Review of “Black Widow”

Please note: There will be some “Avengers: Endgame” spoilers in this review. If you haven’t seen that film yet, it’s available on Disney+, for rental on several platforms and for purchase in stores that sell DVD’s/Blu Rays.

Nothing says “SUMMER” like sitting in a movie theater with overpriced popcorn and soda and a superhero movie on the screen. There hasn’t been a Marvel movie in theaters since “Spider-Man: Far from Home” in July 2019. Now, with the pandemic beginning to ebb (get your vaccination) and the world is reopening, we are treated to a long overdue solo movie for the only women to be included in the early MCU: “Black Widow.”

Natasha Romonoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run from US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) following her actions in violation of the Sokovia Accords. She slips away to Norway with the help of Mason (O-T Fagbenle) who sets her up in a trailer isolated in the wilderness. Going into town to buy fuel for the generator supplying power to her housing, Natasha is attacked by a warrior who mimics her fighting style called Taskmaster. Taskmaster isn’t interested in her, but a case in her car. Natasha escapes with the contents of the case, several vials of a red gas. Since the items containing the case came from a safehouse in Budapest, Natasha returns to the city from which she and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) just barely escaped. At the safehouse, Natasha runs into Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), the young woman Natasha has known since they were children in the Black Widow training program called the Red Room. Yelena tells Natasha the red vials are a gas that severs the mind control the Red Room has over the female assassins. The training program was run by General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the target Natasha thought she killed to prove her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. Yelena says he survived and is still running the Red Room in a secret location that no one knows. Natasha and Yelena decide to reunite Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) who pretended to be the girls’ father in an espionage mission in 1995. Alexei is Russia’s only superhero, the Red Guardian, who was given a super-soldier serum similar to Captain America and worked for Dreykov. Dreykov has put Alexei in a prison in a frozen wasteland. Getting a helicopter from Mason, Natasha and Yelena break out Alexei and travel to meet up with Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), who pretended to be the girls’ mother in 1995. Melina is the scientist that developed the mind control used on the Widows from the Red Room. The reunited faux family goes on a mission to end Dreykov’s control over the Widows and end his plans for world domination.

While “Black Widow” is more focused on the espionage angle, the story from Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson, and the script from Eric Pearson, includes a great deal of family moments as well. Unlike “F9,” there are some actual expressions of love and tenderness shown to provide some evidence that the four unrelated people are the closest thing to family any of them has known. Despite them not seeing each other for 25 years, and after some initial discomfort from long simmering resentments, the four main characters slip easily into the roles of parents and children and all the friction that can cause for the youngsters that are now adults. To put it more bluntly, the family dynamic of “Black Widow” actually works, unlike “F9.”

While the rest of the movie is mostly car chases, fist fights and things blowing up, the scenes between Natasha and Yelena are the most fun in the film. They snipe at each other and complain about the choices each makes but in a way that feels sisterly than out of any real anger. The pair are reconnecting and dealing with their actions and the choices they’ve made, some beyond their control, that have cost lives. While the Red Room made them deadly Black Widows, it couldn’t completely eliminate their feelings of guilt.

Diving into this aspect of being an assassin for the State is a concept that was lightly touched on by the “Bourne” films when they weren’t fighting and blowing things up. In “Black Widow,” the notion of being a terminator for a government that will eliminate you when you’ve outlived your usefulness is central to the story. Between Red Guardian being shipped off to prison and the Widows being forced to kill themselves when they might be captured, “Black Widow” shows the unglamorous side of being a spy, even if all the Widows are beautiful.

“Black Widow” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material. There are numerous fights featuring acrobatic flips, knife play and shootings. There is very little blood, although we see a tracking device cut out of a Widow’s arm or leg, I don’t remember which. There is a graphic, but comedic, description of the forced hysterectomies Black Widows must have. We see a wrist broken during an arm-wrestling match and a leg broken in a fall. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Some have argued the last third of the movie falls into the superhero trope of being all action and very little story or character moments. That isn’t wrong. The big action set piece that concludes the movie is very “Marvel,” with the heroes saving the day and the bad guys vanquished (sorry if you consider that a spoiler, but come on, it’s a Marvel movie). There is a bit of peacemaking with Taskmaster as its identity is revealed. There’s also a very nice moment, wrapped up in action, involving Yelena and Natasha that cements their affection for one another. And the post-credits scene sets up the future of Black Widow that we’ll probably see in the Disney+ “Hawkeye” TV show. It’s not the best Marvel movie, but it isn’t “Iron Man 2” or “Thor: The Dark World” and this one is certainly overdue.

