While we still have to wait a few weeks to see the first official Black Widow reactions hit social media, director Cate Shortland has already revealed the Marvel movie that early viewers have compared it to: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is largely considered one of the MCU's finest hours.
"First, we looked at things like No Country for Old Men," Shortland told Fandango when asked what inspired the movie, and what she'd compare it to. "And then we looked at things like Thelma and Louise. And the Marvel film – people that have seen it have said it reminds them of it – [is] Captain America: The Winter Soldier."
When asked for a follow-up, she explained that the similarities are based on a combination of things. "It's got great action. It's got a lot of heart, it's emotional. And at times, it can be a little bit dark, but then it opens up again. And it's really exciting. So I think that's like this film. This film has fantastic action sequences, which we're really proud of."
This isn't massively unexpected. While the movie definitely looks like it features the large-scale, noisy set pieces we've come to expect from the MCU, it's fundamentally grounded in a spy-style plot, reflecting the nature of its main character. That more down-to-earth approach worked in Captain America: The Winter Soldier's favor, even if it ended with a ludicrous battle involving AI-controlled helicarriers.
Black Widow is a prequel movie set after Captain America: Civil War, where Natasha Romanoff is forced to confront her past, when she's pulled into a conspiracy tied to her background as a spy. In doing this, she must pick up the pieces of relationships she left behind in her pre-Avengers days – including those with fellow Black Widows Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).
You can watch Black Widow when it finally releases on Disney Plus via Premier Access and in theaters on July 9, 2021, after more than a year of pandemic-related delays. UK viewers can see it two days earlier on the big screen.
Analysis: But will it be an essential MCU film?
In some ways, Black Widow is fighting the same battle that all prequel movies do – we all know what will ultimately happen to Natasha in Avengers: Endgame. Whatever the fallout from this movie is, we didn't see its events register in the final two Avengers films, which suggests it can't have been enormously important to the overall canon of the series.
Superficially, this movie does have one big thing that makes it look similar to the second Captain America film – its villain is a mysterious figure called the Taskmaster, who we see chasing Natasha in the trailers. The idea of an unknown assassin controlled by another force – in this case, Ray Winstone's Dreykov, the head of the Red Room where Natasha was trained – definitely looks similar to how the Winter Soldier storyline was executed.
In just a few weeks, we'll finally get to see the film for ourselves, and find out if we agree with these early viewers.