After a lengthy pandemic-enforced delay – a real-life Mission: Impossible – Black Widow arrives this week to entice you back into the multiplex. Honestly, who knows where the summer’s action blockbusters would be without the protagonists doing unspeakable things to a BMW in a glamorous European city?
This time it’s Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), front and mostly centre of this new ‘phase four’ standalone/prequel entry in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, returning to kick unprecedented amounts of ass. There’s a powerful psychological undercurrent in Black Widow as the origin story unfolds, abandonment issues are dealt with in vivid style, and the Black Widow is reunited with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), her lugubrious father Alexei (a very funny David Harbour), and eventually her mother (Rachel Weisz).
Looming above it all is General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), a rogue Russian spy lord who is chemically brainwashing and mind-controlling an army of young women in a facility called the Red Room. They become contract killers or – you guessed it – ‘black widows’. Into the fray comes the relentless and enigmatic – even for an MCU movie – Taskmaster, and our Black Widow is aided and abetted by fixer and potential suitor, Rick Mason (O.T Fagbenle), known as The Agent in the Marvel comics.
Depending on where you stand on all things MCU, Black Widow is refreshingly earthbound for a massive summer movie, at its best exploring the trickier byways of the human psyche in the midst of all the expected nerve-jangling mayhem. It’s still plugged into the wider Marvel mainframe, of course, tightly and wittily scripted, and the whole thing is adroitly handled by director Cate Shortland.
"I doubt the God from space has to take an Ibuprofen after a fight," Yelena remarks of her all-too-human sister, referencing one of her Avengers compadres after a dust-up. You could even argue that the film is relatable, although that’s a relative term in this context (unless your sister happens to be a highly trained Russian assassin).
And yes, there is an explosive car chase involving a BMW, an X3 being hunted down by Taskmaster in a tank through the streets of Budapest. “It’s a question of time – and creativity,” second unit director Darrin Prescott explains.
“What matters is what the script dictates. If necessary, we switch off functions such as ESP or safety assistance, replace the engine or tear the entire body off the car and rebuild it from scratch. The ideas for stunts often arise spontaneously – we want them to be as original as possible, to bring action never before seen to the screen.
“That automatically presents us with a major challenge – but we continually fine tune the nuances of the plot and the locations until we’ve created the perfect arena for our stunt ideas. I’m very demanding about drifting when it comes to getting things where I want them.”
A total of 13 X3s were used/sacrificed for the sequence in Black Widow, the main stunt cars ditching the electronic handbrake for a hydraulically actuated one. There’s a particularly satisfying reverse J-turn, Florence Pugh’s character Yelena delivering a waspish critique of her sister’s driving technique throughout. Never let her open a door in a crowded street, is all we’re saying.