HEAT VISION

How 'Black Widow' Can Rise From the Ashes of 'Avengers'

The prequel film could set up a team unlike any the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen before.

From the moment Black Widow was announced as the start of Phase 4 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we knew Cate Shortland’s film had to be about more than Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) past, given the building block nature of the franchise. Although the pic takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and will delve into Natasha’s past and the lives of her surrogate family, Black Widow seems to be equally focused on what Black Widow means as a namesake and legacy. Natasha’s death in Avengers: Endgame (2019) came with a sense of finality for the character, but the upcoming movie promises to open a new door in which the moniker Black Widow is larger than a single character. With Monday's release of the final trailer, the film’s story comes into focus and we learn just how wide the web of the Black Widow stretches.

The teaser trailer for the pic, released in December, opened with narration from Natasha. This final trailer switches gears and begins with a voiceover from Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), another Black Widow and Natasha’s “sister.” The focus on Yelena in the marketing as the film has drawn closer hasn’t gone unnoticed, and she’s received equal attention as Natasha. This has led to speculation, which seems spot-on, that Yelena will take over Natasha’s mantle as Black Widow in the current day MCU and be the face of what’s sure to become a new franchise. But she may not be taking on that mantle alone. The trailer reveals that the central plot line of Black Widow will see Natasha and Yelena team with their parental figures, Black Widow, Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and Russia’s very own super-soldier, Red Guardian (David Harbour), in order to rescue the women of the Red Room. There appears to be nearly a dozen other Black Widows in training who have had their free will stripped from them and operate in service of the mysterious Taskmaster.

The training facility for Black Widows, the Red Room Academy, has evolved since Natasha’s time there. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), provided brief flashbacks to Natasha’s training, along with other women, as assassins by Madame B (Julie Delpy). The first season of ABC's Agent Carter (2015), its place in MCU canon still unknown, introduced Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) a precursor to the Black Widow and Red Room Program. We haven’t gotten any new information on the Red Room since the MCU’s 2015 offerings, but it would seem, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the KGB in 1991, that the Red Room fell under new management, equipped with a high-tech arsenal and more invasive mind control tactics, potentially hinting at a Winter Soldier connection, a character who has played heavily into Black Widow’s mythos in the comics.

The Red Room and existence of multiple Black Widows have become such a key part of Natasha’s mythology that it’s now hard to imagine a time when the facility didn’t have a place in her story. But as far as Marvel concepts go, the Red Room was a relatively late addition, first appearing in Shadows and Light No. 1 (1988). A year later, the second Black Widow, and latest disciple of the Red Room, Yelena Belova first appeared in Inhumans No. 5 (1999). The 2000s put the Black Widow and the Red Room into further perspective in Natasha’s run of the miniseries, which revealed she was one of 28 Black Widows who were brainwashed into believing they were training for the Bolshoi ballet, a retcon of her original origin. While most of these other Black Widows, except for Yelena, have remained minor, killed off in order to protect the Red Room’s secrets or left to live in hiding, a few have broken out to become more formidable players. Anya, aka Recluse, a former friend of Natasha’s in the Red Room, emerged as a new threat in the recent 2016 Black Widow series and miniseries Web of Black Widow, which wrapped up in January of this year. A new product of the Red Room, the Red Widow, whose identity remains unknown, was introduced in the pages of the Avengers last year, suggesting yet another evolution in the methods and aims of the infamous Russian Academy.

With a significant number of Black Widows set to be introduced in Shortland’s film, I wonder what the future holds for them. No doubt some will die in battle, but if Natasha and Yelena manage to save some of them, who will they become? It’s possible they go on to live peaceful lives, but it’s even more likely that some of them choose to live up to the legacy of Natasha in the present-day MCU, set in 2024 thanks to the time-jump in Endgame. And there’s even a chance that some of these new characters will have identities familiar to comic fans, like Ultimate Marvel’s Black Widow, Monica Chang, who served as a member of the Ultimates and eventually succeeded Nick Fury as Director of SHIELD. With SHIELD gone and the Avengers disbanded, perhaps the team set to rise from the ashes of the old is one unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU or comics so far — Black Widows, led by Yelena and in service of Natasha’s memory. Whatever the future holds for the name Black Widow and the Red Room, it seems certain that Black Widow will do more than reveal the past, but set the stage for the future and the secrets that come with it.

  • Richard Newby
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