Who is Yelena Belova and will Florence Pugh be playing her in the Black Widow movie? This question has dominated discussions of the upcoming Marvel movie ever since it was announced that Pugh was in talks for a major role opposite Scarlett Johansson.
Marvel Studios has been playing their cards uncharacteristically close to the chest regarding the Black Widow movie. Virtually nothing is known of the story past it being a prequel set at some point in the past of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even that much has been gleaned only because of Natasha Romanoff's sacrifice to secure the Soul Stone in Avengers: Endgame. Even the cast apart from Scarlett Johansson is a mystery and what little is known has only been confirmed by photos of the filming taken from a distance by paparazzi.
Based on previous Black Widow comics, the best guess regarding Florence Pugh's character is that she is playing Yelena Belova - the woman trained to replace Natasha Romanoff after she defected to the United States and the second woman to call herself the Black Widow. This has yet to be confirmed officially, but it seems likely given that Belova was Romanoff's chief nemesis in her solo comic series and miniseries for many years before becoming her ally. Here is everything you need to know about Yelena Belova's background, powers, and training, as well as what we might expect to see from Florence Pugh in future MCU films.
Yelena Belova's Comics History Explained
Yelena Belova was created by writer Devin Grayson and artist J.G Jones for their Black Widow miniseries, which was part of the now legendary Marvel Knights line of 1999. Curiously, her first appearance came several months earlier in Inhumans #5 (March 1999) - another Marvel Knights series, where Belova was seen delivering a device on behalf of the Russian government which would disable the shields surrounding the Inhuman city of Attilan. However, her full history would not be divulged until the 2002 miniseries Black Widow: Pale Little Spider.
One of many who were recruited into the infamous Red Room Academy (a Russian program overseen by the KGB, which trained many young girls to become master spies and assassins), Yelena Belova was 15 years old when Natasha Romanoff defected to the United States. Belova was hand-picked to be trained to replace Romanoff and become the new Black Widow. Belova spent the next decade mastering spycraft, impressing her teachers even before she went on to break every record in the Red Room's history that had previously been set by Romanoff when she was undergoing basic training. But in order to become the new Black Widow, Belova needed to defeat Romanoff.
However, it wasn't enough in Belova's mind to impress her commanders into naming her the new Black Widow - she had to defeat Romanoff and prove herself superior to the woman she was meant to replace, although a part of her had come to simultaneously idolize Romanoff. At her request, Belova was sent on a mission to secure a biological weapon called Deathless Frenzy from the nation of Rhapastan, after learning that Romanoff had been sent to acquire it for the United States. Though Belova tried to kill Romanoff, this didn't stop Romanoff from aiding her rival in escaping from Rhapastan after she was captured. Belova, in return, didn't take a chance to kill Romanoff later, saying that she was letting her live so they could inspire one another to become even greater.
Romanoff had other ideas, however, and had Belova abducted shortly thereafter. With the help of Nick Fury and SHIELD, Romanoff had her face and Belova's switched so that she could spy on her former masters as Belova. While she was away, Belova had a brief nervous breakdown, after waking up with the face of the woman she was meant to become. Their faces were later switched back, with Romanoff having driven home the point that she was no one to be emulated.
This led to Belova starting a new career for herself as a model with her own fashion empire, but the change in jobs was short lived and she was recruited to work as an Agent of SHIELD. Somehow Belova became involved with a rogue SHIELD cell which was illegally mining Vibranium in the Savage Land. Their operation was accidentally uncovered by a new team of Avengers, ending in a firefight that left Belova horribly burned and disfigured. This made Belova an easy recruit for HYDRA, who, with the aid of their partners at Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), transformed Belova into a new Super-Adaptoid - a being capable of replicating the superpowers of any being, mutant, mutate, or Inhuman.
Belova was sent to attack the New Avengers and nearly defeated them, but she was seemingly self-destructed by HYDRA when the tide of the battle turned. Her death was later revealed to have been faked during the Dark Reign storyline. Later, AIM released the true Yelena Belova from stasis and recruited her to sit on their High Council. Little was heard of her for many years, until Natasha Romanoff died battling the fake Captain America during the Secret Empire storyline. Apparently inspired by the memory of her fallen idol and perhaps remembering the chance she'd been given at a better life, Belova turned on her former masters, took the name of Black Widow for herself, and declared war on HYDRA.
Yelena Belova's Powers Explained
Like Natasha Romanoff, Velena Belova had no natural-born superpowers. She did, however, have the best physical and mental conditioning that the Russian government could provide, being honed from a young age to the peak of human excellence, equivalent to an Olympic athlete. She was trained in multiple martial arts, gymnastics, marksmanship, espionage, tactics, and strategy, and she proved to be a keen businesswoman during her brief time running her own fashion empire.
Her considerable natural talents and training were further enhanced when AIM transformed her into a Super-Adaptoid. This allowed Belova to adapt the abilities of any super-powered being or advanced technology around her and use them as if they were her own. She was able to copy the unique powers of Spider-Man, Captain America, Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Wolverine, The Sentry and Luke Cage simultaneously, even managing to copy the repulsor rays of Iron Man's armor.
Florence Pugh's Role In Black Widow
It should be emphasized again that it has yet to be confirmed that Florence Pugh has been cast as Yelena Belova. It seems likely, however, given that her character was described as "a spy on the same level" as Natasha Romanoff. If Black Widow plans to draw upon the original comic books as deeply as other MCU movies, Yelena Belova would be the clearest candidate for a character to fill that role. It's also a role Pugh seems born to play, given her previous work in the spy-thriller series The Little Drummer Girl.
Florence Pugh's Future in the MCU
It has been speculated that if Florence Pugh is playing Yelena Belova in Black Widow, and she could be used to fill the void left by Natasha Romanoff's absence following Avengers: Endgame. If the movie were to avoid the nonsense involving clones and the Super-Adaptoid (easily done as there's no longer an AIM in the MCU), it would be easy enough for the film to end with Romanoff and Belova as allies and Belova turning over a new leaf. Depending on when the movie is set, Belova could be placed in cryogenic suspension (much as Bucky Barnes was in The Winter Soldier) and revived into a world in need of a Black Widow to protect it in the MCU's Phase 4.