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S2: podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. How are you doing right now?
S1: I see. Charlotte Brady, Haifaa. I am. What’s in the box, you know, yo, yo.
S2: Hello and welcome to another Slate spoiler special. I’m Dana Stevens Slate’s movie critic, and today I am joined by Kathryn Hahn, a staff writer at Slate, to talk about Black Widow, the long awaited, in fact, because of the pandemic over a year away, the next installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hey, Karen, thanks for joining me.
S1: Thank you for having me back. So excited to spoil this with you. I feel like this is the biggest movie that we’ve spent together so far.
S2: That’s probably true because this is probably the biggest movie or one of them that’s been released in theaters since you’ve been. It’s late, right, as you essentially joined. Right, during pandemic times.
S1: Yeah. Which is still crazy to think about.
S2: Yeah. And now the world is reopening. And this to me feels like one of the first big signs of that. I mean, just as a movie critic, it’s sort of like the movie world hasn’t started yet until a Marvel movie has opened that has its good and its bad sides. And I was very surprised to see myself not on scrolling my usual Marxist screed about, you know, these movies all being the same, but actually finding some enjoyment in it. So before we get started, I just wanted to ask, do you have any of that feeling, too, like, woohoo, summer’s here, a superhero movie?
S1: I don’t think as much as you, although I say I know that you want to go see the press screening in the theater. And I watched this at home like I thought it was fine. I thought it was fun. But it also doesn’t really function as the movie that it’s purported to be as a Black Widow standalone. I mean, we can get into that more as we talk about it. But I thought it was fine. I thought it had a little more character, I guess, than like civil war or either end game or infinity war. But to me, that doesn’t necessarily make it like. Oh, yeah, like this is the movie of the summer.
S2: Yeah. I wouldn’t say movie of the summer. It’s more like it’s sort of it’s sort of a symptom of the summer, you know, it’s like smelling cocoa butter, suntan lotion or something like that. Just sort of a familiar summer feeling for it to be back in the theaters as opposed to the small screen. And it’s possible that my enthusiasm for it had more to do with the theatrical element than with the movie itself. But I will say that for a Marvel movie, this is sort of small scale, which is an absurd thing to say when you’re talking about a movie so expensive that they waited a year and a half to release it just to try to recoup their investment. But because it’s about one character, I mean, it’s been a while since we’ve had a Marvel installment that wasn’t trying to build towards some massive climax or spin off some, you know, new set of characters. We could argue that this one is trying to spin off a new character, but it is still about one family and we’ll get into what that that story is. But that in itself is sort of unusually modest in scale for one of these blockbusters.
S1: Well, this is coming after Spider-Man, far from home, was the one that directly preceded it. Do you see those as trying to be bigger than they are?
S2: I actually I have to say that I missed out on that second Spider-Man, my relationship to Marvel. Now, precisely because of the Marxist screed problem I was referencing, I just felt like I had written the same review so many times for Marvel movies that I was always talking about the economics of the industry and about, you know, just how I really do think it’s unfortunate that these movies have the tentpole function that they do of holding up, you know, the entire industry. But because of that, at a certain point, I just told Forrest Wickman, who’s, you know, both of our culture editor at Slate, I just I only want to do this if I care about the movie. You know, I’m not enough of a Marvel person to cover every single one. And so this one was interesting to me because it’s directed by a woman, Cate Shortland, Australian director, because it’s about a woman. I mean, just because it was slightly changing the focus of the Marvel Universe. But I confess that I’ve only seen one of those Tom Holland Spiderman movies, and they almost seem like outside the canon to me just because I don’t know about them.
S1: Yeah, I don’t know. I was just sort of underwhelmed by this movie. But we can get into the spoilers and talk about it a little more as we go along.
