Picking up where 2016’s Captain America: Civil War left off, Natasha Romanoff, AKA Vedova Nera (Scarlett Johansson), è in esilio in Norvegia quando è fastidiosa, estraniata sorellina Yelena (Firenze Pugh) gets in touch. A fellow graduate of the sinister Red Room – General Dreykov’s Russian academy for training, and brainwashing, female assassins – Yelena has been deprogrammed and plans to free the other girls with her sister’s help.
Their mission to take down Dreykov (Ray Winstone) involves an alpine action sequence and an army of angels of death. It feels ripped from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though unlike a Bond film there’s no flirting, and certainly no sex. There is, tuttavia, the underlying threat of misogyny. “I recycle the trash,” purrs Dreykov, remarking that girls are “the only natural resource the world has too much of”. His “widows” are lobotomised and given forced hysterectomies. Yet the film spends scant time exploring the implications of these darker themes, and doesn’t attempt to understand the root of Dreykov’s god complex.
Anziché, it’s more comfortable in comedy mode, and most interested in the family dynamic between Natasha, Yelena and their adopted parents, scientist Melina (Rachel Weisz) and former special agent Alexei (David Harbour, having a blast as a bumbling, past-it superhero whose costume no longer fits). Yelena is a perfect comic foil for the opaque, steely Natasha, a sparkling pinwheel of energy whose warmth and sardonic humour should cement her place as a new fan favourite in the Marvel cinematic universe.