FlixChatter Review: Black Widow (2021)

When Natasha Romanoff was first introduced in the MCU 11 years ago in Iron Man 2, I didn’t immediately warm up to the character. Even Scarlett Johansson herself admitted Romanoff was portrayed more as a sex object, albeit a bad ass one. Thankfully, she continues to evolve for the better in the subsequent movies, as she becomes quite a formidable member of the Avengers.

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Natasha has always been feisty, as shown in flashback as a tomboy preteen girl with blue hair (Ever Anderson, apparently she’s Milla Jovovich’s daughter!), growing up with her 6-year-old sister Yelena. It seems like a happy existence with their loving mom Melina (Rachel Weisz) and dad Alexei (David Harbour) in an idyllic Ohio suburbs. But one fateful day, they suddenly have to leave everything behind and make a run for it, barely eluding authorities in the process. Soon young Natasha learn just who her parents truly are, a la The Americans who are Russian spies posing as a regular American family. We even meet Alexei’s boss, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) who leads the top secret Soviet training program known as the Red Room.

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Astute MCU fans would remember that Natasha’s past has been teased several times in various films, Loki even specifically mentions Dreykov’s daughter in the first Avenger. Given she’s trained by a covert organization also means there are other Black Widows just like her. In the long opening credits, we are shown the rigorous training that turn girls like Natasha into powerful sleeper agents and assassins. One of those trained by the Red Room program is her own sister Yelena (Florence Pugh). While Natasha is on the run from Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for breaking the Sokovia accord and goes into hiding in Norway, Yelena is having her own moment of revelation in Morocco about the Black Widow program. Their reunion is one of the most action-packed moments that’s fun to watch.

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Though Black Widow is one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the movie plays out more like an espionage thriller more than a fantastical superhero movie. Not quite as bad ass as Bourne but more akin to Captain America: The Winter Soldier (still my favorite standalone MCU movie thus far). Even the tone, pacing and the way the large title cards reveal a new filming location reminds me of that movie. Perhaps it’s a nod to Natasha’s close association and friendship to Steve Rogers. After all, it’s because she chose to save him in Civil War that Ross is after her, and this movie takes place directly after that third Captain America film. Now, the film’s storyline doesn’t exactly move the MCU’s overall story forward the way other standalone movies did, it’s more of an extension of its vast universe, which I think makes it a unique film.

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This movie marks the eighth time Scarlett Johansson’s played the Black Widow character and reportedly her last. Well, if that were true, she’d have ended on a high note. We have seen her fight alongside superheroes, displaying her mastery in the arts of espionage as well as exceptional weaponry and athletic abilities. It’s great to finally see not just her emotional side but also her valor and sense of nobility… which in a way is a harbinger to the moment she sacrifice her life for the good of mankind in Avengers: Endgame. Knowing her future fate doesn’t lessen the emotional value of Natasha’s story however, in fact it deepens it as we’re now given a glimpse into what makes her who she is.

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Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland was apparently hand picked by Scarlett herself (who’s listed as one of the executive producers) as she’s a fan of her sophomore indie film Lore, a historical WWII drama. Shortland might be new to the action genre but she proves herself adept in filming the dynamic action scenes. There are plenty of hand-to-hand combat and gritty fighting styles that feels more raw and chaotic than when she was fighting with the Avengers. She is fighting amongst mere mortals after all. Even Yelena makes a point of it after an intense fight/motorbike chase, ‘gods of thunder probably won’t need an aspirin after a fight,’ ha!

Some of the action are pretty brutal though, especially when they fight against a mysterious enemy in full armored suit called Taskmaster who can seem to mimic the fighting styles of various Avengers. The identity of the Taskmaster who reports to Dreykov is kept under wraps until the end, and I’m glad I wasn’t spoiled before watching it so I’m not going to mention it here either. My favorite fight scenes are between the two sisters in Budapest and the one where Natasha had to fight a whole bunch of fellow Black Widows!

