Much like with The Tomorrow War, Lorne Balfe’s Black Widow features an enjoyable and well-crafted orchestral style (even adding to it with some intriguing and rather-fitting Russian-esque vocals). It’s just a bit of a shame that unlike that score, there isn’t much thematic substance here to go along with it.
Black Widow begins with Natasha’s Lullaby; a primarily vocal piece that firmly grounds Lorne Balfe’s score in Russian-esque musical territory, and so is naturally fitting for titular character Natasha Romanoff. Light guitar notes open the cue, with the aforementioned vocals then starting to sing the “lullaby”. These are then joined a minute or so later by a deep, anthem-esque choir as well as increasingly emphatic strings and brass, which all together then build to a loud crescendo to end the track at just over the three minute mark. Overall it’s quite a stylistic piece, and plays more like a Russian song than a superhero theme, which admittedly is not quite what I was expecting in terms of a motif for Black Widow (I had naturally been expecting something a little more superhero-y) but the style does fit her character quite well, so fair enough. Additionally, underneath the vocals there is also a tangible motif (played by the backing orchestra) which will hopefully come into play a little more as the album continues.
The music starts to turn more traditionally film score-esque in Latrodectus, with the orchestra coming out in full force for the album’s first action cue. Here, thunderous percussion leads the fray accompanied by frenetic, near deafening flurries of brass and dramatically worrisome strings, which together then swirl and build over the course of the subsequent two minutes until the brass completely takes over for a loud, villainous-sounding burst to end the track. Gentle piano notes then soothe the score back down at the start of Fireflies, with hopeful strings also joining the fray. This quiet optimism continues for a little bit before the strings slow and start to get a little melancholic, building to a still quiet yet powerfully sorrowful musical crescendo a few seconds later.
This sombre mood continues somewhat into The Pursuit, with the established Russian-esque choir from the lullaby also returning in quiet, morose form to start with before a rumble of percussion accompanied by several swift bursts of worried brass start to signal a call to action, and the increasingly present orchestra then starts to go. Here the choir then also starts to mix with the action, interspersing and weaving through the orchestra to overall give it that now quite familiar Russian-esque tone. The orchestra then segues into the equally frantic The First Bite Is The Deepest, leaving the choir behind as aggravated brass takes centre stage together with imposing percussion. The mood then turns rather sinister in Dreykov, starting with quiet, ominous strings before then building up considerably as a loud, threatening choir begin to sing, backed by rumbles of low-pitched percussion. As villain themes go it is a little on the unmemorable side (bar the choir I struggled to pick out anything tangible) but tonally, it certainly does its job.
Natasha’s lullaby theme plays quietly and rather morosely on slow, mournful strings in You Don’t Know Me, a sub-two minute piece that leans heavily into the more solemn side of things. Low, echoing vocals then open Yelena Belova, with a gentle piano and slowly rising brass starting to build in the background until the orchestra then practically explodes, with flurries of strings and bursts of brass taking the now dramatically epic forefront, all the while accompanied by the heavily Russian-esque and now rather powerful-sounding vocal choir. The accelerated pace from this cue then continues through into From The Shadows, another action setpiece where rapid strings and bursts of emphatic brass play loudly and prominently, though also occasionally accompanied by quiet murmurs of sinister electronics.
So far, I have to say I’m not overly wowed by this score – honestly even a little bored by it. The tone of it is quite interesting (the Russian choir naturally being the standout element) but there’s little thematic substance to go along with. Natasha’s theme is a bit underused thus far, and other motifs while present are unmemorable enough that they’re quite difficult to discern, and even more so to pick out. There’s also a distinct lack of heroism in the music here, which I find a little odd considering the setting (it is a Marvel superhero movie after all) and a bit disappointing given how great some of Lorne Balfe’s recent heroic music has sounded – take The Tomorrow War for example – and I also can’t help but feel this album would be a lot better if certain elements from there were applied here. Still, we are only a little ways in so far, so perhaps things will improve.
