Summer Movie Reviews: Black Widow, Old, and Pig


Ben Schlotman, Reporter, Co-Editor

This summer, after a long hold on the release of new movies to theaters, cinema is back (sort of). Numerous big-budget movies showed across the country, although many didn’t perform as well as their respective studios expected or hoped. 

The Swarm presents three reviews of three films of 2021’s summer, one that did lower numbers than expected,  one that made five times its budget, and one small indie film whose gross is irrelevant. Marvel’s long-delayed blockbuster Black Widow, divisive auteur M. Night Shyamalan’s newest thriller, Old, and under-the-radar Nicolas Cage drama Pig.

First, Black Widow, starring an overqualified cast that includes Scarlett Johansson as the titular character and Little Women’s Florence Pugh as her sister, who went unmentioned by the countless previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a  film that makes anyone who knows its place in the MCU’s chronology sound indefensibly geeky. For the few people who didn’t see Avengers: Endgame, Scarlett Johansson’s character was killed off in that film, meaning this one takes place several years in the past. 

It’s not clear why this movie had to exist, except for the obvious reason of money. General audiences were hardly clamoring for a quasi-origin story for a character who was killed off two years ago. Despite that, Disney knew they would empty their wallets for it, either in theaters or on Disney+. And they did, although not to the degree that they probably would have liked. Either way, it’s an obvious sign that Marvel can spit up whatever pointless gruel they want and turn a profit. 

There’s not much to say about the movie itself. In the days since I watched it, 90% of it has completely evaporated from my mind. The only defensible scene is early on, when Black Widow’s father figure, portrayed by David Harbour, dangles from the wing of a plane while shooting countless federal agents with a hunting rifle. It’s immediately followed, however, by one of the worst sequences in the MCU. Over a title sequence that luridly and sensationally portrays child trafficking (I, too, was questioning whether this was a superhero movie), an inane dramatic cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” plays. The lyrics, “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido,” are so incongruous with the scene that I laughed aloud in the theater. 

Most of the notably good or bad elements of the film would be hard to address without spoiling it, but suffice it to say it was a mind-numbingly dull experience–for me, at least. However, even I won’t pretend I don’t see the appeal of watching a bunch of charismatic people blowing things up on a big screen after months of being unable to go to a theater. If you saw this at home, I have no idea what this would do for you. 

The action is disjointed and criminally boring, the plot is nonsensical but not absurd enough to be funny, and a particular motif involving the song “American Pie” is insultingly saccharine. I mean no offense to the MCU’s many devotees, nor to the many critics who liked this. It just was not for me. At all. 

On to Old, another film that I wildly disagree with the critical consensus on, just in the opposite direction. I admit to having seen relatively few of Shyamalan’s movies, but I do know that most of his work since 2002’s Signs has left critics and fans divided at best and seething with rage at worst. The hate against Shyamalan was multifaceted–yes, one of these facets, in some cases, was racism–but I’d rather not delve into that and instead sing the praises of Old, which is at this point in time, my favorite movie of the very young decade. 

Again, I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but you can get a pretty good sense of what will happen in the movie just from knowing the almost hilariously simple concept: it’s about a beach that makes you old. 

Three families go to the beach, finding a mysterious stranger and a dead body. From there, they all start aging rapidly and try to uncover why the beach does this to them and how they can escape.  Shyamalan has stronger control over the craft of filmmaking than most living American directors, and his talent has rarely been on display as strongly as it is here. The camera seems to have a heartbeat of its own, frantically trying to show us the chaos that unfolds as the 11 characters reckon with their mortality. 

Though most critics seemed to ignore it, the movie is incredibly funny when it wants to be–the stranger that the characters encounter on the beach is a rapper named “Mid-Size Sedan,” for starters. Another character, a vain influencer-type, becomes more and more focused on her rapidly disappearing beauty as she ages. Shyamalan’s sense of humor and love of irony make the movie easier to watch–were it not for them, the stress might be overwhelming. 

It also features a number of great performances, despite the fact that the acting is one of the things that was criticized about the film. Vicky Krieps, who won praise for her performance in 2017’s Phantom Thread, is a standout as a stressed-out mother of two children who doesn’t tell them about her tumor–until the beach starts exacerbating its growth, resulting in a scene of body horror that made the entire theater audibly recoil. 

At heart, Old is two things: a tense thriller with heart-pounding kinetic cinematography and a devastating family tragedy. It also tapped deeply into my personal fear of aging in a way no movie other than 2019’s The Irishman has. I may be nearly alone in liking it, but I really, really liked it. 

Finally, one more movie I recently loved (because I want this to be more positive than negative) was Pig, starring Nicolas Cage. It may surprise people who haven’t seen a majority of his less critically derided work, but Cage is an amazing actor. At his best, he ranks with the most acclaimed living actors, if you ask me. Nowhere in recent memory have his talents been displayed better than in Pig, where he plays a reclusive truffle hunter whose prize truffle pig is stolen, leading him to re-enter society to search for her. 

Based on what we know of Cage’s career, the audience expects him to embark on a rampage of revenge, and while I won’t spoil the movie, that’s not quite what we get. What we get is a quiet, funny, and weird movie about how a few strange people cope with the grief that haunts them. Cage’s co-star, Alex Wolff, who also co-starred in Old, gives a great performance for such an actor so young–he’s only 23! He and Cage have excellent chemistry, and the direction from Michael Sarnoski is smart and confident, highlighting the lived-in and subtly beautiful performances from the stars. 

Cage in particular is quiet and reserved, letting the viewer search for meaning in his face. This is a stark and clearly deliberate contrast with his typical screen persona, which audiences generally think of as “a lot of yelling and screaming,” from movies like Moonstruck and Mandy. He and Sarnoski know just what they’re doing in withholding the off-the-rails revenge-driven Cage we’ve come to expect. 

So there are two of the best and one of the worst movies of the summer, at least according to one person’s opinion. The latter two films are the kind that the world needs more of, so if you can, please go see them. They are well-worth your time and money.