When it comes to action-packed blockbusters, no one in the game has demonstrated a propensity for creating solid-to-great movies that share a single cinematic universe like Marvel has.
From the early days of “Iron Man” to significant tonal shifts in movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” Marvel has shown us that they can incorporate different film styles and even genres into their all-encompassing world of superhero fiction and still pull off engaging story lines, characters you root for, and a level of continuity you can’t even find in some TV shows. Marvel movies may get a bad rap in the “film as art” department, but there’s no denying that they know their audience and, for the most part, don’t fail to deliver.
Maybe that’s why the stakes seem a bit higher for Scarlett Johansson’s first solo film, aptly titled, “Black Widow.” After “Wonder Woman” proved to be one of the few bright spots in DC’s attempt at building a cinematic universe similar to Marvel’s, a number of other female-led blockbusters have failed to recapture the same level of excitement, critical praise or box office revenue. This has prompted a debate among many about the prevalence of sexism in American culture. For example, after the recent failure of Elizabeth Bank’s “Charlie’s Angels” reboot, Banks very publicly blamed sexism for her film’s performance — going even so far as saying that films like “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman” aren’t actually about women because they were made for male-dominated film genres.
To put a very brief summation on a very complex issue, when “Black Widow” comes out, the pressure will be on for it to be profitable — because, like it or not, the future of female-led action movies could be in the balance.
But if you think that’s the only way this movie will bridge the gap between popular culture and real politics, you’ve got another thing coming. This movie appears to take place sometime before the events of the first Iron Man movie, but well after the fall of the Soviet Union. Based on the shots of Humvees in a desert setting, it stands to reason that this movie might take place after the attacks of September 11, 2001, but before Tony Stark’s “privatized national security.”
The film will revolve around Black Widow returning to her KGB roots and getting the old band back together — including a now past-his-prime Red Guardian, played by “Stranger Things” star, David Harbour.
Red Guardian, for those who spent their junior high school years writing notes to girls instead of reading comic books, was the Soviet equivalent to Captain America — and like Captain America, more than one guy has carried the title. This movie will feature Alexi Shostakov as the red-suit clad Soviet hero. According to the comics, he and Natasha Romanov actually used to be married. I can’t say whether or not that storyline will carry over into the movie, but in the source material it was her relationship with Shostakov that led Black Widow to fully embrace her time at the KGB.
Obviously, a guy like me (that was once spotted dressed as Captain America and shouting “Wolverines” at Russia’s rugby team when they visited the States) would normally have some reservations about rooting for Captain Communism in a new Marvel flick set in the early days of the War on Terror. But the movie’s trailer quickly dismissed these reservations for me. The trailer doesn’t harp on the politics of the failed Soviet state — nor do I predict that the movie will.
Like Russia, Harbour’s depiction of Red Guardian is an old and out of shape man — not quite the powerhouse he was in the 80s. If anything, his depiction of a former tough guy getting back into the game well past his prime, makes him perhaps the only Soviet hero I’ve ever felt an immediate kinship with.
Will “Black Widow” prove once and for all that female-led action franchises can work? Will it manage to make me swallow my pride and actually root for a guy with a commie-red suit and thick Russian accent? I guess we’ll all find out on May 1st.