Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Black Widow (2021)

A review on American Superhero film, Black Widow (2021). The film is the first of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Four films and is directed by Cate Shortland. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Black Widow and the list of cast includes Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Ray Winstone. The film is a continuation of the saga from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is now in cinemas and Disney Plus streaming service.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Cate Shortland
  • Screenplay by Eric Pearson
  • Story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson
  • Cinematography by Gabriel Beristain
  • Music by Lorne Balfe
  • Edited by Leigh Folsom Boyd and Matthew Schmidt
  • Production by Marvel Studios
  • Distributed by Walt Disney Studios and Motion Pictures 

+ Note

The character of Black Widow as the ex-Russian spy first made her appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Iron Man 2 (2009). Since then, she had made dozens of appearances all across the three phases of the MCU and in turn, grew in popularity amongst the fans. A standalone Black Widow film was always on the cards for Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios President) but due to big event shattering films like Avenger: Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019), the filming got delayed till the end of the Phase Three. 

After hinting at it through numerous films, Black Widow was set to reveal the origin story of the character and how she became a super spy, entangled in the world of espionage. The main list of characters included Natasha Romanoff’s estranged family of misfits. Black Widow was to be released in the Summer of 2020 but due to the pandemic, the film kept getting delayed till it was finally released in the summer of 2021. As of July 23, 2021, Black Widow has grossed $146.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $132 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $278.7 million.

+ Main Cast

  1. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  2. Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova / Black Widow
  3. David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian
  4. O-T Fagbenle as Rick Mason
  5. Olga Kurylenko as Antonia Dreykov / Taskmaster
  6. William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross
  7. Ray Winstone as Dreykov
  8. Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff / Black Widow

+ Plot

The events of Black Widow take place after Captain America: Civil War (2016) where she serves as a fugitive from the Sokovia Accords. Due to political conspiracy and espionage, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) ends up confronting her dark past as a spy and mending broken relationships with her “parents” and sister. In the quest of searching for the truth, Natasha comes across a mysterious “Red Room” and the potential mastermind behind the Superspy program.

+ High Points

i – The main cast of characters of Black Widow have great chemistry with one another. The exposition/ quieter moments of the film reveal the depth of personality each of the characters pertain within themselves. The screenplay gives vital time develop each of the estranged relationship in the dysfunctional “Romanoff” family and by the far the best thing going about the film.

ii – Speaking of estranged relationships, Florence Pugh as Natasha’s Superspy sister is wonderful casting and an assent to the Black Widow saga. The banter with Scarlett Johansson and her performance walks the fine line of cynicism and comedy with rewarding results. Pugh’s dialogue delivery and subtle gestures play a key role in cementing her as one of the quintessential non-superhero characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.   

iii – And of course, a shoutout also goes to David Harbour as the bumbling “Red Guardian” who’s tall tales of fighting Captain America never cease to amaze his listeners. If not written correctly, the character could’ve ended up being a liability to the film but it is Harbour’s comedic timing and emotions that make him hilarious but loveable at the same time. 

iv – The dark opening sequence of the film was admittedly fantastic and unique from the rest of the Marvel films. It was unapologetically tragic and disturbing to say the least but unfortunately for the film, the originality ended right after the opening scene and the film devolved back into pointless action sequences.

+ Low Points

i – So I guess we should address the elephant in the room; why now? Why did Kevin Feige feel that the audience needs a Black Widow film when she already died in the previous Avengers film? Black Widow is admittedly a competent Superhero film but what purpose does it serve in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The film feels 3 or 4 years too late and it shows. The biggest issue with Black Widow is that regardless if you love the film or not, it is inconsequential and therefore, lacks the stakes of engaging its audience. 

ii – Like Captain Marvel (2019), Black Widow feels dull and a mediocre product of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The plot and action sequences seem like nothing that we already haven’t seen time and time again. The big baddy Dreykov kidnapping and brainwashing solely female subjects is never justified. There seems to be a clear distinction between the dialogue heavy scenes to the mind numbing action sequences. Apparently, the film’s creative team was already working on the action scenes of the film long before they even approached the director of the film! And the results are clear as day. Black Widow doesn’t feel like a coherent film or a vision of a sole filmmaker but rather just some interesting character developing moments, followed by bland CGI explosions. 