“Black Widow” gets four stars out of five.

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Review of “Hellboy”

Back in the 5th Century, a powerful sorceress named Nimue (Milla Jovovich), also known as The Blood Queen, led an army of monsters in a battle against humanity and released a plague on the world. But, Nimue was betrayed by a witch on her council and was beheaded by King Arthur with his sword Excalibur. Arthur dismembered the still alive Nimue, placed each of her body parts in separate boxes, sealed by a priest’s blessing, and scattered across Britain so she could never release her death plague on mankind again. Summoned from Hell in a last-ditch effort by the Nazis to turn the Second World War in their favor, Hellboy (David Harbour) was meant to be killed by agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Instead, agent Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) raised the young demon into a man and used his unique abilities to fight the forces of evil. A couple of Hellboy’s enemies team up to find the pieces of Nimue and put her back together. They want revenge against Hellboy, but Nimue has other plans that include bringing the Apocalypse…and she needs Hellboy to make Hell on Earth a reality.

This reboot of “Hellboy” was doomed to fail. First, fans of Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 original are deeply loyal to that film and the two would inevitably be compared, with del Toro’s films always being the one preferred. Next, there’s David Harbour’s portrayal of Hellboy compared to Ron Perlman’s. Perlman is much more playful and lighthearted as the spawn from Hell, while Harbour is primarily angry and conflicted through the movie. Finally, there’s the story. According to the film’s Wikipedia page, aspects from four different Hellboy comics were used to create the story seen in the film. It’s an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach that doesn’t give the movie much of a chance to breathe, as it gallops through an enormous amount of exposition and CGI action scenes to arrive at a conclusion that is painfully obvious.

There’s so much going on in “Hellboy” I haven’t mentioned two major characters. The first is Alice Monaghan, played by Sasha Lane. She has a connection to Hellboy’s past and one of his past enemies. She’s important to the plot as she can contact and speak to and for the dead. It’s an ability the plot requires to be important at expedient times in the story. Despite how she’s used, Alice is a refreshing character. Her snark is one bright spot in an otherwise dreary movie.

The second is Major Ben Daimio, played by Daniel Dae Kim. Daimio is a member of Britain’s paranormal agency M11 and has large scars that look like claw marks across his face. Daimio doesn’t like Hellboy and puts plans into place to kill him. Daimio also has a secret that makes him a bit of a hypocrite. I feel a bit sorry for Kim. He was put in the role after Ed Skrein was originally cast then withdrew after he was informed the character in the comics is of Asian descent. I’m sure Kim is a very good actor as he’s been in a bunch of stuff I’ve seen. However, in “Hellboy,” he’s miscast as an aggressive, always angry Brit. Kim can’t hold on to the British accent for the whole movie. In one scene he ditches it altogether. While Kim can hold a fake military weapon believably, I just didn’t buy into his being a gung-ho soldier.

The tone of the film is dark and angry, a sharp contrast to the 2004 film’s lighter, more humorous take. Perhaps this is closer to the character from the comics, but it makes for an uninvolving and morose movie viewing experience.

“Hellboy” is rated R for gore throughout, strong bloody violence and language. There is blood, intestines, brains, decapitation, severed arms, legs, fingers, eyes poked out, bodies hanging from hooks, what appears to be insects causing people to disintegrate, bodies impaled on various things, etc. Foul language is common.

I don’t recall hearing anyone clamoring for a new “Hellboy” movie prior to learning about this film being in production or after. It arrived with a thud at the box office, only making $12-million in its opening weekend. That does not bode well for recouping its $50-million budget and for making any sequels. While it isn’t the horrendous mess the real critics claim it to be, “Hellboy” is a loud, overstuffed and unnecessary reboot that isn’t much fun.

“Hellboy” gets three stars out of five.

This week, I’ll be review “Breakthrough” for WIMZ.com.

Also opening this week:

Disneynature Penguins—

The Curse of La Llorona—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, streaming and movies, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.