While it took far too long for Black Widow to get her own solo film, she puts her moment to good use, blowing up the patriarchy in epic style. What makes Black Widow (the character) unique among the Avengers is that she doesn't have superpowers or super tech: Her brain and her body combine to make her a lethal weapon. But as Natasha returns to her roots, we learn that she's actually not entirely unique: There's a whole widow program, with thousands of "graduates." Natasha has always been a mysterious figure, wracked with guilt from her unwitting work as an assassin for the Russian government. In Black Widow, the Iron Curtain is pulled back to reveal the people she grew up with and the trauma she endured. More than the tragedy of being programmed as a killer, the film's heart beats with the emotional weight of losing parents, more than once -- and wanting your family to be better. While many films deal with issues related to adoption, foster care, guardians, and abandonment, few of them do it with full sensitivity. This one does.
While the male Avengers are always giving one another a hard time and poking fun, no-nonsense Black Widow is usually left alone. Going home again means that Natasha finally gets some long overdue razzing -- and it's pure delight. It's also fair to say that the movie's costumes, hair, and makeup are more aligned with female sensibilities than fanboys': They're functionally stylish (Yelena's praise of pockets is on point), and you get the sense that they're dressing to impress themselves. Nothing low cut, no ridiculous lashes, and absolutely no high heels (note to Marvel merchandising: Those combat boots are everything). No question, this is Marvel's most feminist film to date, and it's a winner -- executed in a way that will leave men cheering just as women have been cheering the male Avengers and others for decades. The action sequences are mesmerizing, perhaps even more fascinating than a typical superhero film because Natasha and Yelena are purely physical fighters, not "powered." That may help make this a particularly meaningful film: Unlike other female superhero projects (Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, WandaVision), Black Widow is about women who've become wonders and marvels thanks to their own cunning and strength.