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What did TNIAAM’s comics wing think of Marvel’s Black Widow?

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A movie came out over the weekend. You might have watched it.

Hollywood Exteriors And Landmarks - 2021 Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

With the Syracuse Orange sports calendar at peak offseason and two different bigger Marvel things happening in the span of a week, we went ahead and made this “Marvel Week” at TNIAAM. If you’re not a fan, then feel free to ignore. There’s still plenty of Syracuse-related pieces getting published.

If you ARE a fan, however: Welcome! Along with our Marvel bracket, we’re also publishing conversations around both Black Widow and the Loki finale. Following Black Widow’s long-awaited release last Friday, TNIAAM’s comics wing chats about the movie, where it fits into the MCU and related topics.

SPOILERS AHEAD, if you haven’t watched and are still planning to, obviously.

***THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING***

John: I thought it was a movie both helped and harmed by its lack of consequences, that explains Nat, sure. But more just sets up Yelena. They did Taskmaster dirty despite the interesting idea on paper. The opening music was bad. And I think the confluence of humor and real grief and sadness was clumsy at times. Still, fun and enjoyable and the movie’s main characters were well realized.

Christian: I really hate taskmaster here. So much potential for a character reduced to a non-speaking role. But then again, the main goal of the movie was to wrap up Natasha and like you said, set up Yelena to be a player in future MCU projects. Other than Natasha and Yelena, no other character was compelling enough to care about. Especially Red Guardian. For me -- his comedy came off as cringey and embarrassing

John: I actually thought they used him reasonably well as a symbol of an old way of thinking. Seemed a little more natural and rewarding bit of introducing feminist ideals into this superhero story than just having the female characters walk together in an unearned moment (see: Endgame). Not perfect, of course. But thought his purpose was largely tied to being the muscle and functioning as a bad dad. Point was for Yelena and Nat to shine and they did in part because he didn’t have to.

Steve: See while David Harbor as Red Guardian was cringey, I thought it landed perfect for what they wanted from that character. He was a former supersoldier/spy who’s perspective on everything was so messed up that he was talking up his assassin “daughter’s” blood red ledgers. I don’t think anyone except Nat is supposed to come off as anything but an antihero here, with no redemption for the older two.

Pugh stole the movie as Yelena for me. Thought her portrayal was great. John, if you’re talking the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover, I thought it worked. And yes, Taskmaster officially got done dirty, but who’s to say that’s the last we see of the armor? Maybe there’s a quipping wise ass that picks it up down the road? I think that the character worked well for the movie and if I didn’t have a preconception of what Taskmaster was in the comics, I wouldn’t have thought it was as bad as it inevitably was.

John: Reasonable on Taskmaster. What was the positive on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Steve? Not even trolling. Just curious what you felt worked about it? I got Grey’s Anatomy vibes as the sequence channeled The Americans.

Steve: Probably the 90s kid in me and that’s it.

Christian: Pugh was excellent as Yelena. Really excited to see her work in future MCU projects.

Andy: I really like this discourse because my biggest takeaway was that Marvel was able to make a spy action movie that was pretty by the numbers but grounded it without needing five movies of backstory to get you invested in each character. A lot of that is on Pugh for being the perfect little sister to Johansson’s seasoned big-sister role, but the writing did a good job toying with family you choose vs family you are born into and what it all means. Nat needed her avengers chosen family, but the one she was truly “born” into also needed her, and she completed her character by finally accepting that part of her life instead of closing the book on it.

The Easter eggs throughought the movie (Ursa Major, Budapest arrows come to mind) we’re also done pretty well.

I’m 100% with Steve on Taskmaster. The fact that Mason was never named in dialogue makes me think they didn’t want to actively mislead everyone especially since the focus on Nat’s past actions kept focusing in on the daughter as the seed as to whom Taskmaster would be. They took the armor, the mind control was broken, and the next time we see any of these characters again will be in Hawkeye, which is what, 10 years in universe after this movie?

John: Do we feel like Mason was handled well in this movie? Or was most of that so they could set up a future return without issue? And yeah, it was an interesting spy film that managed to stay fairly grounded and you can thank the family dynamic at its core for that — despite the awkwardness their serious issues presented when juxtaposed with the humor they managed to inject.