S2: Yeah. Let’s let’s start off with the Origin story part, which is the pre credits teaser, I guess you’d call it the cold open to this movie, which is the closest we get to some sort of origin story for the Black Widow, who I think we’ve only known about before in the universe of Marvel as sort of someone who’s vaguely Russian. Right. A former sort of Russian bad guy who has converted over to being a crusader for justice along with The Avengers. But we learn more about how she became that Russian bad guy in the open to this movie where we see a child actor. Her name’s ever Anderson. She actually looks a lot like a young Scarlett Johansson who was a child actor herself. So we know what she look like at that age. Very well, riding her bike home to join her family in Ohio. And so this is sort of the white picket fence backstory that we get that lasts a very brief time before we see that it was all a fraud. In the segment, we also see Rachel Bass playing her mother and David Harbour playing her father. As far as we can tell, they’re this very happy, wholesome suburban family in Ohio. The mom is a biologist. The dad seems to work at some sort of government facility. We don’t know that much about him, but a wrench is. Thrown in the works of their idyllic family life when he suddenly returns home with this All-Important floppy disk, so we know we’re in 1995 and says that they all have to pack up and leave, as they apparently have been dreading for some years, is going to happen. So they’ve been living a lie this whole time. And we also very quickly discover and this is barely even a spoiler because it’s in in the lead up to the credits that they’re like the family and the Americans, the TV show, they’re an undercover family of Russian spies. And the oldest daughter seems to be in on that fact. Right. It’s only their littlest daughter, a six year old who is not aware that this whole time they have just been faking this existence as an American family.
S1: Yeah, I only just realized that ever Anderson, who plays the young Natasha is the daughter of Mia Jovovich, really explains a lot about the fact that she looks just like tiny, that is.
S2: I mean, it’s just even strange to me that Mia Jovovich could be old enough to have a daughter who’s able to be in a movie, but
S1: she’s just never aging.
S2: Right, right. Yeah. She took some sort of vampire potion.
S1: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I watch that movie, which I feel like Paul WS Anderson would make that said, yeah, I love that you brought up the Americans as a comparison point, because I feel like that was the basis of a lot of what I was saying to other critic friends after having seen this movie where it’s like the beginning is basically the Americans. And to me, kind of the most interesting in part because I like that kind of weird Cold War period kind of stuff, but also because like all the other Marvel movies, this does eventually descend into giant setpiece fights. But it takes a little while before we get there, thankfully.
S2: Yeah. I mean, what I was calling the intimacy of this movie is, of course, graded on an extremely relative scale. And I really mean is that in between the, you know, huge crashing action set pieces, there are more family scenes than usual and they go a little bit deeper than usual. And they’re also about that women for the most part. I mean, that was something that I found interesting in this movie, that even most of the action sequences, although David Harbour, the dad, kind of gets into it later on, most of the time it’s women fighting women. And as we’ll get to the big villain, this sort of, you know, mechanized super robot villain of this movie is also a woman or was it a woman back when she was a human being? Yeah. So still in the opening before we even get to the credits is the very first action set piece, which I think somewhat sets the tone for how absurd later ones are going to be, which is this moment that the family, having escaped to Cuba by plane, write. Something else that we quickly learn is that Rachel Weiss, in addition to being a biologist and as we’ll learn a, you know, brainwashed Russian villain, is also this incredible pilot who’s always jumping into whatever aircraft is around and taking off with it. And there’s a crazy sequence where they’re trying to pull out of a runway while being chased by cops. And David Harbor, who is not at all an action hero type. Right. I mean, he’s a very sort of dad bod. Middle aged guy is
S1: arguably, though, he has become the new hero archetype because he was the new Hellboy in stranger things. He’s sort of still kind of that archetype. And here, especially like it all seems to be, I feel like his schtick now is a sort of subversive kind of take on it, because ultimately he still is a really tall, beefy man.
S2: You’re right. No, you’re right. Well, he also should we should note, is just opened in no sudden move the news in which he plays a completely different kind of character who really is beaten down, suburban dad, but he’s very good in it. And I was going to get to this later on because David Harbor’s role becomes bigger later when we discover a superhero identity. But I think he’s one of the best things in this movie. He’s extremely funny and he seems to find a way to enjoy himself within this material and to put his own mark on it. I really like him in this movie, but that early chase sequence just really sets sets the tone for how sort of unbelievable the physics of the entire movie are going to be because somehow superhero or no, he’s able to cling to the wing of this plane as it’s taking off and being shot at and being crashed into. And I kept thinking they’re going to look over and he won’t be on the wing anymore. And then their formative tragedy is going to be, remember when our dad fell off the plane and died? But no, he somehow makes it inside the cockpit.
S1: Yeah. And also, like the thing that he does so that the plane has an empty runway as he flips an entire. What are those,
S2: like a shipping container?
S1: Yeah, he flips an entire one of those over just to prove like pretty early on that he does have this, like, super strength.
S2: So having established that the family is both super and somehow allied with evil. Right. We we we find them landing in Cuba and being met by Ray Winstone, who turns out to be the kind of uber villain of the entire movie, although he’s hardly in it. He’s essentially and you see he’s kind
S1: of wasted on this.
