Avengers: Endgame's reshoots explain why Black Widow's death was so poorly executed. It was always clear the Avengers would pay a terrible price to undo Thanos' snap, not least because they needed to retrieve the Soul Stone. In order to do so, someone would have to sacrifice the person they loved the most. Although many fans liked the idea of seeing Captain America and Iron Man head to Vormir, in truth it was clearly always going to be Hawkeye and Black Widow, the two Avengers with the strongest relationship.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely seem to have gone through a number of different drafts, and in some of them, it was Hawkeye who sacrificed himself for the Soul Stone. Several women on the crew objected, insisting that Black Widow should be the one to demonstrate her heroism and sacrificial love for Clint and his family by insisting on dying in his place. It was a curious choice, not least because Marvel is currently working on the much-anticipated Black Widow movie straight after killing off the franchise lead. "She has red in her ledger and to take her all the way to that sacrifice point is where her character is headed," Christopher Markus insisted. "And to not let her do that seemed a disservice to her as a hero."
It's proven to be a controversial decision, with viewers upset and generally feeling that Black Widow deserved a better send-off. Something about the scene just doesn't quite work - and recent comments from Jeremy Renner have explained why that's the case.
Thanos Originally Attacked On Vormir
Speaking at ACE Comic-Con, Jeremy Renner has revealed that the Vormir scenes were part of extensive reshoots. The original version was much more complicated, and involved Thanos launching an attack on Vormir in an attempt to procure the Soul Stone himself. "There’s an attack," Renner remembered, "Thanos is in some ship or something, and a bunch of weird aliens were running around and it was too complicated, so what they did is we shot the scene, still with the same kind of idea, but now we’re just fighting each other to commit suicide for the Soul Stone."
It's not hard to deduce how this would have fit into the plot of Avengers: Endgame; in fact, it's still set up in the final theatrical cut. In one scene, Nebula realizes that Thanos knows about the Time Heist, and her first reaction is to try to send a message to Black Widow and Hawkeye, warning them. Presumably that act of heroism actually meant something originally, with Clint and Natasha forewarned but not quite managing to get to the Soul Stone before Thanos' arrival. Thanos' loyal 2014 version of Nebula may well have helped Clint and Natasha on Vormir, earning their trust and setting up the betrayal more effectively.
It's possible this would have also explained Gamora's changing sides a little more. While a prisoner, Nebula attempted to warn Gamora that she would be killed by Thanos in order to acquire the Soul Stone. Had Gamora been on Vormir as well, she could have come to understand the "soul for a soul" rules, making sense of her fate.
Avengers: Endgame's Version Was Simpler - But Didn't Work
Given how many elements were potentially in play in the Vormir scene, it's no surprise Marvel decided to simplify it a little. But the version they moved to was deeply problematic, in large part because it simply repeated the same kind of cycle Hawkeye and Black Widow have been in ever since their introduction in the MCU. The two super-spies have only appeared together in four Marvel films, and they fought each other in three of them. The one difference this time was that it ended with a death. The sacrifice is made in a fairly arbitrary fashion, in a scrap that could easily have gone either way, and oddly it's unclear how her death fulfills the Soul Stone's sacrificial rules. In Avengers: Infinity War, a person needed to choose to give up the one they love in order to acquire the Soul Stone. In Avengers: Endgame, it's simply that someone you love has to die, with a suicide fitting just as well as a sacrifice.
Making matters worse, the symbolism behind Black Widow's death is pretty uncomfortable. According to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Widow sees herself as a monster in large part because as a teenager she allowed herself to be sterilized. That proved to be one of the most controversial arcs in Age of Ultron, even driving writer-director Joss Whedon off Twitter for a while, and for good reason; it felt artificial, a man's read on what it means for a woman to have red in her ledger. Now, in Avengers: Endgame, the woman who cannot have a family sacrifices herself for the sake of the man who desires to regain his.
This simpler version also causes subtle damage to Nebula's story. When Nebula wakes up on the ground of the Temple of the Power Stone, she realizes that Thanos knows, and rather than flee, she rushes to her pod to send an (unnecessary) signal to Black Widow and Hawkeye. The pod is collected by Thanos - but even when she's about to be captured, Nebula still doesn't trigger the Pym Particles in order to escape. Presumably in the original cut, Nebula's instincts were right that Clint and Natasha were in danger, and she stayed around out of bravery because she refused to abandon them.
Was The Original Version Better?
It's easy to criticize Marvel for the changes they made to Black Widow's death scene, which was likely rewritten at speed and according to Renner was only reshot during additional photography six months before the film's release. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the Russo brothers made the wrong call; Renner sounds pretty comfortable with the need to do another take, clearly considering the original to be confusing. It may well have been worse viewed in the context of the movie as a whole, given the Vormir scenes were interspersed with other time travel escapades.
At heart, though, any version of Vormir would have faced the same challenge; how to justify Black Widow's death, in both narrative and thematic terms. In reality, as soon as Marvel committed to the idea of "a soul for a soul," either Black Widow or Hawkeye was always going to die; those are the two Avengers whose relationship is strong enough to allow them to acquire the Soul Stone. That was always going to cause all these thematic problems, and while another story may have been a better one, it would have had to confront the same issues.
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