Black Widow | Loki, Episode 5, "Journey Into Mystery"
Marvellous melees and multiversal madness.
MOVIE REVIEW /// Black Widow
Movie summary: A film about Natasha Romanoff in her quests between the films Civil War and Infinity War. (IMDb)
Black Widow's been a long time coming, with the events of this movie taking place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, just to give you some appreciation of how many years ago in-universe this story takes place. It starts so, so well too, with me wondering just where this movie was going to go after a phenomenal opening sequence and also becoming just the fourth MCU movie to have an opening credits sequence.
That excitement at how unlike the other MCU movies this felt continued for a long, long time too, primarily thanks to this story having to be effectively separate story-wise thanks to when the events shown took place. The only real connective tissue comes through dialogue and none of it feels forced, with people acting appropriately to an Avenger on the run.
The first-two thirds of Black Widow are truly excellent - it was said before release that they were aiming for a Captain America: The Winter Soldier vibe and it shows, with the movie feeling much more like a Mission: Impossible movie than anything superhero-related, Taskmaster's combat prowess and 'interesting' appearance aside. It's only the final act that lets the movie down, which is a shame as you might leave the movie with a lesser opinion of it than the first ninety minutes deserve.
The climax is very much a CGI-laden action-packed explosion-fest and completely lacking in what makes so much of the rest of the movie so good, which are the interactions between Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and her pseudo-family: Melina (Rachel Weisz), from a previous generation of Widows; Alexei (David Harbour) as the Red Guardian, the USSR's only super-soldier and saddled with a Captain America inferiority complex; and Yelena (Florence Pugh), Nat's 'sister' and a Widow herself.
Weisz gets the least screen time, which is a shame as she's one of the few highlights of the final section of Black Widow, but it would've been difficult for even her to outshine Harbour and Pugh, who pretty much steal the movie from Scarlett and are the highlights of every scene they're in - doubly so when they share the screen. This isn't to say Johansson is poor - far from it - but her character is effectively tied to future events so there's less wriggle room for any great exploration of what makes her tick.
As for the antagonists, Ray Winstone does what he can as Dreykov, whose daughter Natasha believes she killed while trying to assassinate him. He proves threatening at times, but has the worst Russian accent of everyone and, being basically a regular person, suffers a very anticlimactic and uncathartic fate. Fortunately, Taskmaster is much better and I genuinely can't understand the criticism of how they're portrayed.
There are some comics fans who are weird and want the movies to just mirror the comics, but I really liked Taskmaster here, who Black Widow makes clear is a fucking dangerous person and not someone to mess with. At one point, it's Taskmaster vs Red Guardian and it's the former who easily dominates the super-soldier, with Tasky also kicking Nat's arse around early on in the movie too.
The only thing Taskmaster is missing is their own theme or other audio sting to add to their presence - otherwise, every time they show up, the heroes know it's time to just get the hell out of there. I'm hoping Taskmaster returns at some point, because I'm pretty sure that - even without powers - they could take down a lot of the heroes in the MCU with ease.
Black Widow has a truly fantastic first two-thirds that is up there with any of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, only to be let down by a third act that goes big for no real reason other than checking spectacle off a list. Johansson is great in Natasha's final(?) appearance, but Florence Pugh and David Harbour steal the film out from under her - here's hoping we see a lot more of both in the future.
[8/10 - Very Good]
TV REVIEW /// Loki, Episode 5, "Journey Into Mystery"
Episode summary: Loki tries to escape The Void, a desolate purgatory where he meets variant versions of himself. (IMDb)
There's a criticism of Marvel Studios' movies that I feel is a little unfair at times, which is that the story takes can often take a backseat to letting the characters shine. I think this is certainly true of the the 'lesser' MCU movies (hello to Iron Man and Thor's second movies!) which got by on the audience enjoying the cast's performance more than what the characters were actually dealing with.
However, I do think this criticism also now has to apply to Loki, although it's still significantly better than either of those two films. The first two episodes - you remember, the first third of the season? - seemed to be setting up some grand arc that would propel the narrative along, which now feels like it doesn't really matter at all, which means I'm not as invested in the characters.
"Journey Into Mystery" isn't a bad episode at all - in fact, it's a lot of fun with some of the best comedic moments in the MCU as a whole for me - but it definitely reinforces my opinion that the show is laser-focused on the characters and not the events they're experiencing. This does present a problem when the show tries to force the audience to care about some major threat.
Most of the entertainment here comes from Loki interacting with an array of different Lokis, including 'Classic Loki' played by Richard E. Grant; 'Alligator Loki', produced entirely through CGI; and 'President Loki', played again by Tom Hiddleston, who actually makes this new version of Loki subtly different from the one we've spent our time with so far.
Again, this a very funny, very entertaining episode, but I was left entirely unexcited at the next episode being the season finale (yes, 'season' finale - Loki's coming back for round 2), which is the first time that's happened with these Disney+ MCU shows. Whatever you might think about WandaVision or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, at least they had me interested in what was happening just as much as the characters things were happening to.
"Journey Into Mystery" is a bit of a mess of an episode, but a highly enjoyable mess all the same. Tom Hiddleston continues to hold the show together as the plot feels almost irrelevant now, ably assisted by Richard E. Grant and a CGI alligator as variant Lokis this time around. Still, this episode didn't really leave me super-keen to see the finale, which isn't the greatest sign.