S2: Yeah, he really is. Because he he also seems to understand, well, what movie he’s in. And he’s pretty great in the in the short scenes that he does do. But his main role in this early part is to separate the family. So as far as we know at this. Point is, only the dad who’s a Russian spy, right? I feel like Rachel Weisz is still being set up as someone who who is not necessarily one of the bad guys. She gets carried away on a stretcher. David Harbour disappears with Ray Winstone and the two young girls who are aged six and about maybe 12 or 13 are separated, taken away to Russia and taken to the Red Room, which seems to be the indoctrination chamber, the place where black widows are created, black widows being sort of like an army of super assassins that Ray Winstone is training. Yeah.
S1: And yeah, the credits are maybe the eeriest part of the movie as well. Like, again, as pointed out by several of my colleagues, like there’s a, I think, intentional nod sort of to the idea of like sex trafficking, especially with all the images of the girls, like huddled in crates and generally looking scared as adults shuttle them from one place to another.
S2: Yeah, I mean, it becomes once the kind of heart of the evil is revealed at the end of the movie. It is almost a kind of meta allegory in a way, not a particularly smart way, that it becomes clear that the movie is trying to play on the audience’s sympathy and growing awareness of things like sex trafficking, even though they’re not explicitly referenced.
S1: Yeah, I mean, that was almost sort of something that frustrated me about the movie because I thought that the opening scene and the credits are so sharp and interesting in a way that the rest of the movie isn’t because it feels like there could have been a different story that Shortland was trying to tell. But then it’s like, oh, there still has to be a Black Widow movie. There still has to serve the future Marvel movies and TV shows.
S2: Yeah, I mean, that fanservice thing is always going to be present in Marvel movies. And that’s why I probably once I’m to more movies, end this post pandemic era. I was more going to be completely cynical than you know, because ultimately the most we can hope from a movie like this is for it to have some little telegraphic messages from, you know, the real world of things that actually matter and that a huge amount of it is going to be creating space for future content. And the main place, I think this movie does that, and we should probably get to it right away because she’s such a big part of the movie. Isn’t Florence Pugh, who plays the grown up version of Yelena Natasha’s little sister, the one who’s only six at the beginning of the movie? As soon as we skip ahead after the credits to 21 years later, we have Scarlett Johansson, of course, is the Black Widow and Florence Pugh as yeelanna. It doesn’t take too long to get them together and fighting on the same side. But when we first see them together, in fact, when the two sisters are first reunited, they had this big knockdown, drag out fight. And I feel like that’s the moment that Florence PUE kind of emerges as the next action hero. Right? I mean, I, I don’t know how many of her own stunts she was doing. Obviously, there are tons of the teams of stunt people on these kinds of movies. But she’s so convincing in the action scenes and she’s just so energetic and electric in those scenes that I found myself wanting her to get a standalone movie A.S.A.P. She’s so good.
S1: She the level of charisma that she brings to pretty much every movie that she’s been in is absolutely insane. Like she really is a movie star. There’s no way not to be paying attention to her when she’s on screen. There’s no way to not be charmed by whatever she’s doing.
S2: But I feel like also and maybe this is part of why I give this movie some credit for its intimacy and its family scenes that she and Scarlett Johansson really seem like sisters. I don’t feel like they’re trying to upstage each other. And there’s a fair amount of time in the script given to developing their sibling relationship, especially as they sort of feel each other out in this twenty one years later period to figure out where their allegiances lie. Mm.
S1: Yeah. And it’s sort of a nice back and forth as well because the reason for his character Yeelanna arrives in the story is she’s pursuing a straight black widow and is sprayed by this concoction that turns out to basically deprogram them or help them overcome the red room’s programming. And once she’s also basically free from that mindset, she has now taken up the mantle of trying to free all the girls who are still stuck in the program and thereby sends what remains of a chemical to Natasha, who is currently on the run following the events of Captain America. Civil War,
S2: right? Yeah, this happens in between in between that and whatever came after that in the universe. So we’re moving back in time. Something I didn’t really understand about the moment when they meet up again in Budapest after, you know, she’s summoned by by Vilina is why do they instantly have this huge battle? I mean, is there something to indicate that Uihlein is lying in wait for her in some violent way?
S1: I took it to be sort of just indicative of the fact that they haven’t seen each other in such a long time and that they both know what’s up with the Red Room, where I think Natasha would still be suspicious. That Yeelanna is somehow under that programming, even though she now thinks that the Red Room doesn’t exist at this point in the movie. And also they sort of seem to have a sort of friendly brawling relationship like that kind of thing is not just for the boys anymore, I guess.
