When Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted last week, we flocked to our local cinemas in hordes and dropped over $300 million worldwide in the biggest April release ever. Oh Captain, my Captain indeed. There were a plethora of reasons to love this latest Marvel installment: some were cheering loudly in the theater over the amazingly coordinated fight scenes, others transformed into newly minted Falcon fanboys and girls. But to gloss over all of it and say it was great without recognizing one of the biggest driving forces behind the success of the film would be a huge disservice to one of the smartest and most talented women in the industry—which is why I’m calling it here and now: Scarlett Johansson and her character, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), were the best thing about The Winter Soldier. Hands down.
Here’s why (spoilers below):
1. She makes sure you know, Natasha’s not just good at her job… she’s the best.
Even better, she doesn’t feel the need to apologize for doing things her way. When Steve pulls her aside and asks why she lied to him about her true purpose on their initial mission, she doesn’t bite her lip and hang her head with a contrite reply of “I just couldn’t tell you. I’m so sorry, can you ever trust me again?” She looks the Captain straight in the eye and says, “You and I were on this mission for different reasons,” and leaves it at that. After all, they still had a job to finish. And when she screws up? She admits it. “Uh, that one’s on me. Sorry,” she pants after vaulting a barrier with Steve and narrowly cheating death for the millionth time. She’s smart too: Black Widow has the tactical and intellectual prowess to play with the big boys, no problem. To top it all off…
2. … She does all of it with flair and plenty of sass.
If you only see this movie for one reason, make sure it’s Natasha Romanoff’s sharp tongue and dry humor. Not only does she have some of the best lines in the movie, she delivers them with a voice and pace that has the audience raucously laughing.
“Hey, sailor,” she smiles before smashing a hijacker’s head into the boat’s railing. “Can anyone direct me to the Smithsonian? I’m looking for an old fossil,” she jokes with Steve, after pulling up to the curb, her jet-black Corvette Stingray purring in the background. Later, she pulls up the side of her tee shirt and points to a scar from a bullet wound while retelling an old war story: “Here. He shot right through me. Bye-bye bikinis,” she mourns, woefully.
If that hadn’t already sold me, at one point she actually turns from a blinking computer screen and smirks at Steve, “Shall we play a game?”
3. She’s not a just a pretty face or plot device for that matter.
Johansson knows and fully supports the idea that Black Widow is not in this movie to act as a romantic subplot or crutch. She is a fully fleshed out character with growth and major development on the horizon (Hello? Where’s our Black Widow movie already?). Johansson is quick to remind viewers of this:
“More than anything, I think that the relationship between Cap and Widow is one that becomes a friendship and that is way more interesting than a romantic relationship [….] Black Widow has so many trust issues that the last thing on her mind is like, ‘Man, I wish I had a boyfriend.’”
4. For a former KGB operative and super-spy, she’s pretty selfless.
When the time comes and she’s forced to make a decision between keeping the world in the dark about a number of horrible atrocities and exposing her own bleak and bloodied past, she chooses the second option, with no hesitation. Sure, there may have been a split second where she mulled the option over in her head, but if she did, no one had time to notice.
Marvel fans will note the stark difference between this Black Widow and the Black Widow of Joss Whedon’s 2012 hit, The Avengers: while the latter guiltily recounts to friend and ally Clint Barton, “I’ve got red in my ledger; I’d like to wipe it out,” this latest version boldly looks a congressional panel in the eye, admits to her shady history and then flips them the mental bird, accompanied with “Let’s be honest. We’re not perfect. But you’re not gonna fire us. We get the job done.”
5. She’s the friend that Steve needs.
Okay, okay. So they’re not going to head to the nearest sports bar and knock back a couple of beers or stay up late gossiping about the latest celeb news. But she really cares about him in a way that quietly and subtly supports him. By probing into his love life and gently reminding him that there are other amazing girls out there besides his first love, Peggy, she steadily helps him move forward. She checks in on him from time to time—but not so much that it overwhelms him. You get the sense that they’ve established a friendly rapport that not many others understand. She’s got his back in every sense, and he knows it. They play off of one another seamlessly in a way that only deeply connected partners can. They’ve been through hell together and Steve knows that Natasha will be there for him when he’s counting on it.
“Women can’t carry a superhero film”? Please. Tell that to ScarJo and the legions of fans who had only one plea for Marvel execs after seeing The Winter Soldier this past weekend— “MORE BLACK WIDOW. PLEASE.”
Make sure to catch Disney and Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in theaters now.