Tuesday, July 5

‘Black Widow’: a balance between bringing an archetype to life, earning millions and making discursive winks

Since Scarlett Johansson played the Russian spy and enforcer Natasha Romanoff in the superhero hit The Avengers, a part of fandom claimed a movie for the character. Unlike other groupmates, such as Captain America or Thor, those in charge of Marvel Studios did not find the time to prepare a film room of their own. The slowness could have some logistical foundations (such as the planning for years ahead of the productions of the Marvel Universe), but it also illustrates the timid mood of the deployment of this multi-film and multimedia franchise.

Because this filmic empire was based on characters from the first generation of the homonymous superhero universe of comics, which emerged in the early sixties of the last century. The first pages of Thor, Hulk or Iron Man, and the new adventures of Captain America, saw the light between 1962 and 1964, just after the birth of The Fantastic Four and their white nuclear family under male leadership. The Marvel of cartoons took a decade to normalize that its series could have as protagonists superheroines (Red Sonja, Spiderwoman) or African-American or Asian superheroes (Luke Cage, Black Panther, Shang-Chi), although they were often treated through the lenses of a certain picturesqueness.

Sixty years later, Marvel Studios has also taken a decade to diversify its leadership. During that first decade, women were part of groups (like the Black Widow herself in The Avengers, or Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy) and African-American or Asian heroes acted as companions to the white savior at the head of the show. Black panther Y Captain Marvel, the seventeenth and twentieth film from Marvel Studios, arrived as early as 2018 and 2019. And Black widow, the twenty-fourth film in the franchise, consolidates this expansion policy.

The new film takes us to a moment in the life of the protagonist that is located between the events related in Captain America: Civil War Y Avengers: Infinity War. A comfortable moment in which to locate a narrative without great interconnections with other films, enjoyable as a self-concluding adventure to watch without great prior knowledge.

Blows that move away from the cinema sexploitation

Black widow It works as a kind of indirect prequel: it is not a typical ‘origins’ film, but it does explore the protagonist’s past as a member of a fierce training program of girls stolen to act as intelligence agents or hitmen. When an old partner gets in touch with the protagonist, her present (superheroine who struggles to tone down a certain emotional blockage) and a sentimentally confused past (as a girl-spy in a simulated family composed of infiltrated KGB agents, in the from the tv series The americans).

The plot of the program of captive women using terrible control methods could be reminiscent of more than one action and martial arts movie. Naked weapon, a hit-and-run tape from Hong Kong, would be an example of how this premise could be treated in a supposedly sexy way. But the director Cate Shortland and her team distil this premise through the stills of a Hollywood that tries to reconcile its formulas for success and its inherited conventions with the demands of an audiovisual that tries to move away from previous dynamics.

The images of Black widow, for example, they separate themselves from androcentric fetishism. They do not tune into the fantasies of chicks with guns (aunts with guns) made of latex and bullets in the style of the fantasy saga Underworld, which could still be glimpsed in the source code of supposedly empowering proposals such as the polysemic Atomic. Both films do share a somewhat cartoonish use of the Cold War, or its heritage, as a trigger for the respective stories. On this occasion, we are not even very clear whether to fight with products from the Soviet Union or from Russia with a liberalized economy.

In any case, the heroines face a villain with the air of a predator of girls and women, of their innocence and independence. And the corresponding solidarity response takes place, in the style of what was seen in Resident evil: Final Chapter or Mad Max: Fury Road. Unlike openly righteous proposals such as Kill to die, sisterhood stands out above the desire for revenge.

A family proposal (for better and for worse)

Commercial shyness and the familiar saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” have many other ramifications, in addition to Marvel Studios’ possible reluctance to combine Caucasian men with other lead morphs in their more expensive productions. The team led by producer Kevin Feige consolidated a formula for success that defined the territory in which their creations / investments move. Works may include more humor or science fiction (Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok), but they cannot escape the tolls of nine-digit blockbusters: suitable for a young audience and brimming with action and violence that is non-confrontational and comfortable to watch.

Black widow it’s another one of those Marvel movies that pretends to be a little different. As in some passages of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a foray into the thriller of spies. Still, the final stretch has quite a bit of deja vu: a new infiltration and sabotage mission on the line established by Star Wars or Return of the Jedi (or, again, the same Captain America: The Winter Soldier) that ends up offering the corresponding doses of cataclysms. The film ends with the usual passion for the noise of so many endings of blockbuster contemporary, where the soundtrack competes with digital images of destruction to sensually overwhelm the audience.

The last proposal marveliana offers more of the same … with little nuances. In some way, it delves into previous attempts to humanize the protagonist. Perhaps it projects greater attention to the characters and their emotions, which refers to what was seen in Wonder Woman 1984. The pleasant intention of endowing the protagonist archetypes with greater humanity can also be questioned as a sexist association, as the possible outline of a blockbuster for women as a phenomenon analogous to the topic of literature for women and its greater emphasis on the sentimental than on a blockbuster for men (with permission from Vin Diesel’s intense outbursts in Fast & furious). This time, yes, we are spared the usual resource of supposedly defending a cause through an inspiring protagonist … and showing the possible debasement of that same cause through an antagonist who defends it from frustration and through violence , as happened with anti-racism and pop feminism in Black panther or in the already mentioned Wonder Woman 1984.

In reality, both Shortland and company and Johansson herself have a difficult inheritance to take on. Romanoff refers to the tradition of silently tortured, sentimentally drained, antiheroes of the thriller of action on hitmen. At the same time, as part of a youth commercial cinema, the identity conflicts of the character refer to adolescence and its nostalgia, rather than to adult life. Marvel, as always, opts for modeling and not for abrupt or conflicting expansion. So it offers us a cautious evolution of a limited character who may pale in comparison to the bellicose co-star played by Florence Pugh. And also with supporting characters played by as cunning and capable performers as David Harbor from Stranger things or Rachel Weisz.

The wait was worth it? Each viewer will have to decide. As a voluntarily encapsulated part of a larger narrative, the one that ended in the devastating Avengers: Endgame, Black widow it is limited and self-limiting as a self-concluding episode that will hardly be seen as transcendent or memorable. It offers family entertainment (in more ways than one) and recognizable, for better and for worse. And it uses a preset formula with the usual health enhancers and some more trick and wink (whether narrative or discursive) from the taste engineers, but without much capacity for a surprise that, in reality, we may not want. Or so they will say, with his fundraising record in hand, Kevin Feige and company.