S2: Right. I mean, I have to say that that is one of my favorite action sequences in the movie, both because they’re, you know, there it’s action through character right there. Sort of. Expressing the state of their relationship through the way they punch each other and because there’s just some original fight choreography in it, like the shower curtain strangle, I just thought it was a really good combination of stunt and gag. And I fall for that kind of thing very easily. But very soon after this big, knockdown, drag out fight in a Budapest apartment, it becomes clear that they both have a common enemy and they’re working on the same side. So Florence Peus, Ulyana tells her sister, look, I’ve got this antidote right. This is the MacGuffin of the movie. This this thing that will reverse the brain conditioning that’s creating the black widows. And we have to find a way to get to the red room, save these women, give them the antidote and and and destroy General Drakkar, who we didn’t mention his name, but that’s the uber bad guy played by Ray Winstone.
S1: Yeah. And so one of the new other new characters that this movie introduces is Rick Mason, played by Ben Lee. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that right, but he’s a British actor who plays, I guess, an old friend of Natasha’s. And his whole purpose in the movie is basically to help her out in getting from point A to point B because she asks him, number one for someplace to stay and the number two, basically plane to try to get to the Red Room. But the fact that he’s in the movie almost kind of undermines one of the big threads that runs in the movie. And I wrote a piece on this movie that is either out now or will be out shortly when this podcast goes out about the fact that one of the main things that this movie is trying to do is establish that Natasha like does have a family, even though it is a found family, but in part because of where this movie is coming out, i.e. as a sort of retcon and because of everything else that’s been set up, the fact that she has The Avengers, who all support each other, even if they are currently in a fight, the fact that she does seem to have a pretty normal human life, otherwise it just takes away from that fact where it’s like, oh, she already has like outside friends. Like, why would this one thing be such a big deal? Like, obviously it is a big deal because her old family is coming back into her life. But the idea that she wouldn’t be so ready to accept it or would feel lonely otherwise feels a little bit disingenuous to me.
S2: Well, as I remember, the events of the Civil War movie were The Avengers sort of broke up right at the end of it. They it was like the band had broken up and everybody was very disillusioned and going on their ways. So I guess if you’re invested in that universe, then then Natasha, that you meet at the beginning of this movie is sort of the depressed Natasha. Right. And the family brings her out of the depression. There’s a line she has at one point that sort of surprised me where she said, I’ve never been alone long enough to figure out who I am or something like that. And it seemed to me like throughout all of those MCU movies, she was always alone. They all were. I mean, very few of them, with the exception of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye character, were shown as ever having families or any kind of connection at all.
S1: Yeah, but anyway, Rick helps them start getting on the trail of. So the big thing that we learn in this movie is that the big events in Natasha’s past was killing Drake by blowing up his building. And she, upon doing that, believed no one that she successfully killed him. And number two, that the Red Room program was over. And what Yeelanna informs her is that No. One, Drake is still alive. And number two, I guess this isn’t really confirming that it happened, but reminding Natasha that the collateral damage from that explosion was that she killed Jacob’s daughter.
S2: Right. And that’s how we learn about this villain that I mentioned earlier, who’s sort of part human, part robot. She almost seems like something from the Terminator universe, right? That’s what she looks like when you see her fighting. This big armored robot figure is actually.
S1: Well, I was going to say I think part of that is because the part of the robot aesthetic is because they want, at least initially, for it to be unclear whether that character is male or female and lean towards assuming that it’s a male supervillain.
S2: Right. And that’s that’s a great surprise to find out that it’s actually Drei covid daughter. But I have to say that I was pretty disappointed in that in that villain. I didn’t feel like we either had any sympathy in particular for her story or understood what it was about her fighting style that was so different from anyone else’s. I mean, it just seemed like a very, very generic, unstoppable villain who wasn’t really even named in the movie. In some reviews later, I read that that character is called The Taskmaster and, you know, is a figure from comics. But I don’t think anybody ever says that that name in the movie, she just seems like a very functional figure who, you know, who comes in for fight sequences and gets a back story in order to have the requisite backstory, but doesn’t really emerge into her own.
S1: Yeah, I totally agree about that, which is a pity because I think Olga Kurylenko, who plays her, is such a great actress, especially in action movies. So the fact that she almost has no lines here is kind of a bummer and that
S2: you barely see her body, right? I mean, she’s so CGI out when she’s moving and you don’t see her face. It just reminds me of, you know, that that Batman Superman scene. And there’s a fight on a on a roof where they both have heavy masks over their face the entire time. There’s supposed to be having this, you know, sort of final moment together, but there are times when these movies really shoot themselves in the foot in that way, right? I mean, if you just took the person’s mask off, you could build their character. But it’s more important to have them look like this armored machine, you know, to have them look like the character.