The Russian-esque vocals return briefly in dramatic form towards the end of Hand In Hand, before slow, solemn strings and mournful piano notes then take over the tone in Blood Ties. Together the instruments establish a particularly solemn mood that is then amplified considerably by louder, additional strings playing towards the end of the piece. Things then pick up a bit in subsequent action cue Whirlwind, opening with loudly emphatic bursts of brass and swirls of excited strings. As the track continues the orchestra then builds to soar, with the style of it sounding pretty damned superb (especially towards the end of the piece), altogether in a similarly high quality manner to that of Balfe’s Tomorrow War score. The ominous Russian-sounding choir then returns in Arise, accompanied for a short while by worrisome strings before percussion then interjects and starts to pick up the pace, and the vocals turn to chanting as the action kicks into gear with a further minute of dark, frantic orchestra. This doesn’t last for long however as the short Natasha’s Fragments then slows the music right back down, with Natasha’s theme playing quietly and mournfully on gentle strings and low, ghostly vocals.
The solemnity continues into A Sister Says Goodbye, with the established vocals playing quietly and mournfully to start together with a gentle piano, with the full choir then gradually working its way in until a loudly dramatic and tearfully sorrowful crescendo is reached at just over the three minute mark. Thunderous drums and imposing brass notes then open Red Rising, with the pace rapidly rising as action ensues a few seconds in. The orchestra comes properly into play once again here, building tension considerably throughout the four minute setpiece and holding Natasha’s theme pretty prominently in the back half as heavy, strained brass takes the forefront. The pace then continues into The Betrayed, with the Russian choir coming back into the fray accompanied by flurries of some very David Arnold James Bond-esque brass. At three minutes in the music then slows somewhat, with strings briefly taking the lead for a few melancholic moments before villainous-sounding trumpets then overtake and loud, imposing bursts of electronics set a rather alarming tone. With the tension now amplified substantially, The Descent then kicks up the orchestral pace even further, though this time also mixing in a rare dash of heroism as brass starts to overtake the tension with Natasha’s theme held high (for a few seconds, anyway).
Standout cue Natasha Soars then takes the brief heroism introduced in The Descent, and quite simply runs with it. The orchestra practically explodes a few seconds in, with a loudly emphatic burst of brass playing Natasha’s theme, which is then accompanied by a rather exquisite stylistic combination of flurries of the Bond-esque brass and proud statements of the established Russian-esque choir. Here composer Balfe uses the orchestra to its full power, in a similar manner to that of The Tomorrow War‘s highest moments – it’s just a bit of a shame that Natasha only “soars” here for two short minutes before the standout cue then, rather annoyingly, comes to a swift close. As the album then starts to fully close out, the last hints of action play through in Into The Past, with the loudly tense orchestra taking one final fast-paced bow before Broken Free brings back the gentle guitar from right at the start of the score for two minutes of somewhat hopeful melancholy, and A Calling then brings everything full circle as optimistic strings accompanied by full Russian lyrics play for a two minute Natasha’s Lullaby-esque finish.
Overall, Lorne Balfe’s score for Black Widow gets an A+ for style, but sadly not so much in terms of substance. Much like with his Tomorrow War works from last week the orchestral style here is absolutely superb, and is used to create some truly stunning-sounding music at times (see Whirlwind, and of course standout cue Natasha Soars). The Russian-esque vocals are also a welcome and intriguing addition to the score, and naturally they fit the titular character quite well too. That being said, while Black Widow herself does have a theme, it’s a bit buried in Natasha’s Lullaby, isn’t really all that present across the rest of the score, and to be completely honest isn’t all that memorable as a motif anyway, especially as a superhero theme. This naturally then has a bit of a knock-on effect across the album, as for all its style, for me there isn’t much particularly of substance to Balfe’s Black Widow. After a few listens, I found that very little of it actually stuck with me, nor was I really too bothered about revisiting a lot of it after the fact. The music overall is also less superhero and more downtrodden action, which while enjoyable, isn’t quite what I expected or to be honest wanted, especially from an MCU score. Natasha Soars was the closest thing that we really got to heroic here, and while that cue is pretty spectacular, at only two minutes long it just left me wanting so, so much more.
I don’t know, it just seems odd to me that Balfe’s The Tomorrow War is more of a superhero score than Black Widow is.
Standout Cue: 22. Natasha Soars
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