I went into "Captain America: Civil War" absolutely nervous about just one thing: Black Widow. I'm firmly #TeamBlackWidow, and I was miffed that my alignment neither warranted a Twitter emoji nor a mention on Pizza Hut's promotional site. Black Widow's my favorite movie superhero, and that's a stone cold truth that I just wrote about a few weeks ago.
To sum up why I was feeling nervous going into "Civil War," allow past me to explain myself:
[Black Widow] is a character that's been manipulated and controlled by governments here entire life, from the Red Room to the KGB to S.H.I.E.L.D. -- oops, Hydra! Why would she be cool with enlisting with the government again? Directors Joe and Anthony Russo know what they're doing, and the Natasha they put onscreen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is probably my favorite one to date. I trust they know what they're doing, but I can be a bit of a hyper-fan when it comes to Johansson's Romanoff.
I just didn't want to see Natasha belittled in order to make Captain America look heroic, and the cynic in my brain worried that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wouldn't be able to pull off having two rational opposing arguments. After seeing "Civil War" twice, I can shove that little cynic back in his brain prison; the movie was fantastic and Black Widow came out on top, as far as this biased mega-fan is concerned.
Let's talk about Black Widow. This might as well be a regular feature at this point, because I've done this exact same thing following 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron." But "Civil War" reignited my fan feelings something fierce. Yes, I did -- god help me -- order a Black Widow baseball cap even though it's incredibly not my personal style and I have pretty much nowhere to wear it. But I had to buy it, you know?
While I jumped at the chance to buy a maybe ridiculous hat, I'm surprisingly cautious about naming "Civil War" the best Black Widow movie. That's partly because it feels obvious, since one could easily make the claim that "Civil War" is also the best Ant-Man/Spider-Man/Vision/Winter Soldier/etc. movie. And then there's the debut of Black Panther, who practically stole the whole thing away from all these franchise vets. "Civil War" is pretty much everyone's best movie, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm elated that it also stands that way for Natasha too. But also, I have to remember just how well-developed this character has been, and how many cheer-worthy moments she had in both 2012's "Avengers" and also "Winter Soldier." The fact that she's had this much screentime, and the fact that so much of it has been ridiculous badass, makes me cackle with glee (and also justifies all the merchandise I've bought -- like that hat).
But I can call "Civil War" the best Black Widow movie because it gives us the most of Natasha, even if she might actually have more screentime in previous films. Her action scenes, her personal reasons for signing the Sokovia Accords and the way her alliance plays out all combine to present a startlingly well-developed character, which serves as the culmination of the development that took place in the midst of four other ensemble films.
First and foremost, action is Black Widow's thing. She's not a god or an armor jockey and the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Natasha doesn't have superhuman abilities or even a variation on the super-soldier serum. She's just a hyper competent, hyper efficient, hyper confident individual. If you wanna nitpick, her real superpower is bravery -- and "Civil War's" fight scenes show that off. "Civil War" gives us what may be the longest, uninterrupted Black Widow fights of any movie yet, and every one revels in her strengths. She efficiently takes out every one of Crossbones' henchmen in Lagos as if she was an expert playing the mission on the amateur setting. There's a vicarious thrill to watching a 5'3" hero topple every single villain like the world's swiftest lumberjack.
But the movie also puts her up against two opponents that appear to outclass her: Crossbones and Winter Soldier. The fact that she can claim total victory over neither doesn't really matter. Natasha still overcame Crossbones' size advantage and heavy armor to stab him in the neck; it's not her fault Brock Rumlow's past trauma left him guarded against her specific attack. Armed with that knowledge, it's easy to headcanon that Nat would've taken Rumlow out give another weapon and another shot. And Bucky Barnes isn't easily stopped; the guy goes toe-to-toe with Captain America and Iron Man. Romanoff's gotten the best of Bucky before (remember how she would have sniped him in "Winter Soldier" were it not for his bulletproof Oakleys?). These two tussles demonstrate Black Widow's fearlessness, her guts, her unflinching dedication to running the damn mission. She leaps at villains three times her size and wails on them with a masterful brutality, punching and kicking with all of her five feet and three inches to save the day. And if she gets thrown, she gets back up.