S1: Yeah. I mean, to that effect, I thought that her last her final scene where she does have her mask off, I was like, OK, this does have like a little emotional impact for me, but they really don’t build her up. She doesn’t have too much character beyond. I make Natasha feel bad about what she did in the past, but I do think her power side is cool. And so much as the whole deal of Taskmaster is that she can mimic opponents fighting styles like precisely so when she’s doing the Captain America move, like flipping the shield up and throwing it at people, I was like, OK, yeah, cool. But the character, again, as we’ve discussed, is very thin and ultimately, like, not not very impactful.
S2: Yeah. In general, this movie’s a little bit weak on the villain front. And it’s not because the people playing the villains are bad is just that they’re not given enough time on screen or written fully enough. And also I think that they contrast unfavorably with how well-written comparatively the family is and how strong the family scenes are. And I think actually the best part of the movie is the one that that follows the meeting of of the two sisters. There’s this kind of nice moment where they have drinks together at a at a bar in Budapest and sort of talk about, you know, what’s happened over the last 21 years, part of which is that, of course, Natasha Romanoff has become this famous superhero. So there’s this sort of funny moment where her younger sister is accusing her essentially of, you know, being a poseur of enjoying the publicity and, you know, of of being a star. Yes. Just the idea that there is this universe in which there are these celebrities who are also superheroes and that somebody could be resentful of their sibling for being involved. And that is just kind of funny.
S1: Yeah, it is good, especially because the one thing that Yeelanna focuses on is the fact that Natasha has this very specific, like, hero landing pose. Like when she falls through the ceiling and lands on the floor, she has this dramatic pose and dramatic hair flip that Elaina makes fun of several times.
S2: Right. The crouch, the classic kind of Catwoman crouch that she lands and. Yeah, but then the two of them set off to find their family. And I think this is this is the strongest part of the movie, not necessarily the actual rescue of their dad, although I have to say that’s a pretty spectacular scene, airlifting him out of a Siberian prison while an avalanche is starting. I was so
S1: worried by that, though, where I was like such a big part of this movie is like, oh, the collateral damage that we’ve incurred on our black missions is terrible. We shouldn’t be doing this. But then, like an entire avalanche falls on that prison. And I was very unclear as to whether or not I was going to be fatal for the inmates slash guards.
S2: Yeah, the body count. I was sort of trying to keep a rough tally. And I mean, there’s certainly dozens, if not hundreds of people who are implied to have died in this movie, depending how many people you think are in that prison. Right. But also in the various cases where there, you know, cars are going off cliffs. I mean, this is not a movie that is paying any attention at all to that that Captain America question. Right. The Captain America movies tried, you know, not to have anyone die. Superman supposedly never kills anyone. There is some tradition of thinking about the ethical repercussions of these giant conflagrations that are constantly happening, a superhero movies. But it doesn’t really happen in this one,
S1: ironically, because, again, it is a big theme in the movie.
S2: So when we meet the dad, again, the former sort of worst suburban dad, Alexi was his name back when we knew him before. He has now become or at least is convinced that he is the red guardian, which is sort of, I guess, the Russian Captain America, in that he has a shield that he uses as his main weapon. But what David Harbour brings to this role that I really like is that, in fact, the Red Guardian is something of a blustering fool who believes that he’s much more powerful and intimidating than he actually is. And and a big part of his journey in the movie is going to be just essentially convincing his daughters to take him seriously because they’re both furious at having been abandoned by him. And I think also just kind of consider him a really pitiful fighter in the various battles they find themselves caught up in.
S1: Yeah, it’s interesting because one of the things that comes up very early on after they rescue him, he makes a period joke where he’s like, are you guys, like, so angry at me because it’s your time of the month? And they both remind him that a side effect of their having undergone the Red Room program, which he basically consigned them to, is that they both unwillingly underwent hysterectomy and can no longer have children and have gone through all this stuff that is traumatic for them. And even later, one of his attempts at bonding with them, he’s like, you guys have killed so many people. I’m so proud of you. And they’re both clearly extremely uncomfortable with thinking about that. So he is also a somewhat regressive figure for them.
