Editor’s note: This piece contains spoilers from Marvel’s “Black Widow” and the MCU as a whole.
I am one of those fans who spent years waiting for Scarlett Johansson’s character, Natasha Romanoff, to get her own film. After years of waiting, Marvel’s “Black Widow” film released July 9.
A few years ago, it would have been monumental for the only female Avenger to get that spotlight. Since then, Marvel fans have received other female-centric content, from the “Captain Marvel” movie to the recent “WandaVision” limited series.
However, none of this changes the film’s anticipation, especially after Natasha’s death in “Avengers: Endgame”. Many fans, including myself, were upset with Marvel for not giving the character a funeral or tribute in the movie, like fellow original Avenger Tony Stark was given.
“Black Widow” takes place directly after the events of “Captain America: Civil War”. It revolves around Natasha’s story before SHIELD, focusing on her original “chosen” spy family and, arguably, confronting the darkest part of her ledger.
The film’s cast includes Scarlett Johansson as Natasha, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff, and David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov. Like Natasha, both Yelena and Melina are Black Widows, the name given to the women trained as special operations agents in the Red Room.
One of the film’s highlights is its three-minute opening sequence.
The montage sequence includes young Natasha, portrayed by Ever Anderson, and Yelena as human trafficking victims after leaving Ohio, staging holiday pictures for their family cover, and many young girls being brainwashed in the Red Room. During the montage, young Natasha is told that the Red Room is her home now by Dreykov, portrayed by Ray Winstone.
Twenty-one years later, Natasha is being pursued by U.S. forces for having broken the Sokovia Accords in “Captain America: Civil War”, Yelena is a brainwashed Black Widow on a mission, Alexei is in a Russian prison and Melina is living on a farm training pigs as one of Dreykov’s head scientists.
Pugh’s performance as Yelena steals the show, and I’m not the only one to notice. Not only is Yelena the funny younger sister, but she is also emotionally raw about the Red Room’s effect on her life and the Ohio family cover.
While Natasha has moved on and found a new chosen family in the Avengers, Yelena was stuck as a brainwashed Black Widow. After being freed from the Red Room’s brainwashing, Yelena buys her first item of clothing– a vest with many pockets that she gives to Natasha at the end of the movie, who wears it in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
“The vest was an early idea to tie Yelena and Natasha stories together beyond this film and create a surprising emotional response when viewing Infinity War again. It’s a cool vest. A lot of pockets,” Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige tweeted.
The movie’s most anticipated part was the reveal of what happened in Budapest with Natasha and Clint Barton, otherwise known as Hawkeye, portrayed by Jeremy Renner in the MCU.
The Budapest mission, Natasha’s final act of defecting from the Widow’s, was to destroy the Red Room and eliminate Dreykov. Natasha claims the only way to guarantee Dreykov’s death was to also eliminate his young daughter Antonia Dreykov, portrayed by Olga Kurylenko– an act that became the darkest spot on her ledger.
Unfortunately, it was all for nothing as Dreykov and the Red Room survived, hiding from the world in a fortress above the clouds and expanding operations.
Natasha and her “family” infiltrate the Red Room, undo the on base Widow’s brainwashing and get access to Dreykov’s files on the Widow’s around the world. In a disappointing and predictable reveal, the Taskmaster, who had been pursuing Natasha throughout the film, is revealed to be Antonia, who has been stripped of freedom and is controlled by Dreykov.
The villain of the story, ultimately, is Dreykov; he kidnapped thousands of girls around the world, forcefully gave them hysterectomies, brainwashed them and turned them into weapons. In some aspects, the Taskmaster/Antonia arc is similar to Bucky Barnes being the Winter Soldier. Both are products of brainwashing by evil MCU organizations.
In the post-credits scene, we see Yelena visiting Natasha’s grave and paying her respects when she is approached by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Yelena, who is working for Valentina, is given her next target: Clint Barton, the man Valentina states is responsible for Natasha’s death. This scene perfectly sets up the “Hawkeye” series, which is set to stream on Disney+ before the end of 2021, and Pugh is confirmed to reprise her role as Yelena.
Ultimately, the film did what it could to give Natasha an ending and the Black Widow legacy will continue with Yelena, which I am excited to see.