Warning: This post contains Black Widow spoilers.
The MCU has finally told Natasha Romanoff’s story in Black Widow, and while it is an ending – less firmly than Avengers: Endgame – it’s also somewhat forward-looking at the same time. As Scarlett Johansson bows out of the MCU with only the vaguest possibility of a return in the distant future (dependent, no doubt, on some narrative gymnastics), what amounts to her origin story has now been told.
In the end, Black Widow started and ended just about exactly where it was always predicted to: in the wake of Civil War’s climactic events and before the reemergence of the Secret Avengers, respectively. But timelines in the MCU are now no longer linear things and Natasha’s story took in her early life in the 1990s and the long-teased key events in Budapest close to two decades later. There may not have been a look into what happened in the Red Room for her, but that almost feels like a triumphant, defiant rejection of the idea that that was where her origin lay. More important to who Natasha is was not made in that room but rather what happened around it.
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A decade in the making, Black Widow arguably could and would not have been made at any other point in the franchise, despite how well it would have fit the MCU’s Phase 3. This is a story tied closely to the experience of abused and victimized women, as much as it is Natasha’s own belated story, and the MCU simply has not told stories like that before. Here’s what the ending of Black Widow really means, how it connects to other Marvel films, and what it means for the MCU future.
Black Widow Finally Gave Natasha Her Memorial
It might not have been the loaded, star-studded event of Tony Stark’s funeral at the end of Endgame, but MCU fans finally got to see respects paid to Natasha. And it was fitting in the end that it would be her sister to grieve for her rather than the family that she chose after her defection from the Red Room, given the revelation that their bond was always real.
It’s unfortunate that the cameo of Julie Louis-Dreyfus somewhat undermined the poignancy of the moment, but clearly, it was decided that the set-up for Yelena’s return was worth it. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen – having a moment that was robbed from fans of Black Widow as a character overridden by a comedy nose-blow is something of a betrayal. And it in no way explains why Nat couldn’t have had a memorial within Endgame’s runtime even more crucially. At least it offers more insight into who the mysterious Contessa is than The Falcon & The Winter Soldier did and implies that she works for an as-yet-unconfirmed mystery antagonist.
What’s Next For Yelena? Who She Meets At Black Widow’s Grave
For those who didn’t watch The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, Julie Louis-Dreyfus’ Contessa Valentina (or “Val”) is a new power player in the MCU with a remit to hire superpowered or exceptional individuals for an as-yet-undetermined project. Speculation pins that on either the MCU’s version of the Dark Avengers or a new take on the Thunderbolts. What’s important is that Val now has two recruits with Yelena joining replacement Captain America John Walker, though the dynamic between Val and the former seems different. There appears to be more of a disgruntled employee vibe to Yelena’s association with her, which has been ongoing long enough that when Val hands her a dossier on a target she calls it “your next target”. Quite when she recruited her is unclear but it would logically have been before Walker, who Val seems to seduce with flattery.
Crucially, Val explains why Yelena is in Disney+’s Hawkeye, offering Clint Barton as her next assignment and also the man responsible for Natasha’s death. Evidently while the MCU’s in-universe populous knows a lot about what happened between the Avengers and Thanos’ forces, the true events of Nat’s death remain a guarded secret. Which in itself is something of a betrayal of the most heroic single act in the MCU alongside Tony Stark’s sacrifice. That Yelena believes Val’s assessment of Hawkeye suggests she knows more than she’s saying and that her plan involves alignment against the Avengers.
What Was Black Widow’s Red In Her Ledger (And Did She Undo It)?
After The Avengers established that Natasha had “red in her ledger” while in conversation with Loki, Black Widow finally explained exactly what the crime she was holding onto was. Per Loki’s goading, it was “Dreykov’s daughter” that haunted Nat, after she was forced to kill the innocent as collateral damage to take down the leader of the Red Room. Given the hints elsewhere in the MCU (including in a deleted Endgame idea) of the tragedy of Natasha’s maternal instincts that crime hurting her more makes a lot of sense.
Crucially, in freeing Dreykov’s daughter from her father’s bidding when she’s revealed to be the augmented Taskmaster, Black Widow seems to present the crime as atoned for. But is that really the case? Natasha’s Budapest mission – along with Hawkeye, it has to be said – still led to the significant injuries that led Dreykov’s daughter to become Taskmaster and while she’s now “free” she probably has to face up to a future that mirrors Bucky’s after he was deprogrammed. It may have made Nat feel better, but that doesn’t mean that the fallout of the red in her ledger is done with.
Why Black Widow Rejoined The Avengers For Infinity War
The final moments of Black Widow before the credits reveal that Natasha’s last meeting with Mason led to her acquiring a Quinjet. In hindsight, that’s probably why Happy Hogan was able to take on the role of Stark’s Asset Manager, given the likelihood that his predecessor was fired. That sets up her joining Captain America’s Secret Avengers prior to the breakout from the Raft prison, as she mentions going to help break her friends out. That changes the end of Civil War, but it’s also crucial in explaining why Widow rejoins the Avengers despite running away.
