Quick Synopsis: It’s a marvel action film. Do you need to know anything else?
So, this is it, the first Marvel film in two years. Perhaps more importantly, the first one since cinemas reopened. So in summary, there’s a lot riding on this. I actually saw this the day of release, first screening possible. I did this because I felt if I didn’t, that people on twitter would ruin it for me, much like I’m going to ruin it for you, so there’s your warning about that, as this will have spoilers.
In retrospect, I don’t think I needed to do that. There’s nothing in this film which you would really consider ruined if you were warned about it. There’s no moment where your jaw drops and you think “I can’t believe that happened! This changes everything!”. The closest you get to that is the post-credits scene where a character played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus asks Yelena to kill Hawkeye. I saw “character played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus” because I don’t know who she is. Apparently she’s in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, but that was set for original release after this, so are we supposed to know who she is or not? That moment is the closest we really get to a seismic shift. Otherwise it’s just standard stuff really, Florence Pugh’s character looks likely to be a newer version of Black Widow (albeit more morally ambiguous), and her “parents” are free to do whatever.
A note about her “parents”, and about Pugh’s character too, really. Although they weren’t introduced until now, they existed in this timeline for years, having been operational since just after Civil War. Would Natasha not have thought to get them involved in Endgame or Infinity War? You can argue “she didn’t want them involved” or “they didn’t know it was happening”, but that’s only really true for Infinity War. For Endgame there’s not many people left, and most people she was close to got snapped, so you would have thought she would have got all the help she needed. Or at the very least, they would have tried to find her.
I’m so used to Marvel setting things up, that it’s kind of disappointing there’s nothing here that you can really look back at post Civil War films and go “ohhhhhh, okay”. Basically, this film doesn’t need to exist. It’s a two hour way of introducing a few new characters, and to say goodbye to an older one.
Maybe it’s the timing, if you release a prequel it’s for a reason, and this doesn’t really have one. If this got released just after Civil War I’d have looked upon it more favourably. As it is, it just feels, I dunno, needless? It never feels anything other than a footnote. The cinematic equivalent of money you find in the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn in a while.
Now, the performances? Mostly good. Florence Pugh slots in beautifully like she’s been there all along. David Harbour is a lot of fun and I wish we saw more of him in previous films. He’s probably the best written character in the film. Rachel Weisz does fine, she never really wows but she does what she needs to. The worst performer is probably Ray Winstone. You’d think having him as the leader of a villainous group would be perfect for him. Having him in charge of an underground group of assassins would be great for him. There’s just two issues: 1) he’s not really in it enough. 2) His accent. It’s supposed to be Russian (I think), but really it’s just Russian’ around between a multitude of accents.
It’s not just his performance, the way he’s written is kind of weak too. He never feels like a presence over the rest of the film, when he’s not on screen you don’t get the feeling he’s going to attack or anything, you forget him as soon as he’s not there. Doesn’t help that despite being a big deal, he’s never really been mention to much before this. I’m not saying you needed to introduce him earlier in the franchise, but it would have helped to have the opening scene based on HIM doing something, rather than putting so much thought into some of the needless padding. Trust me, there’s some padding here. There was more than one fight scene where I was thinking “okay, so why are they actually fighting? What is this scene adding?”. Our main introduction to Taskmaster (the other “villain”) was one that wasn’t really needed. It took about 5-10 minutes to advance something that could have been done in a single line of dialogue.
Now onto the good side: there’s some great dialogue in it. The new characters work and provide a good future for the MCU if used properly. We finally find out what the turning point was in Black Widow turning into a hero. It has the potential to kick off some very exciting things for the future (all of the trained Widows are freed, so there’s a group of pissed off trained assassins walking the world, if the MCU doesn’t make use of that, it’s a missed opportunity). I like the idea of more prequels, mainly because I still think we need a film set during the period where half the population was missing. Some of the action set-pieces are tremendous fun (although one does seem a bit too Saints Row 3 for me). Very excited to see what kind of things Cate Shortland can do as a director in the future. Has a great cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit during the opening credits (which may possibly be my favourite opening credits in an MCU film). It’s an apt send off for Johansson, and a lot of fun. It’s just, so very popcorn. It is very very good, it just doesn’t seem important enough, and doesn’t really add anything to the franchise as a whole, it just seems to exist solely as a send-off to the character. Which is nice, but still…
Also I bingewatched Taskmaster (the British show with Greg Davies) so it was hard to unhear Taskmaster quotes throughout. No matter how good a film is, you can’t take it seriously when all that’s in your head is British comedians trying to guess how wide a caravan is in baked beans.