Marvel's Black Widow can give Natasha Romanoff a legacy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - without undoing her death in Avengers: Endgame. Although she's one of the OG Avengers in the MCU, Scarlett Johansson's character has never really been given much of a chance to shine. There's been a push for a Black Widow movie ever since Natasha made her debut in 2010's Iron Man 2, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has been teasing the film for years.
All of this made Black Widow's (rather unsatisfying) death in Avengers: Endgame seem distinctly odd. Marvel Studios may be trying to keep their post-Phase 3 slate under wraps until after the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, but a Black Widow movie is finally in production, helmed by director Cate Shortland. Set photos are giving eager Marvel fans a flood of insights into the film, which seems to include Taskmaster as a major villain. So why would Marvel choose now of all times to kill Black Widow off?
The set photos tease one important detail, confirming that Black Widow will introduce Yelena Belova, Natasha's successor. That may well explain the timing, because this could be all about establishing a legacy for Natasha Romanoff.
Avengers: Endgame Left Black Widow Dead For A Reason
Marvel view Avengers: Endgame as the logical end to Black Widow's story. Natasha's backstory was discussed in the Avengers movies, gradually revealing that she was a Soviet assassin who had been trained as a killer from childhood. She graduated after the fall of the U.S.S.R., and became one of the KGB's most lethal operatives. Black Widow made a name for herself, and (according to a recent official timeline) in 1998 SHIELD dispatched Clint Barton to take her down. He made a different call, and ever since then Black Widow has been attempting to redeem herself, first as a SHIELD agent and then as an Avenger. As Avengers: Endgame revealed, she was the member of the team who couldn't move on, marshaling forces across the world in order to deal with the post-snap reality - and even liaising with Captain Marvel and the surviving Guardians of the Galaxy.
Black Widow's death may have been controversial, but Marvel considered it to be the completion of her redemption arc. The assassin-for-hire sacrificed herself to restore half the life in the universe; what's more, she did so by repaying her debt and ensuring Hawkeye lived to see his family again. That's why the film stressed that the Hulk couldn't bring Black Widow back by snapping his fingers and using the Infinity Gauntlet, because to resurrect her would be to undo that redemption arc and render her sacrifice meaningless. In that sense, Thanos' defeat is as much Black Widow's legacy as Tony Stark's. But she may have another legacy as well - a more concrete one that bodes well for the future of the Black Widow franchise.
Who Is Yelena Belova, Florence Pugh’s Black Widow Character?
Step forward Florence Pugh, who's been cast for a major role in Black Widow. Pugh has already gained acclaim from recent performances in Lady Macbeth and Outlaw King, and signed up to play "a spy on the same level" as Romanoff. Comic book readers immediately suspected Pugh had been cast as Yelena Belova, Natasha's successor as Black Widow. That appears to have been confirmed by recent set photos, which included crates for stunt dummies marked "Natasha" and "Yelena."
Yelena Belova was created by Devin Greyson and J.G. Jones back in 1999, and actually made her debut in an Inhumans comic, where she was a mysterious figure orchestrating an attack upon the Inhuman city of Attilan. Although Yelena went unnamed, attentive readers quickly spotted the Black Widow logo on her belt, and deduced that she was the Red Room's new Black Widow. It didn't take long for Marvel to confirm as much, with Yelena going head-to-head against Natasha in a Black Widow miniseries. It's never been clear which of the two women is the better agent; apparently Yelena's Red Room test scores were even higher than Natasha's, but Natasha has a lot more experience to draw upon.
Naturally, Natasha was shaken to learn that there was another Black Widow on the loose. Rather than kill Yelena, though, she decided to force her to face the truth about the Red Room. Natasha cruelly manipulated her successor in order to shake her faith in her bosses, and succeeded in her goal. Yelena broke ties with the Red Room program, and became an independent operative herself.
Yelena Became A Hero After Black Widow’s Death In The Comics
In the comics, Yelena Belova continued to act as an assassin-for-hire for many years. At one point she even became a Hydra agent, submitting to genetic experimentation in order to turn herself into a warrior who could stand against the combined might of the Avengers. In the end, Yelena's story of redemption was only completed when Natasha was believed killed, apparently murdered by a Captain America doppelganger who was Hydra's newest leader.
With Natasha dead, Yelena decided to dedicate herself to completing Black Widow's work. She took up the Black Widow identity, and began a brutal but successful campaign to neutralize all the Hydra forces Natasha had been struggling with. It was the perfect task for Yelena Belova, a skilled assassin and just as much a super-spy as Natasha. It's distinctly possible the MCU will follow a similar approach, introducing Yelena Belova in Black Widow and setting her up to become a hero when she learns of Natasha's death in Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel’s Black Widow Movies Can Be About Legacy
Presumably Black Widow is loosely based on the 1999 miniseries that introduced Yelena Belova, in which case it's about Natasha Romanoff learning that the Red Room is still operational, and working to redeem her successor and take the Red Room down. While there'll probably be more flashbacks to Natasha's early career, it's most likely set during the period where she's a SHIELD agent or even an Avenger, setting up the Red Room's desire to replace her. That fits with set photos, which have shown Johansson and Pugh driving a 2017 model BMW, suggesting the film may take place shortly before Avengers: Infinity War and the snap.
It's safe to assume that Natasha will succeed in her mission to rescue Yelena from the Red Room, and a post-credits scene could jump forward several years to show Yelena's reaction to news of Natasha's death. That would mean this new Black Widow franchise isn't really about Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff at all; it's actually about the legacy of the Black Widow, and stars Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova. The theme of "legacy" appears to be the driving force of Phase 4, with Sam Wilson inheriting the mantle of Captain America and Spider-Man trying to live up to Iron Man's example, and with Marvel openly discussing introducing Legacy Heroes like Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel. Setting up Yelena as Natasha's successor would neatly make Black Widow fit with those themes.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019