After being delayed for more than a year due to Covid, Black Widow, the second feature movie in the MCU post the franchise’s pinnacle, 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, will finally see the light of day. Industry estimates project that the Scarlett Johansson standalone movie can feasibly open to between $80M-$90M at the domestic B.O.
Like all Marvel movies, exhibition is looking at Black Widow as a savior for them, even if it’s available on Disney+ Premier at the same time for $29.99. After all, who wants to watch a Marvel movie at home? (Granted, the MCU series are much different). The pic introduces Natasha Romanoff’s ‘family’ and how they become pawns in a Russian super solider experiment. In the newly connected MCU Disney+ series-and big screen feature universe, Black Widow also bridges to the upcoming show Hawkeye this fall with the movie’s new character, Yelena Belova, played by Oscar nominee Florence Pugh set to star.
Similar to previous MCU directors, such as Taika Waititi with Thor: Ragnarok and Jon Watts with Spider-Man: Far From Home, Marvel Boss Kevin Feige has a talent for tapping filmmakers from the independent cinema sphere, giving them a platform to accentuate their talents, while also making the comic book movies an organic part of their canon. Rival comic book and tentpole features have attempted the same hiring process such as Marvel’s and failed. That said, it takes talent, the right team and tools to shepherd indie directors into the MCU, and to date Feige has a winning streak as mentor, both on the series side (i.e. Loki‘s filmmaker Kate Herron) and film, the proof being the great critical reaction and global box office results. Black Widow is already 82% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. As Deadline first told you, Marvel was looking to have a female filmmaker steer Black Widow and it was Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, who directed such movies as Lore and Berlin Syndrome, who beat out Amma Asante (Belle), Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) and Maggie Betts (Novitiate) for the job.
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While Black Widow will work wonders for the domestic box office, the question is whether the movie can lift offshore territories out of the doldrums of Covid, given that a handful of Pan-Pacific territories remain closed, and Brazil still far from perfect. Nonetheless, it’s going to be one of the brightest weekends at the box office come Friday.
Here’s our interview with Shortland:
When the pandemic occurred and pushed Black Widow from its May 1, 2020 launch, did it give you an opportunity to change anything in the film?
Cate Shortland: No. I think, what happened was, we were about two weeks from finishing. So, we were just fine tuning the last visual effects and everything, and then the pandemic happened, and we were all in lockdown in different houses. What happened was visual effect studios started closing down and the editors were sometimes editing with no sound. We had all these strange things happen. Post-production was probably meant to be two weeks, however, it probably took six weeks to finish the film, but not much changed story wise. I mean, we weren’t having anymore screenings with test audiences. Just as a team, we would watch the film. Scarlett was in New York. So, we’d watch it, and we’d talk about it. I suppose we just tried to make sure it had as much heart as possible.
Tell us about how you landed the directing job. For example, Taika Waititi showed Kevin Feige and the Marvel executives a sizzle reel for how he would present Thor: Ragnarok. Did you create a look book?
CS: Yes, I did that. I worked with an editor in Sydney, and I cut together a reel, like a sizzle reel of what I imagined the film would be, and then I came to L.A., and I showed the producers, and they were excited. The reel had a lot of emotion: It felt like two things — beautiful moment, sometimes underwater, sometimes through the air, like acrobatic movement. I was cutting together film, commercial and documentary, and I was trying to make real moments, and I was trying to choreograph beautiful moments. What I knew that I wanted to do was to choreograph moments of beauty with the widows as well as with Scarlett (Johansson). I didn’t know what the film was about, and they asked me what was I interested in exploring. I said I had a 10-year old daughter and I wanted to explore giving people a voice, giving women a voice. I wanted to make the character as real as possible, because what I’d seen in previous movies, where she was this amazing formidable heroine, but she was kind of a femme fatale, and I wanted to see what was underneath that role.
Please refresh for our readers, the film takes place at a time when Black Widow and Steve Rogers “are on the run.”
CS: It takes place after Civil War. Yes. She’s on the run. So, she’s totally alone when this all begins, which was great because we saw her without any pretense. She didn’t have to be something. She was just a person.
Was the movie based on any specific comic books?
CS: No. I worked with a Russian historian, and we created a backstory. We went back, maybe two years into Russia, into Soviet. We looked at what her life would have actually been like before she came to America.
For you, what was her spiritual journey about? What was essential to crack in presenting the character of Natasha Romanoff?
CS: That she was part of the ether, that she was infinite. What I used was light. So, I show fireflies at the beginning of the film, and they reoccur at the end of the film, and for me, it’s this idea that everything that’s meant to happen has happened and that she’s infinite.
In regards to the end credits sequence, did you guys shoot that before or after Covid?
CS: That was shot when we came to the states from Europe. The sequence was shot as part of our pickups at the beginning of 2020, before Covid.
Tell us about landing Florence Pugh. This movie reps a huge culmination for her in the wake of working with Dwayne Johnson in Fighting With My Family and her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Little Women. Black Widow occurred for her before the uber-success of Little Women.
CS: When I went into my first interview with Marvel, they asked me which actors I’d like to work with and I said, Florence. They asked me why, and I talked about her turn in Lady Macbeth and that putting someone so grounded and formidable against Scarlett is really exciting. But we did look at a lot of actresses and we always came back to her, and she’s just a great person. I think what’s going to happen is young people are going to relate to her because she embraces all her flaws. She embraces her messy humanity, and I think that’s such a great character in terms of being a messy human superhero.
The finale of the movie, which we catch glimpses of in the trailer, is a freefall battle in the sky. It stands apart from other MCU movies. Tell us about how this was conceived.
CS: It comes from Kevin (Feige). That comes straight from Kevin, because he gave us a frame from a comic book, very early on, of Natasha jumping from an apartment building. From there we just built, built, built until it made sense and it felt like it was integral to the story. We explored all different ways of doing it, and I think what we talked about was just creating something so beautiful, and something that people hadn’t seen before, and that would sweep them up.
Describe how it was shot. Was it all green screen, wires and jumping from platforms?
CS: It was wires and we’d put the actors in an arm. Then we could put Scarlett and Florence together, because we could make the move and jump Scarlett from piece to piece. Geoff Baumann, who is our visual effects supervisor, would create beautiful balletics with visual effects, but then we also used stunt people jumping out of planes. We did that for a week. We’d get these messy movements, because the stunt people were finding each other in the air, and I think that’s what makes it feel lovely is you’ve got real humanity amongst the visual effects.
Black Widow got caught up in Disney’s day-and-date experiment with the film being released in theaters and on Disney+ Premier for $29.99. When you first found about this, what was your reaction?
CS: Well, we made this film to be seen in cinemas, and it’s not so much seen in cinemas, it’s felt in cinemas because we created the sound, and the music, and just the huge beautiful spectacle was to be seen on a big screen. So, as a director, I want people, if they’re safe, to see it in that environment, but I know some people can’t for a lot of reasons, pandemic and also a lot of reasons. So, it’s really cool that other people will still get to see the movie.
Do you think there will ever be a sequel to Black Widow?
CS: I think these girls have got a lot of asses still to kick.