S2: Yeah, there’s a lot of ethical ambiguity there that, you know, if I had, again, been in a less sort of woohoo summer movie than watching the movie might have, I might have found really, really disturbing, especially because, I mean, ultimately the movie. He wants you to feel warmly toward the Red Gardian character, and because of David Harbaugh’s tremendously sympathetic performance, you do kind of feel warmly toward him by the end. But none of this family has really done that much to redeem the amount of bad that they’ve done in the world.
S1: Yeah, absolutely. It’s an even bigger problem when we get to Rachel Visus character, because as soon as they rescue David Harbor, they go set off to find their quote unquote, mom, and they discover that she is one of the red lead scientist and has been the one who sort of concocting the potions or whatever that make these girls so subservient and so susceptible to being brainwashed and beyond helping Natasha take down Jacov after they find her, she doesn’t really do anything to atone for that.
S2: No. I mean, she’s a really dark character in the movie because she’s essentially exposed as having been their fake mother right. The whole time that she seemed to them to be this warm parent, but in fact, was just nurturing them for this program. She’s totally pitiless about, you know, what her job is. In fact, she’s a huge idealogue, unlike the red guardian dad, who seems to be more in it for the sort of superhero comics she really seems to believe in. I guess. I mean, it’s vaguely associated with communism, but with some sort of hard core red ideology. She also is working on a pig farm or not working on, but running a pig farm where she’s testing all this mind control technology on the pigs. And there’s a really hard to watch scene where she stops a pig from breathing until it almost dies. The movie is not cruel enough. Despite its high body count of humans to kill the pig. He does come to life at the last minute. But that’s a scene that really shows her utter ruthlessness. And yet she kind of gets away with it and becomes part of the family unit pretty quickly.
S1: Yeah, the girls get over it really fast. I do feel like if I were one of them, and especially Elaina, who’s so fresh out of that program, having discovering the fact that my foster mom was responsible for this would be a way bigger deal than this in the movie.
S2: Yeah, I mean, essentially in that long middle section where they’re sitting around the pig farm here, a Russian meal together, they sort of work it out. And I guess part of that is because they’re actively attacked at that moment. Yeah. And suddenly have to all bond together and fight. But I kind of wish there had been a bit more working through of family problems. I mean, Rachel, vises actress enough that she can kind of manage to play it with a light touch so that even though she’s playing someone who’s pretty much unreconstructed evil, she manages to have fun with it and to be really believable in the action sequences as well, which is not somewhere you would picture Rachel Weisz issue such an arthouse movie kind of actor as
S1: well as someone who loves the mummy
S2: Drew. Yeah, she’s proven her bona fides already,
S1: although watching this I was like, man, I really wish they would do another mummy movie. I know that she didn’t do the third one, but like, we could get her back maybe. Anyway, that’s a completely different tangent. So they’re all here. And then, as you know, they are attacked by US forces as he wants to maintain control over the Red Room program, which means getting rid of them. And then it kind of ventures into Mission Impossible territory, because in the moment that it happens, it’s implied that Rachel Weisz betrays everybody and knocks Natasha out. But as Drake of Interrogates Molina, I should just call her by her character name at this point, Rachel Weisz character Molina. As he interrogates her, it’s revealed that it’s actually Natasha wearing a Marlina mask.
S2: Right. And are these strange digital face mask? It’s not quite as satisfying as a Mission Impossible reveal where the face just becomes this piece of rubber that I will never get tired of those Mission Impossible face mask. There’s a whole supercuts of them that I just love to watch. But this is some sort of more super digitized technology. I found that a really disappointing plot point because we were never told that that existed in this universe. And I don’t know. I mean, not not getting to see them come up with the plan seemed like a sort of a shame to me. They’re suddenly executing this plan, right, to get to the Red Room, which turns out to be a sort of satellite in space.
S1: That was pretty cool. I will say it was that was a good solution to it. Why can’t we find it? It’s OK.
S2: But then again, laws of physics, it seems like they get to it in a regular airplane. Unless I don’t understand aviation enough. I mean, can it can planes leave the atmosphere and go into space? I don’t think
S1: it was in space space like it was high up, but I don’t think in outer space
S2: it’s in some special marvel established realm that you can just jump in a plane with Rachel Vice and yet to.
S1: Yeah, I mean, as you say, like the mask thing, it’s very like, oh, OK. Like we’re doing that now, which I’ve seen with Taskmasters, same with Drake, same with a lot of this movie where it’s like, oh OK. And nothing really deeper than that.