Ultimately, it’s through rediscovering her pre-Avengers family that she realizes the superheroes are her real family. Just as she and Yelena were united by their shared trauma – which led to their fake sibling bond feeling so real – Natasha realizes that it’s the Avengers’ shared experiences that define them as a real family. After searching for some sort of normalcy – which may be the only positive implication of Joss Whedon’s strange Hulk/Nat romantic subplot in Age of Ultron – and treating the Avengers as an obligation to wipe out her past sins, the revelation changes her priorities. She rejoins the Secret Avengers, even with General Ross still on her tail because she owes it to them. And ultimately, it’s that same instinct that leads her to sacrifice herself so that Hawkeye could live. The new family epiphany even seems to suggest that she would have chosen to sacrifice herself no matter who else had gone to Vormir with her.
How Black Widow Escapes General Ross
General Ross is, oddly, the one loose end Black Widow never seems interested in addressing on-screen, despite the fact that his appearances book-end the movie. The fall of the Red Room sees Ross’ convoy of agents discover Natasha’s position, and instead of running, or joining the other fleeing Widows, she says she’ll hold them off. It’s a fitting sacrifice, as Natasha allowed her first family to escape in order to carry on the important mission of freeing the other Widows spread across the world. But that’s where the scene ends: General Ross and Natasha don’t meet again and there’s no explanation of how the encounter went. She didn’t have anything to barter with him, given she’d sent the Red Room data away with Yelena and Nat certainly didn’t take Ross down, because he reappears in Infinity War. The only possible solution is that she stayed long enough to be seen by Ross and then fled, as a diversion, which would explain why she remains on the run in Infinity War with Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson. It’s just strange it’s not overtly addressed.
Why Yelena Gives Natasha Her Jacket (And Why It’s So Important In Infinity War)
One of the strangest Easter eggs in Black Widow confirms that Natasha’s new outfit in Infinity War came courtesy of Yelena. Having bought herself a vest because of the versatility afforded by the many pockets, Yelena passed it on to Natasha by the end of the movie, suggesting she knows her sister envied it. But this is more than a jacket: as Yelena states when Nat mocks it affectionately, the jacket represents her first opportunity to express her own identity after decades of the Red Room’s control. Yelena passing it on is doubly symbolic: not only is it a loaded token of love (echoed further by the fact that Nat wears it), but it’s also a signifier of Natasha herself knowing her own identity finally after emerging from the shadow of Dreykov. That it didn’t last is a tragedy, but at least Nat got closure before her death in Endgame.
What’s Next For The Widows, Red Guardian & Taskmaster?
While Endgame ended Scarlett Johansson’s time in the MCU chronologically, the brand of Black Widow can live on. Yelena Belova can carry the codename on even as she works for Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Contessa (a relationship that feels doomed not to last) but even she isn’t the only Widow in the MCU’s future. There’s also the issue of the Widows who leave Dreykov’s control with Melina and Alexei. Some may return to their lives, but as Natasha was compelled to atone for what she did (an impulse she shared with Bucky), it’s likely some will seek justice. Could that fit Cate Shortland’s desire to make a legacy sequel without Scarlett Johansson?
Most interesting in that respect is the new dynamic set up by Melina and Alexei’s revelation that they truly are mother and father figures. The idea of them setting up a replacement Red Room on Melina’s farm with the rescued Widows taking the place of the weird mind-controlled pigs Melina seems to feed her maternal instincts with is perfect. Particularly if it meant watching the pair navigate the issues of real parenting in a wholly new situation.
What Black Widow’s Ending Really Means
The biggest crime Avengers: Endgame committed against Black Widow was not killing her, but trying to convince the audience that she didn’t deserve her own memorial. That much followed on from the long-running injustice of Natasha never being allowed her own story in the MCU. She was either a side player, a secondary hero or her important stories were left off-screen. No matter what the specifics of Black Widow’s plot, the most important meaning to take from it is that she finally saw that reversed. Not only that but Natasha’s story – and the story of the freed Red Room victims – is an overt allegory for the mistreatment of young women and girls, which similarly simply has not found the space to be told in Hollywood. Even a decade ago, this film simply would not have existed.
It’s an important narrative undercurrent, and it’s fitting that Natasha’s legacy in the MCU was freeing those who went through the same abuses as her, and preventing Dreykov claiming more victims. But Black Widow’s own story also mattered, and it’s important that it was finally told. This was, after all, the hero who recruited Hulk, who took down HYDRA by outing her own sins, who led the Avengers in the wake of Thanos’ snap and turned Hawkeye back from the abyss. Natasha deserved her story to be more than just being the one who thought herself expendable enough to justify her death in Endgame and Black Widow gave her that story. Crucially, the MCU did her greater justice by not shoe-horning in other heroes for cameos, even when it would have been easy to do so: she was given the space to breathe and to come to her own conclusions on why she went back to active Avengers duty and that matters. So while she’s no longer around, the biggest take-away from Black Widow should be that Natasha Romanoff finally got to tell her own story.
Next: Every MCU Movie Ranked (Including Black Widow)
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
- Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
- The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release date: Feb 17, 2023
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: May 05, 2023
Black Widow’s Hawkeye & Yelena Belova’s Future Set Up
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