite new character is Yelena, and I’m very excited to see more of her in the future. Pugh manages to switch easily and quickly through several sides of the character, and particularly shows off her acting chops in a scene when the whole family has their first meal together after being reunited; the actress skillfully deploys a wide range of facial emotions in that scene alone. I also look forward to seeing more of Alexei Alanovich Shostakov as the Red Guardian, perhaps with some added depth.

Johansson gave a fantastic performance as Natasha. She was expertly able to sell the trauma of the character — being taken as a child and raised as an assassin would certainly cause it for the character. However, Natasha was able to get some much needed closure from some of her past, making her overarching story and character development from “Iron Man 2” all the way to “Avengers: Endgame” that much more satisfying.

A solo Black Widow movie has been long overdue in the MCU, and this provides great pacing and added subtle world building to the cinematic universe. “Black Widow” has also given us some much needed backstory for our favorite avenging superspy.  We see great action scenes in this movie that show us how relentless Natasha is, and why she’s an Avenger.

On the other hand, the villains in this film provide a lot of lackluster screen time. Taskmaster is a new character in the MCU, and I was very excited to see what he could bring to the overall scheme of things, but he can be added to the roster of forgettable and disappointing MCU villains. He could have been replaced with a different skilled fighter from the comics or even a completely new villain made for the film and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. We need a future version of the character that stays more true to the comics.

Dreykov — Taskmaster’s handler — manages to be a little less disappointing, but not by much. His motives are unclear and his goals are uninteresting. He’s pretty much the embodiment of a stereotypical spy villain, going so far to fit the cliché that he even explains his evil plans to Natasha. Again, he’s just another forgettable MCU villain.

Besides the disappointment of these villains, this movie has an overall solid and entertaining story. It’s able to stand on its own, making it accessible to newcomers; however, your viewing experience is enhanced with knowledge of the lore of the MCU. “Black Widow” feels like a Marvel movie in all the best ways: fantastic acting, great action and that natural MCU polish.

While this movie has compelling action and top-notch acting, the villains of this film are uninteresting. “Black Widow” excelled at dealing with trauma and family, but if you want a truly great spy movie with Black Widow in it, you should watch “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Still, the positives override the negatives and “Black Widow” is definitely worth a watch.

Maxwell Minty McGrael is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or on Twitter @MintyMcGrael

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