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What I didn’t expect is the amount of levity and humor which I find refreshing. I love that Scarlet isn’t above poking fun of her own character she’s played for over a decade. The way Yelena teases her relentlessly about her power pose (the full squat with one leg extended and throwing her head back) is hilarious! She calls her sister ‘a total poser’ and even tried to mimic the pose at one point. I love how she’s unfazed that Natasha is an Avenger and constantly makes sarcastic quips at her expense. Speaking of Yelena, I absolutely adore Florence Pugh!! I’ve seen her in four movies + one terrific miniseries and she’s such an effortless scene stealer! She’s charismatic, spunky with a strong screen presence, you just can’t take your eyes off her! Nice to see that she has a great rapport with Scarlett and I think she’d be a terrific actress to hand off the baton to.

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Harbour provides a bunch of comedic moments and practically spoofing the fact that he’s also a super soldier and perhaps secretly wish he’d be an Avenger. He’s not ashamed that he’s kind of a fan-boy of his own daughter and constantly asking Natasha if her friend Steve aka Capt. ever asks about him. I love seeing Weisz as part of the MCU, that’s such inspired casting and both she and Harbour have some memorable moments here. One supporting character I wasn’t too familiar with is Mason (O-T Fagbenle) whose flirtatious banter with Natasha suggests he’s more than just a friendly ally who assist her with her ‘necessities’ while in hiding.

As for Winstone, I’m used to seeing him as a tough, working class bloke. Well, he swapped his Cockney accent with a dodgy Russian one and he doesn’t get much to do here. The relatively brief scene between him and Natasha isn’t really that memorable, so he’s akin to the villain in Thor 2. Can’t remember who it was? Most likely you won’t remember Winstone either, but thankfully the two female leads have plenty of memorable moments to make up for it.

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I have to mention the rousing score by Lorne Balfe that I enjoyed quite a bit. I became familiar with Balfe through this indie rom-com Not Another Happy Ending starring Karen Gillan. I like how they use contemporary songs sparingly that fits nicely with the scenes. I particularly enjoy Malia J’s melancholic cover of Nirvana’s Smell Like Teen Spirit that’s played during the opening credits.

Overall there are lots to love here, the screenplay by Eric Pearson manages to balance the action, humor and emotional moments pretty well. It’s interesting how the major themes of behemoth franchises with the most bombastic action sequences (Star Wars, MCU, Fast & Furious) is ‘all about family’ and not necessarily those you’re born with. Black Widow is a fun mix of spy thriller and superhero genre that’s essentially about family ties. The movie looks great on the big screen so I’m glad it’s released when we can actually go back to cinemas again. I had so much fun watching this that I don’t mind watching it again.

Oh, be sure to stay for the end credits as Marvel shrewdly promote what to expect in the next MCU series on Disney+ coming later this year.

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen BLACK WIDOW? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

The Mission: Impossible film franchise is one of the few that somehow got better and better after its third sequel struggle to make a dent at the box office. Not only did the later sequels were financially successful, they’re also critically darlings. Looking at Rottentomatoes.com, Mission: Impossible 4-6 received mid to high 90% rating.

After a mission gone wrong and three nuclear missile heads are in the hands of a new group of terrorists known as The Apostles, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his teammates Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) must retrieve the weapons. When Hunt was getting an intel briefing from his boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), as to where he can find the nuclear weapons, they’re both got interrupted by a new CIA director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett). Sloan is upset that the IMF team lost the nuclear heads and insists that her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) must go with Ethan to retrieve them.

First on their task is to capture and impersonate a man named John Lark (Liang Yang) and meet with a mysterious woman named White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), in Paris who has the connection to the Apostles. But when Hunt and Walker met with White Widow, she insisted that they must break out an international terrorist and Hunt’s nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) from prison or they won’t get the nuclear weapons. Of course this complicates the mission but both Hunt and Walker went along and helped Lane escaped. Along the way, Hunt ran into an old friend Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). She’s also has her own mission and that is to eliminate Lane for good. Well, things never go as planned and Hunt must use all of his skills to try to save the world from chaos and also save those who he cares about.

