‘Black Widow’: Alexei and Melina Can Help Marvel Spread its Wings

Like all Marvel properties, Black Widow showed the three most prominent reactions. First, we get the most passionate fans — those with a nearly religious devotion to Kevin Feige, Disney, and any actor who’s been within five feet of their favorite Marvel projects. Next, we have people like yours truly, who enjoy the movies, love the world-building and highest moments, but typically go in expecting a good time with little need for anything new.

Finally, there are the people who hate Disney, Marvel, and the monoculture enveloping Hollywood blockbusters as a whole. It’s important to acknowledge the integrity of all these sides and the dangers of milking every project for more solo projects in an already unprecedented universe. That said, Black Widow introduced a couple who are ripe for everything Disney Plus is doing on TV without the need for metacommentary and a greater overarching goal. Black Widow’s Melina and Alexie both need a sitcom.

Thus far, Disney Plus’s version of the MCU has done a remarkable job doing what the big-screen universe took many years to embrace. Yes, people want consistency as they try to weave the latest plot point into the greater universe, but they also want each project to have a life away from the bigger picture. The Ant-Man series, in particular, showed how the Tom Hanks of Seth Rogans, Paul Rudd, appeases his loyal base while offering something for fans of the greater universe, as well. After nearly a decade of lights in the sky, alien hordes attacking major cities, and a cookie cutter roster of forgettable villains, the MCU finally let each project shine unto itself, and with the television universe now directly impacting the films, as well, it was necessary to nail the diversity of the characters they employ.

WandaVision was the perfect setup, although even unabashed fans like myself will admit that it lost some steam when it started letting the old Marvel feel get in the way of a whimsical world filled with stylized takes on television history. Falcon and the Winter Soldier was less a superhero movie and more an action show involving superheroes. While the weak link of the bunch, it simultaneously felt in line with WandaVision’s… vision and entirely different at the same time. Loki was a godsend for fans of the more fantastic Marvel visions, as it took place in another realm that was disconnected with space and time and opened up the universe. More importantly, it did so with a tone that felt solely unique in the MCU without changing Loki the way Hulk and Black Widow have when facing off in other heroes’ stories.

Here’s where Black Widow got me thinking. I’ve never been as big on the more grounded Marvel properties. I’ll typically enjoy whatever popcorn film I’m watching. However, even the more relatively grounded (and still acclaimed) works such as Winter Soldier and Civil War never struck me like Iron Man did. Once the universe embraced fantastic roots, supersuits that didn’t belong to high school STEM geniuses just weren’t as interesting as Nordic gods and intergalactic dictators. While Black Widow itself hardly reinvents the franchise, it shows how Marvel could take it a step further and explore different genres without the need for explanation, such as WandaVision. 

Despite going back just a few years in the timeline, Black Widow is, like Captain Marvel, a throwback to the genre’s past. While even the most lauded pre-MCU movies look dated by the new standards, there was a sense of Spielberg adventure to them, which made even the biggest spectacles are smaller and more quaint. We don’t always need the stakes to reap a massive cosmic fallout. Sometimes we need an intriguing cast of characters who entertain us even when it’s not at the expense of either them or who they’re fighting.

This throwback action movie has all the makings of the Marvel movie, from Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff getting hurled off of high buildings without a scratch and a feel-good message of working together. However, her unofficial family, played by Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz, have a little bit more edge to them in a way that is less justified than the Guardians of the Galaxy. They may have been brainwashed by Cold War-era takes on Russian politics, but they also kept some semblance of humanity through it all. This is why it’s so disturbing to see a nice family dinner get interrupted by weapons that choke out innocent animals and could easily do so with humans, as well. They’re not upstanding people but three-dimensional characters from who the audience must weigh the good and bad. Nobody expects the MCU to go full Alan Moore on these projects, but when the flaws are neither Winter Soldier-levels nor mundane lapses in character by Steve Rogers, they pop out of the screen quicker than most of the saga’s mainstays.

Rachel Weisz has always had the charm to lead a blockbuster movie. After all, her turn in the first two Mummy films remains an outstanding testament to her magnetic charms. She continues that ability to convey her humor with beats of action, heartbreak, and prevent while never breaking character or seeming lost inside her role. Add to this the natural charisma of Harbour’s comedic persona, and both characters immediately impacted me in ways that giants such as Anthony Hopkins never got the chance to do. The Marvel universe is in its character development era. Melina and Alexei are the perfect opportunity to take supporting characters of lesser import and wrap a plot worthy of its stars skills into a Disney project that could show its genre-hopping nature doesn’t always have to be a plot device.

The recent onslaught of Star Wars movies, most of which I enjoyed, made me thirst for a different take on the galaxy’s lore. While disconnected from the Skywalker Saga, we’ve seen many stories that never quite let the saga explore genres like it never has before. The Mandalorian not-so-subtly does so by harkening back to the western roots by way of Kurosawa’s influence. However, we haven’t gotten all-out comedies, dramas, or crime movies that still feel at home inside the universe. This would be hard to do with Star Wars, but Marvel’s already done so without being accused of ruining nearly 50 years of nostalgia.

However, taking a page from WandaVision’s playbook and exploring comedy could open doors for future dramas, romances, and crossovers with the lore we already love. Alexei and Melina could very well headline a sitcom about their criminal exploits. This probably will not happen, but thanks to Harbour and Weisz’s inarguably chemistry on the scene, the thought of a sitcom starring them makes me happier than any of the future shows that I will likely watch and love.

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