I knew "Civil War" would have great fight scenes, but I was worried about Nat being #TeamIronMan. Thankfully, the film doesn't lose sight of Black Widow or her motivations and addresses many of her big moments from "Winter Soldier." I love this. With so many new pals around, "Captain America" could have forgotten that Black Widow was essentially the co-lead of the last "Cap" film; she's a major player in this sub-franchise. Even after tripling the cast size, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Markus and McFeely paid close attention to where they left Black Widow at the end of "Winter Soldier." All of Black Widow's actions at the end of "Winter Soldier" have ramifications. Zemo learns about that one specific Winter Soldier mission because Romanoff leaked all of Hydra's intelligence on to the Internet. Her "kiss my ass" moment to the United States government is also brought up as characters in the movie express the same level of "excuse me what?" that I felt when I learned Natasha was up for oversight.
Natasha's motives for signing the accords are clear and actually do make sense; she cannot lose another family. Whether or not she agrees with the need for oversight is almost irrelevant. She says as much a few times, saying that the accords are just the "path of least resistance" and that it doesn't matter how the team stays together -- just that they stay together. At this point, she's cut ties with the KGB and watched S.H.I.E.L.D. get pulled into hell by Hydra's tentacles. The Avengers are her only family -- and they're a family she kinda loves. In "Civil War's" opening action sequence we see her briefly mentoring Wanda Maximoff and doing the ol' witty back 'n' forth with Falcon. Then she follows Steve to London so he won't be alone at Peggy's funeral [pause for tears, just cry it all out]. When Steve and Sam are arrested after their skirmish in Bucharest, she seems oddly glad to see them and even cracks a few jokes. And when she gets into a fight with Hawkeye on the tarmac in Germany, she pauses to make sure they're still friends. Natasha has grown from putting her faith in larger organizations that aim and fire her like a gun to putting her faith in friends that work alongside her as an equal. She's where she wants to be.
And on that tarmac is where "Civil War" cemented its Black Widow greatness. After getting yanked out of the fray by Scarlet Witch, Nat just disappears. She's gone. Where'd she go? There are so many people fighting! But Black Widow is smart. She prefers to jump straight to the end level, as shown in "Avengers" when she looked past the horde of invaders and worked to close the space portal. She knows what Cap and Bucky's end goal is, so she sits and waits for them to come to her -- a black widow waiting in her web.
And she lets them go.
The internal squeal-cheering I did when she let Steve and Bucky get on the Quinjet, and as she prevented Black Panther from getting his (misguided) revenge. This isn't Natasha merely playing double agent, an accusation that the spy-turned-hero took great offense to when Stark dished it out post-battle. This is Natasha being disgusted by the fight they're in. This is Natasha realizing that there is no path of least resistance, just a path of not killing each other. This is Natasha picking a true side: family.
So where do we go from here? A "Black Widow" movie? Will Marvel find a way to squeeze it into their schedule just like they did for the equally creepy-crawly "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Ant-Man & the Wasp" (#MakeRoomForBugs)? Fans are still clamoring for it, the Russo's think she deserves a film, too. It's such a no-brainer, and it's even more of a no-brainer after "Civil War." Now we have a Black Widow that potentially feels burned once again after the crumbling of the Avengers and Tony Stark's cold dismissal of her. We could see a Black Widow angrier than ever before, one who -- for the first time -- owes nothing to anyone and can operate as a true free agent. What does Black Widow do after the KGB, after S.H.I.E.L.D., after the Avengers? The "Civil War" writers called Widow's journey through her five movie appearances as "coming out of the shadows and into the light," but what does she do once someone smashes out the light bulb dangling over her head? Is she back in the darkness again? These are the kinda questions you answer in a solo film, Marvel.
Will it happen? I'm resigned to the fact that it probably never will, even following Marvel Studio President Kevin Feige's comments stating otherwise. Right now I'm content that we got so many thrilling Black Widow moments in "Civil War" -- although the time seems more than right for Marvel to #MakeRoomForBugs. Come on, I need a place to wear this Black Widow hat -- and a Thursday night screening of "Black Widow" would be perfect.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).