iii –  While watching the film, the question that always popped in my head was; is Black Widow invulnerable to pain? As far as I know, Natasha was never injected with the Super serum, how (for the love of God) can she jump 100 feet down on the ground, take a massive beating to the face and still walk away scratchless? I understand that suspension of disbelief is a common trait one must have while watching a superhero film but this was just plain ridiculous and numerous times took me out of the film.

iv – Normally, I do not compare the source material to the film adaptation but Taskmaster was such a major disappointment in the film. The cunning copycat of the comics has so much devious personality that could have served the cinematic counterpart quite well but unfortunately, Taskmaster in MCU is just another bland, generic villain in the film that Black Widow must overcome. I cannot talk much about the character due to spoilers but whatever emotions the film was trying to bring to its audiences, it sadly did not work.

v – Ray Winstone as the big baddy also never lived up to its true evil potential. He was evil for the sake of being evil. No real motivations or character development, Dreykov had the depth of a James Bond villain from the 1960s.

vi – There was a cute subplot with the Red Guardian who claimed to have fought Captain America and then… nothing. There was no pay off to the story. Again, so much potential but none of the creativeness to bring it all together with the main plot of the film.

vii – Even though the family interaction scenes were the best part of the film, the third act of the film was entirely forgettable, CGI nonsense that betrayed the very core of an espionage film. Instead of constructing something unique, the creative team opted for yet another “world threatening, ships in the sky exploding” conclusion that will challenge to keep the audience’s attention span till the end of the film.

+ Overall

Black Widow is a perfectly serviceable but bland Marvel film that never lived up to the character’s potential. MCU needs to be a lot more creative if they don’t want to lose their core audience with the upcoming phase four films.

Rate : 2.0 out of 5 stars

TV series, Uncategorized

Mr. Khan’s Review on The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (2021)

A review on American Television miniseries, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (2021). The 6 episode mini-series is directed by Kari Skogland and stars Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/ The Falcon and Sebastian Stan as James “Bucky” Barnes/ The Winter Soldier. The show is a continuation of the saga from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is a Disney Plus Original series.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Kari Skogland
  • Cinematography by P.J. Dillon
  • Music by Henry Jackman
  • Produced by Ariella Blejer and Dawn Kamoche
  • Created by Malcolm Spellman
  • Production by Marvel Studios
  • Distributed by Disney Platform Distribution 

+ Note

The idea for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was conceived not long after 2018 where the creators at Marvel Studios felt that side characters in the MCU could be further explored with the launch of Disney’s very own streaming service. The mastermind behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe Kevin Feige was fully onboard with the idea of Falcon and Winter Soldier having their own spinoff show. The previous films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Captain America: Civil War (2016) displayed the talents of Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan budding heads together and starring their own “buddy cop”-esque show. But the show wanted to explore much beyond Superhero drama. As did Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the show was keen on exploring relevant, political topics of the present such as race, social class, refugees and the price for freedom. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is also an exploration of the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame and its consequences on the rest of the humanity. 

The show is the second MCU TV series after WandaVision earlier in the year. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was met with fairly positive reviews from critics and fans alike.

+ Main Cast

  1. Sebastian Stan as James “Bucky” Barnes / Winter Soldier 
  2. Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon 
  3. Wyatt Russell as John Walker 
  4. Erin Kellyman as Karli Morgenthau
  5. Danny Ramirez as Joaquin Torres
  6. Daniel Brühl as Helmut Zemo
  7. Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter

+ Plot

After the retirement of Steve Rogers as Captain America, a void has appeared as to who will take up the mantle of the Stars and Stripes once again. Due to respect for Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson aka Falcon refuses the honor and decides to continue on as The Falcon. Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier is still suffering from his mysterious past as the Red Spy and is trying to search for answers in order to redeem himself. But when a new threat of Super Soldiers emerge and threaten to destroy the stability of the country, it is up to Falcon and Winter Soldier to join forces and save the day once again.

+ High Points

i – I have to admit, I didn’t have a lot of hope going into this show. As WandaVision’s premise intrigued me right from the get go, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier just felt retreading previous waters that MCU has displayed onto the silver screens time and time again. In short, this show felt like filler content for Disney’s new streaming service. But surprise surprise, the show turned out better than expected. The story pacing was good, there were some pivotal character development moments, some new characters also turned out great and could have a lot of potential as the MCU progresses into its Phase 4. Although the conclusion was a disappointment, the show is still definitely worth a watch if you find Marvel films entertaining and/ or have been a fan of the Captain America/ Russo Brothers espionage/ superhero action films.