For the first time in franchise history, the same director and writer Christopher McQuarrie of the previous film has returned and take charge of this new mission. To my surprise, McQuarrie has exceeded what he created in the last picture. He crafted a complexed storyline that’s full of twists, drama, humor and big action sequences. By hiring new crew members, notably a new cinematographer and composer, he was able to differentiate this film from the last one. It’s clearly that he used Nolan’s The Dark Knight as his inspiration for this outing. The film even contains a big chase that’s very similar to a chase sequence from The Dark Knight. A big bathroom brawl, a spectacular motorcycle and car chase through the streets of Paris and a helicopter chase are the highlights of the set pieces.

Cinematographer Rob Hardy is having a good year. He shot the excellent Annihilation for Alex Garland earlier this year and again for this film, he did a tremendous job. This film contains so many wide shots in the series since Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2. This is good because we the audience can actually see the action and not trying to figure out what’s going on super chaotic scenes. Shout out also goes to composer Lorne Balfe who apparently is the understudy of Hans Zimmer. So, of course this film’s score sounds like it’s was composed by Zimmer. There’s still the well know Mission: Impossible theme but Balfe made it sounded like something very original. Just a little trivia, Hans Zimmer did compose a Mission: Impossible film, he worked on the second one.

With three box office bombs in a row, Cruise poured all of his performance into this film. He did the usual crazy stunts but was willing to show his character’s age and flaws by having him get his ass whooped a few times in the film. The rest of the cast members were pretty good too. I was afraid Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust might just be nothing more than a cameo but her role was an integral part of the story and as usual she saved Hunt’s life couple of times in the film. Simon and Luthor didn’t really have much to do except to be comic relief. Luther did have a touching scene with Ilsa, I really liked that scene. I liked the addition of Alec Balwin’s character and he even got involved in one action scene with the team members. Bassett and Cavill were a nice addition and I hope we see more of Bassett’s character in the next Mission film. Kirby’s White Widow is an interesting character and I thought she played the role quite well even though she didn’t get a lot of screen time.

Having seen the film twice already, I can declare Fallout is the best Mission: Impossible film yet. It’s full of humor, great tensions and spectacular actions sequences. If there’s an IMAX, Dolby Cinema or other large vendor theater near you, go see it there. It’s definitely my favorite film of the summer and maybe even of the year.


So have you seen Mission Impossible: Fallout? Well, what did YOU think?

Music Break: Not Another Happy Ending (2012)

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I’ve been wanting to do this post for over a month now. In fact, if I had my way I’d just be blogging about this movie and Stanley Weber until my fingers bleed. But that’s what Tumblr is for 😉

Ok so you probably know by now I’ve been obsessed with this Scottish rom-com for some time. I’m gonna do a massive post on it when I can get my act together but one of the things I’m obsessing about is the songs! I love that the producers/filmmakers feature Scottish musicians which fit perfectly with the tone of the movie and the Glasgow setting.

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Thanks to NAHE for introducing me to Sandi Thom. I really like her pop/folk/rock style, so definitely an artist to watch for.

I also love the instrumental score by Scottish composer Lorne Balfe.


There’s a certain Scottish charm in this song by TeenCanteen. It fits the rather neurotic personality of Karen Gillan‘s character perfectly! I love how their thick Scottish brogue is audible in the song, too.

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Another track by Sandi Thom, a melancholy ballad that always gives me all the feels whenever I think of the male lead in the movie, ehm.

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This one is a beautiful ballad from Scottish R&B artist Emeli Sandé. I absolutely adore this song, it’s become my daily routine to listen to it.

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Now I especially love these two songs because the scenes they appear in are my favorites in the film. If you’ve seen the movie, I think you’ll know why 😛 But seriously, these songs are so awesome I’m glad I came across The Proclaimers and Twin Atlantic. Boy, the Scottish music scene must be quite spectacular!

 


Hope you enjoy this music break! Are you familiar w/ any of the songs/artists featured here?