Film Reviews: Black Widow & Richard Donner’s Superman
After numerous delays due to the COVD-19 outbreak, Scarlett Johansson’s solo adventure has finally made it to the big screen. Anyone familiar with the events in the MCU will be aware of her fate in Endgame. The character has grown in quality since her highly sexualised and paper-thin portrayal in Iron Man 2, and her death in Endgame was an emotional moment. Had her character been given a solo adventure in the first phase, it would probably have gone down as one of the worst instalments in the franchise as her character didn’t begin to truly develop until Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The character’s solo adventure has come at the right time from a writing standpoint at least. With her fate in mind however, it does beg the question for both moviegoers and hardcore MCU fans; why should we care?
I feel as though the filmmakers have done their best to justify the film’s existence, making effective use of the character’s past as a driving force for the narrative. Unfortunately, it falls short of becoming emotionally engaging, and this is due to multiple issues.
Firstly however, the good stuff; Scarlett Johansson is given plenty of interesting things to do beyond kicking and punching, and there is no sexualisation of her at all. Granted this was never a huge issue because that is a fundamental characteristic of her espionage tactics in the comics, but we’ve seen it enough in previous films so it’s nice that the script gives Natasha Romanoff better things to do. Florence Pugh’s Yelena offers well-delivered dry humour, and the relationship between her and Romanoff are the best parts of the film.
At 2 hours and 14 minutes, it is way too long, and I’d argue the opening sequence that proceeds the titles is thoroughly unnecessary. The film has a Bourne-like plot which is padded with lots of family nonsense featuring David Harbour and Rachel Weiz who, frankly, add nothing to the story however innocuous their presence may be.
The biggest issue with Black Widow, as with many other MCU films, are the villains. Ray Winston trampolines between ’60s Mission: Impossible baddie and The Sweeney, often in the same sentence. His character is ultimately superfluous. The greatest comic book casualty in the film however, is Taskmaster. As a casual fan of comics in general, I am aware of the character’s fundamentals, and that’s about it. Several people who know the finer details of the supervillain have complained at length over this big-screen incarnation. Even speaking as a more objective viewer, it is very disappointing. With only the basic knowledge I had, the cinematic potential was clear, both in terms of spectacle and meaty character conflict. The twist with Taskmaster might make sense on paper, but it feels utterly weightless because no time has been spent justifying its significance. It also relegates the character to a mindless tool rather than a mastermind assassin.
Is Black Widow terrible? No, but it is extremely conventional and occasionally boring. Marvel is pumping out real quality on Disney Plus, so their big-screen products really need to offer more than this. It’s passable, but only by the skin of its teeth.
With the passing of director Richard Donner, the Odeon in Sheffield screened his most celebrated film, the original superhero blockbuster Superman. Now I must confess, I have never been enamoured with it although I do recognise its significance. I feel much the same way about Citizen Kane; the influence and importance are undeniable, yet it isn’t a perfect film by any means. I wanted to see it on the big screen to gain new perspective on the film as I often find myself the only person not in love with Superman. Controversially, I find Man of Steel a more intriguing exploration of the character. The 1978 film was made at a time when Superman was a very limited character. It wasn’t until 1986 when DC comics revamped his origins and made him less godlike and more vulnerable. The better stories such as The Death of Superman followed soon after.
So, how was it watching the film on the big screen? A real delight. Has my opinion on the film changed? Not massively, I still find everything up until Glenn Ford’s death and subsequent funeral the best parts of the film. The wonderfully designed sequences on Krypton; the panoramic cinematography of Smallville and the Kansas countryside, the emotional John Williams score, all make the film’s first hour or so a beautiful experience. Glenn Ford’s death always makes me weep! Christopher Reeve is the quintessential Superman, both as Clark Kent and Kal-El, and his romantic interactions with Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane are heart-warming, particularly during the terrace interview and the night-time flight.
The film does then begin to derail in the second half, especially with the introduction of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and his two dimwits who have no reason to be there. The humour with Luthor seems out of place with the rest of the film and has aged very poorly. It attempts with the best of intentions to capture every aspect of the comic books. Unfortunately this does create tonal inconsistencies. If one compares the opening trial where Brando’s Jor-El sentences Zod and his fellow conspirators to the Phantom Zone with that of the missile reprogramming sequences, it’s like looking at two completely different films. The ending I still find staggeringly frustrating and is one of the biggest cop outs in the movies. It also doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Superman does keep you smiling all the way through, and there is still enough brilliant stuff despite the Luthor nonsense and the daft ending. It must be commended as well for laying many of the guidelines which superhero films up to this day are still following. A good-natured classic which still stands as a triumph, albeit an occasionally dated one.