Nerd Factor: Beware the Widow’s Bite

Black Widow (2021) - IMDb
Black Widow Theatrical Poster – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3480822/

By  Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Many theories have been offered to explain the relatively poor performance of Black Widow at the theaters this summer. 

The film had been delayed for a year as the world worked its way through COVID. Were audiences still shy about returning to the theater? Had the gap reduced some of the legendary MCU momentum? Eager and vaccinated, my family and I sat in an IMAX theater ready to return to big screen magic. But not everyone feels safe. 

The movie served as a flashback, centering on a character that we all saw die in Avengers: Endgame. Did audiences not wish to see a film that had low dramatic stakes? After all, it is kind of hard to worry about a character who technically cannot die. As much as I appreciate a good trip back in time, I felt that lack of danger for the main character. Still, I love the Black Widow. Besides, we almost always know the superhero is not going to die. 

Finally, the motion picture was offered simultaneously on Disney+ for an extra fee. Was it easier and less expensive for movie goers just to stay at home? Were the fans of Loki happy to stay on their sofas? I’ve got to admit, I was tempted. It’s much cheaper to pay for one of these deals than to take the whole family out to the movies, especially when the cost of popcorn, snacks, and sodas are factored in. I always want to see spectacle on the big screen, but I would not blame someone for enjoying this in their living room. This may yet be the way that movies ultimately go. 

I suspect that the explanation is some combination of all of these factors. However, I also do not worry too much. This was an enjoyable film. There always seems to be people waiting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fall. And a subset of DC vs. Marvel squabblers who pronounce that this is the foretold time when the tables will turn. To them I say be happy for the bounty you have now for I remember leaner days.

The MCU is not doomed because of Black Widow’s box office performance. But it may be damaged by Disney’s response to a lawsuit by lead actress Scarlet Johansson. Johansson maintains that because the film also opened on a streaming service, she was denied her fair share of compensation. Disney’s answer was to argue that it was without merit. Which is fine, they can say that. But then Disney went on to state that: “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

It is a bizarre assertion. I cannot understand how Johansson asking for a fair payout has anything to do with her understanding of the impact of a worldwide epidemic. Unless of course Disney is implying that, somehow, she hurt the company’s feelings. 

That last little dig generated much ill will among actors/unions and talent agencies for being a comment too far. Disney also disclosed Johansson’s earnings, implying she had done well enough. The end result is that Disney appears defensive, vicious, and sexist. The next female action star may well look for a more positive place to be. 

The irony is that Black Widow the movie centers thematically on female empowerment. Overall, the MCU character has tricked and taken down a number of sleazy, sexist guys. The Widow may have bitten one more on her way out the door. 

Key words: Movies, Black Widow, Pop Culture, 

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