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Red Sparrow’s Director Doesn’t Get the Black Widow Comparisons

"It's not gadgety."

red sparrow black widow movie

When the first trailer for the upcoming Red Sparrow was released, the comparisons to Marvel’s Black Widow were immediate and they were plentiful. Red Sparrow stars Jennifer Lawrence as a member of an elite sect of Russian spies known as Sparrows. The film’s synopsis describes the group as “a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people like her to use their bodies and minds as weapons.” As for Lawrence’s character, Dominika Egorova, “After enduring the perverse and sadistic training process, she emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow the program has ever produced.”

Gee, I wonder why so many people have been making connections to Black Widow?

The film’s director, Francis Lawrence, has responded to the comparisons. From what he told ScreenRant, it sounds like he doesn’t see it.

There’s people who think it’s very similar to the Black Widow story. This is not pulled from BW, this is pulled from Red Sparrow, you know, it’s just like written by a guy who was in the CIA. It’s like, his references are coming from a very very different place from that. But there’ll always be that. People like to put things in boxes, and I think is a really unique film. This is a thriller, it’s not action, again it’s not gadgety. It’s a hard-R. There’s violence, it’s a bit perverse, it’s suspenseful, a lot of intrigue. It ‘s a very different kind of spy film.

Red Sparrow is based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews, a former real-life CIA operative. And while I agree that it does a disservice to women-led films (and entertainment in general) to “put things in boxes” and pit movies starring women against each other as if there’s only room for one, it seems naive to not admit straight-up that these two stories are very similar. Not because of the film’s rating, and not because of “gadgets.” They’re just … the same story.

In the comments I’ve seen–which I share in my own opinions of the trailers and synopsis of Red Sparrow–the criticisms seem to be less about accusing Lawrence or Matthews of stealing or deliberately ripping off the Black Widow story, and more about a disappointment that there wasn’t faith in this exact synopsis when it was proposed with Black Widow as its subject.

Back when fans first started wondering where our standalone Black Widow was (and continuing for years afterward), the argument that detractors would throw out was that there’s just no material for a BW movie. She doesn’t have superpowers, they argued, so what would her movie even look like? This conversation took place in countless internet comments sections, but the lack of a Black Widow movie indicated it was also happening in meetings at Marvel and Disney.

Could a Black Widow movie really sell tickets? Fans insisted “yes, of course!” But without superpowers, what would make her story worth watching? Cue a million fans screaming “Oh I don’t know, what makes James Bond or literally any spy movie worth watching?!”

I don’t think Jason Matthews or Francis Lawrence set out to rip off Black Widow. I could be wrong, but I’m doubtful that that was the intent. But you can’t deny the comparisons between Natasha Romanoff’s backstory and the story of Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika Egorova. (I mean, I guess you can deny them. Francis Lawrence does. But I think that in doing so, he’s being defensive and silly.)

We know that Marvel is at least considering a Black Widow solo movie and who knows? Maybe they’ll retread some of this ground. Natasha has an amazing backstory, so I don’t know how many people would mind that. But as Scarlett Johansson (and every fan who’s been wondering where the hell Black Widow’s movie has been) has said, “There’s a lot of places you can go” with this character. It’s just a bummer that Marvel didn’t trust that her story was worth telling years ago.

(via ScreenRant, image: 20th Century Fox)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.