Friday night at the movies seemed as if it could have been happening in 2019. The parking lots were full. The lobby at the local 13-plex was crowded.
And the guy behind me in the auditorium kept kicking my seat. So the movies are back.
The occasion was the release of the latest superhero movie, “Black Widow.” Directed by Aussie Cate Shortland, the film stars Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov, Rachel Weisz as the Soviet operant conditioning specialist who acted as young Natty’s mother, David Harbour as Red Guardian (a comic father figure), and Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, who as a girl believed the four were an actual family.
The last couple of years were particularly trying for English actress Pugh. She made a name for herself in 2019’s “Little Women,” signed on to do the “Black Widow” movie, which promised to provide her with lots of visibility, and then made a series of ads which seem to rely on fame which the lock-down had denied her.
But her performance in “BW” deserves notoriety. In fact, the cast is terrific in the new movie. The pace is quick. There does seem to be something like an ending to it. “Black Widow” is a superior entertainment of its kind.
Perhaps that’s because despite all the flashbacks, “BW” is essentially a Bond movie. It has every trademark characteristic except references to martinis and Aston Martins. Its evil, secret power-building villain (Ray Winstone) in his hovering space needle is as Bond villain-like as was Goldfinger.
And the action scenes, all of them decently filmed, are all straight out of Bond movies, or Jason Bourne ones, or maybe Mission Impossible ones. Racing over the roofs of a foreign capital.
Battling an over-sized opponent in a narrow street. Snipers in a city in Morocco. And so on. Baddies attack from air transport without notice. I think the vials idea came from an MI movie.
Belova, working as one of the irrationally named “Black Widows,” is surprised when a target breaks a vial in her face, causing her to inhale the antidote to the brainwashing these trained assassins have been through.
She sends the extra vials to Romanov at a safe house (belonging to what organization?) in Budapest. The little glass containers of potion are forwarded to Natasha, who is hiding out after the Avengers debacle that has receded in time and memory.
The two former fake sisters are each being harassed by the “Black Widows” and the villain’s champion, a killer in an Iron Man suit. So Belova and Romanov meet and agree to free their fake father from a Siberian prison. Once he’s out they go on to where fake mother is training pigs.
They want to find the villain and take revenge for his misusing their early lives. But they don’t expect Ma to drop a dime on them. Suddenly her house is surrounded by baddies. The fake family is taken up into Draykov’s flying castle.
From there any Bond fan could tell you how things turn out. That means, among other things, that the story has a shape and a purpose, and so it feels more or less over once the credits run.
Audiences may have trouble with the Cold War references, but those are neither consistent nor particularly important to the story. Let’s just recall that the evil empire eventually came apart and the world awoke. Remember the ad hoc demolition of the Berlin Wall?
Well, it seemed as if some wall between us and the movies came down last weekend. Thankfully.