S2: Yeah. I mean I was going to say that I think that even though that is a cool idea to have the Red Room be up in space, I feel like the movie kind of loses it at that moment. There’s a few clever little. Reversals and things that you didn’t expect, but it’s pretty much by the numbers action by the time you get up in space and everything that we’ve learned about the characters up to then sort of goes out the window with the exception, I guess, that you you see the dad, the red guardian grow a little bit in that he sort of has to he finally has to sort of fight on his own and not depend on the much stronger and smarter women in his life and doing the entire time. Yeah.
S1: So they end up on this floating red room. And as Dre Cov and Natasha face off, he no one reveals that his daughter is taskmaster. He says something about having to had to put a chip in her brain and at the same time he sends Taskmaster off to get rid of Yeelanna, Alexei and Melena and leaves Natasha in the room, because as we learn, all of the black widows have these inhibiters installed. Questionmark in them so that when they smell Draco’s pheromones, they can’t attack him physically. So while they’re both in that room and as Drakkar thinks he has the upper hand, Natasha tricked him into basically revealing how the Red Room works and after having done that, smashes her face on the desk. OK, in
S2: an attempt to this is just a ridiculous sidebar. But let me just ask you, what is an attempt to do? She’s severing her her olfactory nerve or something like.
S1: Yeah, I mean, if I had to describe it in words, that is what I would say, because that’s that’s the whole idea. So it’s like if you can’t. But at the same time, Molina is also like, oh, even if you don’t smell like you will, it’s a fair amount, so it’ll seep into your skin or whatever. So who knows what?
S2: I mean, once again, I found myself going down one of those ridiculous rabbit holes of. So does that mean that Natasha will never have a sense of smell for the rest of her life? She’ll have a nose, Myia, and she’ll never taste anything again. I was just sad for all of her future meals that she won’t get to know,
S1: but then they make a big deal out of her, like putting her nose back at her. She makes it so
S2: that is very don’t try this at home. So you stuff.
S1: Absolutely. Don’t try this at home. None of us are black widows. We don’t have to try this at home anyway.
S2: This long scene in the boardroom with with Ray Winstone is pretty disappointing in terms of credibility, story, development, et cetera. But it does get the job done. She manages to steal back or rather upload, I guess, this important piece of information. There’s one of those classic every blockbuster has to have it now. Progress bar suspense moments, right? Well, upload in time. And what she’s uploading is the database of all the women around the world who have been abducted and turned into black widows. So presumably she is sort of sending out the word for them to later be saved. Also, I can’t remember how they all get deprogrammed at once. Is it because she throws the magic inhibitor in their faces? I think
S1: you’re right. Yeah, she still has it. And yeelanna, I think that’s where the Alayna comes into the picture. Right. So Natasha is fending off all these black widows that Draycott has sicked on her and then all of the remaining vials of the antidote that they have get exploded over the room and then everyone gets deprogrammed once, as you said.
S2: Right. And I guess I mean, it’s at that moment, I suppose they realize, oh, wait, we’ve been evil this whole time. I mean, it seems like they would be even more disoriented than that. I don’t know how much of their past they’ve lost, but they at least are now going to be heard it up and kind of brought back into the world by the family, including Rachel Vyse, who we never saw the moment where she sort of decided, oh, everything I’ve done has been evil and wrong. But she starts to work for the exact opposite goal, which is reintegrating the black widows back into society. The very last action sequence that I think is worth talking about is the skydiving one, if only because it again brings in some very Mission Impossible Tom Cruise type of stunt work. And that involves everybody leaving the space station, which is now crumbling, falling apart from an explosion, some with parachutes and some without. And then there’s this spectacular midair save where the two sisters wind up clinging together to the same parachute. And it wasn’t quite clear to me. Here again, Karen, you have to talk me through an action plot moment that you may not have understood either, but they seem like they’ve got it made in the shade. The sisters, they’re floating down to earth in their parachute. Why is it that Lawrence Peus character, yeelanna, suddenly does some sort of self self sacrificial move of like, no, I’m going to detach from the parachute? I mean, she’s eventually received again, but why does she try to sacrifice?
S1: It’s Natasha who does that? So they’re both flying on the same parachute. And then Natasha sees Taskmaster diving towards them and she realizes that Taskmasters only coming for her taskmaster doesn’t care about yeelanna. So she lets go of her sister in order to try to save her.
S2: Was my. Oh yeah you’re right. It’s her that does it and that does make sense. Right. And we know she has a sacrificial thread in her personality because we’ve seen her right. I mean back into the present day of the Marvel Universe, sacrifice herself for the entire gisaeng. Everybody just.