Also don’t want to make it seem like I hated the movie - I certainly didn’t. Just think it performed about as well as I thought, and didn’t really surprise. It’s probably better than The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but maybe not WandaVision, so sits in the middle of the MCU’s overall rankings to-date.

Christian: I personally liked TFATWS more than Black Widow, but I think it was better than Wandavision. I think everyone expected to be a middle-tier MCU movie, and that’s exactly what it was.

Andy: I like Black Widow more than any of the Phase 4 projects outside Loki so far, but mostly because I think it did stay within itself a lot more and therefore had to do things that relied on strong connections to characters in the movie versus your past experiences with them. Mason was a decent example of that: He wasn’t on the screen much but was a nice play off Nat and showed she can have semi normal relationships with people.

To your point John, it did feel a little too much like a soft hands “we’re going to introduce him and not do a ton with him just in case someone wants to pick him later,” which is the kind of Marvel stuff I don’t love. Thunderbolt Ross is right there to remind you that you can move anyone around in universe no matter where you leave them so long as they’re not one of the core Avengers.

John: Speaking of Ross, I get why he was there but ultimately a bit of a shrug as an inclusion.

Andy: Definitely meant as an “easter egg”/continuity anchor but he looked TERRIBLE and they tried to play it off to no avail.

Christian: Did it look like William Hurt was slightly CG’d as well? It didn’t look great.

Andy: i think they def tried to de-age him.

John: Which didn’t make much sense since he didn’t look that young during Civil War or Infinity War. Does everyone feel like they’d feel the same about this movie if it had come out either after civil war or when it was supposed to before any of the Marvel shows?

Christian: I think it would have been out of place after Civil War, especially since the MCU wanted to set up more new characters and new players for Avengers. I think it still would have gotten the same reception if it released when originally planned. It was a good way to bookend Phase 3 and start laying the foundation of Phase 4 with Yelena and Val.

Andy: Post-Civil War — Probably would’ve liked it a bit more, because I never loved Civil War as much as everyone else.Post-Endgame — maybe would’ve liked a little more? Now — Marvel has completely moved on from the “character origins outside of my own control” motif and moved more into cosmic importance or destiny forcing the hero arc, and while i liked the movie well enough, I will forget it the instant the Loki finale drops on Wednesday morning.

Christian: Yeah, if they wanted this movie to stick more in people’s mind I think they had to release it after Loki. There’s a decent chuck of time between Loki and What If for the movie to have more of an impact.

John: Talked to Andy about this before, but don’t understand how they botched this timing stuff around Loki finale and this movie.

Andy: Right. If the original plan of “a Marvel thing every week” had panned out, I’d get it. But it didn’t, and here we are overlapping with the best of your TV offerings when there’s a gap before an animated offering comes in that lands a month before your big China play. It’s just not tight.

John: Yeah while you had a month between shows. Only reason for it is potential production stuff getting completed on Loki.

I guess finally, what will be the lasting impact of this movie? A makeup film? A change of the Marvel formula a bit? A passing of the torch via one of the better in-someone-else’s-movie character intros? Something else?

Andy: I think it’s really disappointing that the only apparent impact is Yelena’s introduction before she shows up as an opposition force in Hawkeye.

Christian: Definitely a passing of the torch movie. Yelena is now perfectly set up to be a major player in the MCU for the next couple of years. It’s a great setup movie, but that’s all it will end up being. It’s a shame because there was more they could have done with Natasha to dive deeper into her character. We didn’t get a ton of that in the third act of the movie, which was disappointing and a missed opportunity

John: Yeah ultimately this movie doesn’t matter no matter how good it may or may not be, and that may be a first for the MCU.

Andy: We didn’t need Taskmaster to be the Next Big Bad, but man, anything else from this movie would’ve been really appreciated. Even the soundtrack, which in the trailers seemed really unique, ended up being incredibly bland.

John: Yeah, all of this sort of speaks to the point about when it’s released. Do think making it the lead-off movie for Phase 4 (the case since James Gunn was initially let go from Guardians of the Galaxy) was always a bit of an unfair ask for a grounded movie based in the past. There’s a “what if” here around how this might have played better — or worse — following a larger galactic spectacle and/or not having to wait two years between Marvel movies.

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Surely some of you have thoughts as well. Feel free to share those below.