In a way, “Black Widow” is the right film to kick off Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — even though it isn’t Marvel’s first project in the new era.

See, “Black Widow” was supposed to launch Phase 4 — the post-”Avengers: Endgame” era of the MCU. It was supposed to kick-start our new journey. Instead, the coronavirus outbreak led to the film’s postponement. So Marvel and Disney pivoted, releasing “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” instead. We’ve even had a handful of “Loki” episodes, too.

Still, when I watched “Black Widow” back in the middle of June, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the real start to the next era of Marvel. The new era wouldn’t kick off until we got this movie. It’s the perfect start too because it reminds us of where we’ve been, tells us something new and pushes us to what’s going to happen next.

“Black Widow” is, in a word, brilliant. It’s an emotional journey for Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) with a slew of powerful action scenes and simple twists that don’t feel forced. Everything — every emotional beat, every battle and every twist — feels earned.

“Black Widow” is a film that knows what it wants to be and it leans right into it.

Black Widow in “Black Widow.”
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in “Black Widow.” | Marvel Studios

Is it too long?

Not going to lie — the beginning is a little slow. So many questions are thrown at you as you’re trying to get your sea legs. We meet new characters. We see Natasha for the first time, and we’re really trying to understand the world we’re in and why it matters. Once we see a more present-day Natasha, the film settles down a little bit and we have a better understanding of where we’re going.

We never slow down from there. “Black Widow” is the perfect length. The opening 20-30 minutes could have been cut down. But otherwise, it doesn’t stretch too long. You never feel like you’re waiting for anything to happen. It’s the right length for this solo film.

Does Scarlett Johansson pull it off?

Just a quick reminder — Johansson made her debut in “Iron Man 2” back in 2010. Yeah. She’s been in the MCU for more than 11 years. And we’re finally seeing a solo film dedicated to her character.

Johansson, who has acting chops beyond the summer blockbusters, is excellent as Natasha. In most MCU movies, she has a few one-liners here or there, a quick action scene and an important moment toward the end. This is the first time she’s allowed to really stretch her wings, and she does it beautifully. You really feel for Natasha, and you get to peek behind the hard exterior she has put up before. It’s proof that Black Widow should have had her own solo film a long time ago.

Who stole the show?

There are two candidates for this — Florence Pugh and David Harbour.

Pugh was perfect as Yelena Belova. While Natasha is serious and curt, Pugh is witty, charismatic and vulnerable. Pugh performs the role well. You never want her to leave a scene. And when she’s gone, you want her to come back. Another actress may have made her character too snarky, annoying and childish. But Pugh does the role justice. She deserves more roles overall and another glance in the MCU, in some form or another.

Harbour has success too as Alexei Shostakov (or the Red Guardian). He’s a classic retired superhero who still believes he’s the king of all (like your high school prom king who just won’t leave his job at the multiplex). He’s got some great lines, and there’s a certain naïveté to him that is charming. Many will recognize Harbour from “Stranger Things.” He’s a little lighter than his role on that show, but he is nonetheless someone you’re rooting for.

Where does ‘Black Widow’ rank among other MCU movies?

For Marvel fans, this is an above-average film that ranks in the higher end of your Marvel list. It doesn’t reach “Infinity War” or “Endgame” levels, nor does it measure up to “Iron Man.” But it ranks among the “fun” tier of films. I’d put it wherever you have “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Captain Marvel” and “Doctor Strange.” The film is basically “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but with the wit and cleverness of “Doctor Strange” and the family vibes of “Captain Marvel” — if that makes sense. It has a sprinkle of “Thor: Ragnarok,” too, because of the comedy. But it lacks the cosmic feel of that movie since this movie takes place on Earth and not on planets galaxies and realms away.

Does ‘Black Widow’ change the MCU?

It does! Surprisingly, a film that takes place after “Captain America: Civil War” but before “Avengers: Infinity War” does reshape the MCU. For one, we get a new look at Natasha and who she is, which will reshape the way we see her character forever. We understand her a little more, so little lines here and there about her past in previous movies that will make more sense now after “Black Widow.”

Also, there’s one scene in the film that will provide an interesting wrinkle to the entire MCU story if you watch this movie chronologically. Obviously, I am not going to spoil it. But if you want to watch these films based on the timeline of events — meaning you’d watch it after “Civil War” — there’s quite a change to the MCU that you’d see here. That’s all I’ll say.

Should this have been a Disney+ series?

No. I thought about that as I watched the movie. All the recent Marvel stories have been told as Disney+ series. “Black Widow” would not have worked that way. The story isn’t as deep to work as a series, even if they extended it by three hours. It works as a film and only as a film.

OK — Disney+ or movie theaters?

This is the big question many will ask. “Black Widow” will be available on Disney+ through the Premier Access feature, so you can pay $30 to watch it on July 9. Or, if you feel safe, you can head to a theater.

My take — this is a movie theater movie. It’s worth seeing in theaters. It’s big, it’s loud and it has great scenes. However, there are a lot of Russian accents in this movie so those who stream it at home will at least get subtitles.

So if you’re vaccinated and feel safe, see it in theaters.

“Black Widow” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material