S1: Oh but yeah. So they land on the ground. There isn’t really a final fight between Natasha and Task Master. As Natasha uses the last bit of the antidote to deprogram Taskmaster. She manages to sort of apologize to her. And then that’s sort of the end of that storyline. Natasha goes back to go be an adventure again, yeelanna. Alexei and Melina go off in their own direction. But then we have that mid credit scene, if you want to talk about that.
S2: Yeah, I mean, you got to stick around for the Stinger in a Marvel movie because you need to be indoctrinated into the next movie that you will be forced marched into the theater to see. But I’m actually sort of excited about this one because we need
S1: to be deprogrammed from Marvel.
S2: We got to throw some sparkly red powder in my eye, please. But no, I actually am. And I think I said this in my review a little bit excited about whatever the follow up movie is going to be that set up in this post credit stinger, because it not only involves Florence Pugh, who presumably is going to get her own, you know, personality and suit an entire superhero brand, but also Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is at least in the Marvel movies, a new person to see. Apparently, she has been in one of the spinoff TV shows. I don’t really follow them. So I didn’t know that. And I know she’s doing the same character. She just. Oh, it is. So do you know about her character? Who was she going to be?
S1: A little bit, yeah. So she showed up in Phalcon in the Winter Soldier to recruit Wyatt Russell’s character, who was the disgraced. Captain America, so her character isn’t 100 percent confirmed yet, but her name, Contessa Valentina in the comics, she is known as Madame Hydra. So they seem to be setting yeelanna up sort of as an antagonist in that way, because, as we know, Hydra equals evil. And if they do go that direction with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, this character, she seems to be putting together sort of a second sect within the new Avengers that isn’t necessarily as good as we would hope them to be. But Yeelanna is so great. I have no doubt that she will become a hero hero by the end of the Marvel timeline.
S2: Yeah, I mean, yeah, Florence Pugh, like you said, seems to be able to hop from period pieces to, you know, these kind of big blockbusters and see them at home and seem charismatic wherever she goes. I hope this doesn’t become her whole career, obviously.
S1: I’m so afraid that’s what’s going to happen.
S2: So let’s describe what happens in this in this meet up between Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Florence Pugh at the grave of the Black Widow.
S1: Yeah. So this takes place presumably closer to where the Marvel movies and TV shows are at right now. We see Lena visiting Natasha’s grave to just pay her respects. But while she’s there, she is joined by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a character who tells her that basically she needs to get back in the game and get her mind back on her job, which is unclear what that is right now. But I’m sure we’ll find out. Everyone has been hypothesizing that she’s going to show up in the Hawkeye series. So we’ll see.
S2: Well, isn’t that what she shows her? She says, I’ve got a mission for you and you’ve got to find the person who’s responsible for your sister’s death and shows her a picture of Hawkeye.
S1: Yeah, Hawkeye so dumb.
S2: I mean, I had been wondering throughout this whole movie when he was going to be mentioned because like him or not, I know he’s one of the most popular of all, The Avengers. He was always set up as being the best buddy of Nitasha and that they are these inseparable, you know, bow and arrow shooting heroes together. So I guess it makes sense that there would be some pickup about their relationship if you’re going to go back and tell her story. Yeah, I
S1: liked I will say I did like Hawkeye for a while just because I was like, it is fun that it’s this bunch of superheroes, all of whom have superpowers. And then this guy who just shoots a bow and arrow trying to do his best among them. And I am excited for the Hawkeye TV series because I think Hailee Steinfeld is one of the great actresses of her generation. And seeing her as the young Hawkeye is going to be a lot of fun.
S2: Oh, that is exciting. All right. Well, it sounds like I liked it a bit more than you. I mean, I’m almost embarrassed by the fact that I did enjoy this movie as much as I did, but I’m just so ready for the world to bring me some pleasure again for the past year and a half. So thank you, Black Widow, for whatever you could do for me. And I’m grateful to you, Karen, for coming on to talk about it.
S1: Thank you so much for having me on. So fun to talk about movies with you any time.
S2: It really is. Let’s do it again. Thank you.
S1: Am I allowed to say hello?
S2: That is our show for today. Please subscribe to the Slate spoiler special podcast feed. And please, if you like the show, read it and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcast. That helps bring new people to the show. And of course, if you have suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil in the future or other feedback to share, you can send it to spoilers at Slate Dotcom. Our producer today was Morgan Flannery for Karahan. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you again soon.