Ever since the first trailer dropped, Red Sparrow has been dogged by comparisons to Marvel's Black Widow. Now the movie's here, it's clear they have very little in common - which only makes the problems all the more pointed.A film about a young Russian girl, trained in ballet who enrolls in spy school and learns how to use her mind and body to infiltrate the enemy, especially to help take down the United States: in a perfect world, this would be Black Widow's origin story. It would be done with grace, intrigue, and yes, the right amount of sexuality that empowers the character instead of crushing her.Related: What The Black Widow Movie Should Be AboutInstead, this is the story of Red Sparrow, another film about a female Russian spy that taps down humanity in lieu of shocking scenes and violent brutality. And those comparisons tell an interesting story.This Page: Red Sparrow Is Nothing Like Black Widow

Red Sparrow Is Nothing Like Black Widow

In Red Sparrow - directed by Francis Lawrence from a script by Justin Haythe based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews - Lawrence's Dominika Egorova is an injured national ballet dancer who is forced to go to spy school to learn to become a "Sparrow", a spy trained to seduce targets and bring back information to Russia. That basic summary is a beat-for-beat Black Widow parallel.

In the films, Natasha Romanov (AKA Black Widow) is a Russian agent turned American turncoat. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, it was revealed that she also had ballet training and attended an intense spy school for children to turn her into a living weapon. In the comics, Black Widow's origin story had her kidnapped by Baron Von Strucker and trained to be a Russian assassin and world-famous ballerina. This was then changed in Richard K. Morgan's Black Widow run, where she was trained with other children to become a spy in the secret "Red Room" facility.

These comparisons are not lost on the film's director. In an interview with ScreenRant, Francis Lawrence said:

œThere'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.

Related: Where Do You Recognize The Cast Of Red Sparrow From?

That's something of an understatement. Red Sparrow pushes the hard-R rating with graphic scenes of sex and violence. The aforementioned "spy school" isn't just about training to shoot a gun; these young adults are taught to do whatever it takes to get information, using sexuality and perversions to their advantage. Dominika even calls it a "whore school".

Clearly, there really isn't much to link the two properties. However, Red Sparrow's distinction - trying to create a world of danger and intrigue - ends up highlighting its problems.

Red Sparrow's Violence And Sex Hide A Confused Story

One of Red Sparrow's most talked about scenes is Jennifer Lawrence's career-first nude scene which, as critics have debated, happens without warning or real context. She strips down in order to take power back from a sexually abusive classmate, something vaguely set-up but of debatable necessit. Lawrence recently said that getting nude in the movie helped her get over the photos of her that were stolen during 2014's photo hack:

œMy biggest fear was that people would say, Oh, how can you complain about the hack if you're going to get nude anyway?' she said to Vanity Fair. œOne is my choice, I got something back that was taken from me, and it also felt normal.


This power that Lawrence felt while making the film is rarely displayed in the actual movie. Unlike other recent female-led action films like Wonder Woman or Atomic Blonde, there's no sense of twisting a traditionally male gaze element into something empowering. What there is is an intensity that's pure and undiluted. When people die, they die horribly. When people are assaulted, they're assaulted brutally. There are scenes that Black Widow can never show, including one dealing with a skin grafter that's unlikely to be forgotten soon.

However, the film works best when it's not trying to shock. Indeed, the only break from the run of viciousness comes from the duplicitous but vulnerable chief of staff to an American senator, played by a wonderful Mary-Louise Parker - and it's a standout sequence. Although only on screen for minutes, her character - tricked and seduced into a situation she doesn't fully understand and eager for a quick payout and boiling over with a rage that may not fully be deserved - brings life to the film.

It's that feeling of intrigue which Parker has that also makes Black Widow such a great character. It doesn't matter what she does, you want more of it. It's also what Red Sparrow is missing. All the film's brutality becomes so overwhelming the audience begins to grow numb to anything these characters do, including a muddled love story mixed in the middle between Lawrence and Joel Edgerton's Nathaniel Nash. By the time the Red Sparrow's ending finally arrives and Dominika is redeemed with a solidly unexpected turn, it's hard to actually care what is going on, despite the surprise.

Red Sparrow Needed More Of What Makes Black Widow Great

The high on brutality, low on character development arc is exactly why this isn't - and can't be - the Black Widow movie audiences are craving. What makes Black Widow such a fantastic character is the levels that are only beginning to peel back throughout the films.

Related: A Black Widow Movie Doesn't Mean She Survives Avengers 4

The outward assassin, cool, collected, violent, but calm when danger appears, was interesting. What makes Natasha Romanov such a wonder of a character, though, is the vulnerability that still exists beneath, especially in scenes with Banner/Hulk and with Hawkeye. The outer confident appearance that is the entirety of her personality in her first inclusions in the Marvel universe begins to crack, until we begin to see a little bit more of who she really is. Sadly, Red Sparrow does not have that same level of humanity, as there is little subtle about the film.


While this isn't good for Red Sparrow, it does further highlight the case for a Black Widow film. That project is currently in early development, with Marvel working on a script, and fans are hoping to finally discover about the red on her ledger. Now we've seen how not to do it, let's hope the House of Ideas can get it right.

Next: Black Widow Movie Trailer, Cast, Every Update You Need To Know

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