Black Widow, the 24th (really) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is set in the immediate aftermath of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, with Scarlett Johansson reprising her role as Natasha Romanoff, the eponymous Black Widow, a highly trained former KGB assassin turned Avenger, who’s forced to reconnect with her painful past in order to stop an international conspiracy. Helmed by director Cate Shortland, the film takes us into Romanoff’s past, raised as the child of Soviet secret agents, tasked with stealing American secrets in the heartland. Sent back to Russia and forced along with her adopted sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) into the Black Widow program, Romanoff conducts a series of assassinations before breaking free and joining up with our team of heroes to save the world. Black Widow avoids the superhero storylines and takes a more human approach, instead tracking Romanoff as she reconnects with Yelena, as they attempt to take down the program that trained them and continues to operate in the shadows.

But really, fans of this franchise are here for the action, and overall, the sequences are engaging without being overwhelming. The performances are entertaining enough, especially so in the scenes when the film becomes a family affair and Johansson and Pugh are joined by their spy parents Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei (David Harbour). Shortland and writer Eric Peason complete a deceptively difficult balancing act in creating a story that can stand alone if you can’t recall or haven’t seen all 23 previous films (not to mention an expanding number of television shows), while providing enough material to satisfy superfans and advance the seemingly never-ending narrative behemoth that is the MCU.