SPOILER ALERT!: (From here on out, there will be spoilers for the show as it is impossible to discuss the plot points without spoiling anything. If you still haven’t seen the show and would like to see it, you can skip directly to Overall section)

ii – Ironically, the show is at its best when there are no action scenes, The banter/ character building moments between Falcon and Bucky are some of the best moments of the series. Both actors play well off one another and have fun chemistry in front of the camera. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is essentially a buddy cop show between a clean cut protege of Captain America vs an ex enemy spy with a dubious past come together to fight a common threat and in the process, learn and inspire from each other’s flaws and merits.

iii – There are some story beats in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier that I just find excellent. Namely, John Walker aka the new Captain America. His story arc from introduction up until the 5th episode was excellently handled. The conflicts that he had to face in order to live up to the legacy of Steve Rogers is unfair but yet very real. Which makes it even more natural for him to succumb to the dark side. He is mostly never appreciated by his superhero counterparts and needs to improve fast in order to fight hand to hand combat with antagonists with super soldier serums. His evolution from a clean cut boy scout to eventually murdering someone in cold blood was brilliantly written (up till the last episode which I will get to soon).

iv – Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo was just so much fun to watch. He provided a bit of levity but with a tragic, dramatic edge to it. Although in Captain America: Civil War, he was still mourning the loss of his family but now, he has learned to live with his pain and has a dark yet nihilistic look on life now.

v – The secrets uncovered behind the Super Soldier experiment and its continuation well into the 50s was a neat way to add layers to the overarching plot. The whole subplot of a Black Captain America in the first few episodes was great but entirely plausible look on America and its treatment of non-white citizens. The MCU may not be known for political commentary but when done right, can be incredibly rewarding.

vi – As was WandaVision, the production of the show is excellent and on par with the MCU feature length films. In comparison with DC’s CW Network shows are night and day. The production budget behind these shows are clear evidence that Disney has full faith in these shows continuing on the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a streaming platform.

+ Low Points

i – The final episode. The show had such a great setup but was squandered away for a safe, dull payoff. The action heavy scenes made the episode ironically dull to watch, the cringeworthy speech made by Falcon at the end was laughable at best and the Sharon Carter twist near the end was just… meh. Marvel really needs to learn how to finish a show on a high note. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it all should be action driven nonsense. 

ii – John Walker’s turn to the “good side” at the end made absolutely no sense in terms of his previous character development. It felt forced and unnatural. The reason John Walker was an interesting character to begin with was his fall from grace, his muddled sense of morality, his failure to live up to the legacy of Steve Rogers as Captain America. We already have Falcon as Captain America now, why do we need another one (or as the show names him, U.S. Agent.. ugh). Without a shadow of a doubt, John Walker should have been revealed to be the main protagonist! Instead, we got stuck with….

iii –  A ginger girl who feels that her people have been mistreated and seeks revenge on a global scale. I appreciate that Marvel is trying something new but Erin Kellyman as Karli Morgenthau just unfortunately fails as the main antagonist of the show. There needed to be some more personal stakes at hand. In The Winter Soldier conclusion, Captain America had to face his long lost, brainwashed comrade Bucky Barnes in a final epic battle. They had personal history together which made the conclusion so much more entertaining to watch. And this is exactly the shoes John Walker could’ve filled in for an epic finale. Karli has nothing much going for her and is a complete letdown to the rest of the show.

iv – Even though I praised the production value above, when it comes to creativity, it is definitely passe and insipid. There is not one single sequence or shot that I could remember that I found inspiring. The visuals are pretty much forgettable. And also the shaky cam during fight scenes don’t help.

v – Which brings me to the fight choreography. I wish I could comment on it if I actually understood what was happening during those fight scenes. A single shot stays not long enough for the viewer to grasp exactly what is happening. A barrage of quick edits makes the visuals disorienting and a massive blur at the end of the scene.

vi – I sincerely feel that Marvel needs to move slightly away from the status quo. Take more risk with their properties. Just as Guardian Of The Galaxy or the Avengers: Infinity War were. It will be evidently a lot more rewarding in the long run. Many non Marvel fans complain that the ‘Marvel formula’ never really gives room for creativity. And judging by this show, I can’t disagree with them.

+ Overall

Even though The Falcon and The Winter Soldier starts off very promising, all the hype gets fizzled out with a safe but disappointing conclusion to the show. But regardless of its obvious shortcomings,The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is still an entertaining watch.

Rate : 3.0 out of 5 stars