As Marvel’s epics get bigger, Black Widow’s stakes feel too small

A movie out of your time , in additional ways than one

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 29: Fans attend the Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Widow’ Fan Event at the El Capitan Theatre on June 29, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Black Widow was released at the incorrect time, in multiple ways. The new Marvel prequel was one among the foremost high-profile films to be displaced by the constantly shifting theatrical release schedule caused by the shuttering of theaters thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Latrodectus mactans — a movie set between Captain America: Civil War’s superhero dust-up and Avengers: Infinity War’s cosmos-spanning epic — seems like a movie that ought to are released when it’s actually set, rather than as a belated prequel.

Warning: spoilers ahead for Latrodectus mactans , Avengers: Endgame, Loki, and therefore the general Marvel Cinematic Universe

It’s not that Latrodectus mactans may be a bad movie or an unworthy member of the Marvel saga. Its brand of James Bond-esque spy-fi harks back to a number of the more grounded MCU films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, less focused on superpowered smack-downs in favor of more traditional action movie fare.


And if it had been released in 2016 after war , that might are fine. But Marvel’s films have undergone vast shifts in tone since then. Doctor Strange opened the connected universe to straight-up magic, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok both offered galaxy-spanning adventures with whole planets at stake, and in fact , Infinity War and Endgame see the Avengers — and Natasha Romanov — fight to save lots of quite literally all of existence.

After all that, Black Widow’s stakes feel low, especially for a personality that fans have gotten to ascertain in action in far bigger adventures for over a decade. For all the joking about how Thor could handle the Red Room without breaking a sweat, the over-the-top reality that’s the regular day-to-day of the fashionable Marvel shows and films hangs over Black Widow’s throwback style.
Nothing in Black Widow’s story really necessitates it to be a prequel, either. Sure, it’s fun to ascertain where Natasha gets her Infinity War get-up from. But outside of its post-credit setup (which is about within the MCU’s post-Endgame “present”), there’s no story element or revelation about Natasha’s character that might vary had the film been released a half-decade earlier.

In fact, knowing Natasha has this found family to guard (one that the remainder of the Avengers didn’t know about) could have arguably deepened her short-shrifted sacrifice in Endgame. Imagine if Natasha’s adopted sister or parents were lost in Thanos’ snap, and therefore the sequence where she fights with Hawkeye over who gets to fling themselves off a cliff has the added weight of trying to bring them back, too. (Instead, we had Clint because the just one to potentially need to sacrifice being together with his family.)

Contrast that with Loki. The show is airing on Disney Plus right as Latrodectus mactans comes out, and it also examines an older version of a Marvel character during a new light. But where Loki is using that perspective to re-examine what makes its titular character tick, and what separates the version of Loki then from the more heroic one fans were conversant in , Latrodectus mactans doesn’t give Natasha the prospect to vary or grow. She’s already at the top of her journey, fully formed — she’s just the sole one who doesn’t realize it .

Black Widow also suffers from COVID-related delays; Disney is merely releasing it now because it’s running out of your time , thematically. Its interconnected web of shows and films means Marvel can’t advance with series like Hawkeye (which will directly follow up Black Widow’s post-credits scene). But it also means Black Widow’s comparatively grounded and realistic adventure is coming after WandaVision’s sorcerous saga or Loki’s era-spanning epic.

It’s not that Latrodectus mactans doesn’t attempt to raise the stakes, establishing Dreykov’s army of Widows as some quite massive, political force that secretly controls the planet . But once you get cosmic magical space mysteries because the norm, it’s hard to travel back to “spies, but better” as your table stakes.

There’s a world where Marvel was willing to plan to a movie led by one among its female characters in 2016 rather than 2019 (when Captain Marvel finally broke the MCU’s decade-long streak of male protagonists), where Latrodectus mactans is a spotlight on Natasha’s origins before her ultimate sacrifice, and where the stakes are still aligned with the studio’s other properties.

Based on the trailer for Marvel’s next theatrical bow, Shang-Chi is close to punch a dragon within the face with magic space rings. And next thereto , it’s hard to not desire Black Widow’s brand of more grounded spy action is just too little, too late.

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