The film occurs on the timeline between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, and explores the origin story of Natasha Romanoff who, we can all agree, should have had her own standalone film long before now.
The plot of Black Widow, which was delayed by over a year due to the pandemic, revolves around Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) who, along with her “sister” Yelena (Florence Pugh) seek the help of their “parents” (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz) to dismantle the Black Widow program that made them assassins to begin with, while unpacking her past trauma.
Black Widow is definitely one of those films you want to experience in the cinema — this is a Marvel property, after all — with critics raving about the long-awaited standalone.
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According to Angie Han of Mashable, “As directed by Cate Shortland and written by Eric Pearson, Black Widow is blessed with both muscular action and endearing warmth…if the action is what makes Black Widow soar, its heart is what makes it land.”
We may have waited a long time to see more of Natasha Romanoff’s story, but waiting is something Johannson knows a thing or two about also, having patiently waited to ensure that Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland was the one to direct Black Widow. For the actress, Shortland was the only option she ever considered trusting with Romanoff’s journey.
“One of the wonderful things about working for Marvel and their track record is that a lot of incredible people raise their hand to work on these films,” Johannson told Variety. “But it was only Cate for me from the beginning.”
However, a significant question plagued Shortland, as she was pursued by Johannson and Marvel to make the film: “why me?.” “I told my manager in L.A., ‘There’s no way I can do this movie, and I’m not sure why they’re asking me. It’s crazy, the whole endeavour,” Shortland explained to the publication. “And then she never told them no.”
As it turned out, telling them “no” was never going to be an option as Johansson, who was a huge fan of Shortland’s 2012 film Lore, set out to turn the director around — something she said was quite difficult as Shortland was elusive and “difficult to find.”
However, when the pair finally connected via Zoom, Shortland began to think that perhaps the idea of her directing Black Widow might not be so crazy after all, finally coming around after months of developing a bond with Johansson without even discussing the film.
“I got hooked on the idea of trying to tell a really personal, intimate story in amongst so much beauty and spectacle,” Shortland said. “When I really decided that I wanted to do it, I decided 150% — like, I never wanted to do anything as much as this, in a way. It was strange.”
For Shortland, it was imperative that while Black Widow explores some of the incredibly dark themes that make up Romanoff’s backstory, it did not devolve into a deeply tragic film. “I wanted people to be uplifted and feel love and empathy for each other,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
That ability to bring empathy was yet another reason why Johannson, who has previously lamented the hypersexualisaton of her character, was so adamant Shortland should be the one to direct.
“She was interested in the parts of Natasha that I was interested in,” she told Variety. “She would probably say something like, ‘All her messy bits!’ or something like that. She loves to examine all the flaws of a character, or the perceived flaws of a character — their insecurities. And she was so interested to pull apart this woman, you know?”
She added, “It couldn’t have been done with anybody else.”
Making Shortland’s acceptance of the directing gig even more exciting, was that she became the first woman to solo direct a Marvel Studios movie — although she is determined not to be the last.
“I am used to working with a lot of women in positions of power and on this film, especially within the crew, it was very male,” she told the Herald Sun. “Sometimes Scarlett and I would be the only women on a set of 200 people. That had challenges in it but they are the same challenges that women go through in all walks of life.
“So, what I hope is that I am holding the door open and a lot of other female directors are coming through.”
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