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Film Review—More of a ‘Mockingjay’ than a ‘Sparrow’ or ‘Widow’

Posted: Friday, March 9, 2018 – 11:42 AM

By Adam Sherman

Since her live-action debut nearly a decade before in Iron Man 2, many of Marvel’s True Believers have been begging for a Black Widow solo movie. Only on the eve of Avengers: Infinity War does the possibility of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s prime female Avenger getting her own shot in the spotlight become more than a pipe dream. Surely there would be an alternative aside from more waiting.

Enter Red Sparrow, a tale about a Russian spy played by Jennifer Lawrence, one of Hollywood’s current brightest starlets, and re-teaming her with her Catching Fire and Mockingjay director Francis Lawrence. While this dynamic duo were able to make magic happen with the Hunger Games sequels, can their reunion provide enough intrigue and action to make up for the lack of Natasha Romanova solo stories?

Kind of… but not really.

Based off former CIA Operative Jason Matthew’s novel of the same, Red Sparrow focuses on Dominika Egorova’s (Jennifer Lawrence) transformation from ballet dancer to spy. When her ballet career is ended mid-performance by a rival and her dance partner, Dominika is recruited by her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) to undergo training at the Sparrow School to become a spy and seduction agent for the Russian government. However, an encounter with a CIA officer (Joel Edgerton) leaves her considering becoming a double agent. Amidst this all, she must navigate the world of espionage and betrayal if she ever wants to even consider getting control of her life back in her hands again.

Anyone going in hoping for a substitute Black Widow movie is probably going to be disappointed. It is more akin to The Good Shepherd than a James Bond flick or even Atomic Blonde. This is not indicative of a bad film itself, but it exacerbates the film’s other issues.

Starting on a positive note, Jennifer Lawrence does great work, managing to sell each of Dominika’s decisions with earnestness, and a quiet intensity. Even when the character makes decisions that seem to run counter to earlier actions, she manages to make you think that this is the moment where she makes her decision, all culminating to the film’s conclusion where all her capabilities and deceptions are laid bare, and her true aims are made clear. Jeremy Irons also manages to surprise as General Korchnoi, though the reasons for which can’t be given without spoiling the film as a whole. The music is lovely and the cinematography is decent, as well.

However, while all that makes the film good, there are many other areas where it falters. Most of the cast never comes off as all that engaging or memorable, and as a result, it can be difficult to care about whats happening. This is not helped by the detached tone that the movie maintains for most of the runtime, resulting in what could be moments of emotional development coming off as somewhat unearned (case in point, Edgerton and Lawrence don’t appear to have much chemistry). This does make some degree of sense if Red Sparrow was intending to make a point of how emotionally draining spy work can be, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a great movie.

In fact, seeing Lawrence might be one of the only real draws of this film (and we get to see quite a bit of her).

Overall, Red Sparrow serves as neither an argument for, nor against a Black Widow movie. It simply is.

Go see this movie… if you don’t want to see Black Panther, Early Man, or Annihilation.

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