Black Widow (PG-13)
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Caution: potential spoilers.
This is the first film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and sort of the first film post-Infinity Saga. I say "sort of" because despite being released in 2021, it's mostly set in 2016, after the events of Civil War. It was simultaneously released both theatrically and on Disney+ (with Premier Access), and later made free for anyone to watch on Disney+. (I, however, watched it on DVD.) Because of the simultaneous release, Scarlett Johansson stood to make less money on the film than if it had been exclusively released theatrically, so she sued The Walt Disney Company, and I was on her side in the matter (not that anyone cares what I think). The lawsuit was later settled.
The movie begins in 1995, with a seemingly normal family living a normal life in Ohio. I'm not sure what names the family used, but it's not really important. We see two young girls and their mother. When their father gets home, there's no time for dinner, because the authorities will be coming for them soon, and they go on the run. The father (David Harbour) is actually Alexei Shostakov (aka Red Guardian, a supersoldier and Soviet counterpart to Captain America). The mother is a scientist named Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz, who I somehow failed to recognize). Their daughters are Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova. The four of them fly to Cuba, where Alexei hands off a computer disk to a man named Dreykov, who also takes Natasha and Yelena into his custody, to be trained as badass assassins known as Black Widows, in a place called the Red Room.
The film then flashes forward 21 years (to 2016), and Natasha is on the run from the government, led by Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross. She manages to evade her pursuers. Later, she receives a package from Yelena, which contains vials of a gas that counteracts the chemical mind control of Black Widows. But Natasha had no idea yet what the package contained. She soon finds herself pursued by what I thought at first was probably a robot, but was actually a woman in high-tech battle armor. (Wikipedia informs me that she is called Taskmaster, but I have no memory of hearing that name in the movie.) At first Natasha thought Taskmaster had been sent by Ross, but she actually wasn't there for Natasha, she was there for the package. But Natasha manages to escape with it (after losing a fight). She then goes to Budapest and finds Yelena, who informs her that Dreykov, whom she thought she had killed in an explosion years ago, is still alive and still running the Red Room program. So the two of them set out to kill him and end the program, as well as exposing the current Black Widows to the gas that will set them free of Dreykov's control. But first, they have to find the Red Room, which frequently changes location. To help them find it, they break Alexei out of prison. He takes them to see Melina, believing she would know the location of the Red Room.
From that point on, I don't want to spoil any of what happens, though of course Natasha and her allies ultimately win against Dreykov. I should also mention that Natasha gets some help from a friend named Rick Mason, who procures things for her. And I wanted to mention that Alexei likes to tell stories about battling Captain America, which I don't believe he ever could have done, since Cap was still... but maybe I shouldn't say anything about that. I don't want Alexei to break my wrist, or anything.
There's also a post-credits scene set several years later, in which Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) makes an appearance. (I first saw her in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.) Actually... I'm not quite sure when the post-credits scene was set, other than that it was after Natasha's death, which because of time travel in Endgame, happened in 2014. But I doubt anyone would have made a gravestone for her before 2023.
Phase One: Iron Man * The Incredible Hulk * Iron Man 2 * Thor * Captain America * The Avengers
Phase Two: Iron Man 3 * Thor: The Dark World * Captain America: The Winter Soldier * Guardians of the Galaxy * Avengers: Age of Ultron * Ant-Man
Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War * Doctor Strange * Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 * Spider-Man: Homecoming * Thor: Ragnarok *
Black Panther * Avengers: Infinity War * Ant-Man and the Wasp * Captain Marvel * Avengers: Endgame * Spider-Man: Far from Home
Phase Four: Black Widow * Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings * Eternals * Spider-Man: No Way Home *
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness * Thor: Love and Thunder * Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Phase Five: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania * Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 * The Marvels
short films: Marvel One-Shots
TV: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. * Agent Carter * Inhumans * Cloak & Dagger
Netflix: Daredevil * Jessica Jones * Luke Cage * Iron Fist * The Defenders * The Punisher
Hulu: Runaways * Helstrom
Disney+ (P4): WandaVision * The Falcon and the Winter Soldier * Loki * What If...? * Hawkeye * Moon Knight * Ms. Marvel * I Am Groot *
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law * Werewolf by Night * Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
Disney+ (P5): Secret Invasion * Loki s2