The story of Natasha Romanoff was long overdue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). For 11 years, fans watched an adored and intriguing character play on the side, only catching glimpses of her tumultuous history. Even now, after snagging the spotlight and pulling off the largest pandemic-era opening weekend at the box office, it’s not a shock to hear that she deserved more.
Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff was over-sexualized and under-appreciated from the jump. Consider the impact of a single female superhero in a group of five male heroes, as well as the fact that she was a prominent character during a time when the MCU still had to grow its following. Marvel built her to catch and keep the male gaze. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, she was made the damsel in distress and then called herself a monster for being unwillingly sterilized as a child and unable to have kids of her own. Her heroic sacrifice on Vormir was largely overshadowed by Tony Stark’s snap. Even in Black Widow, Natasha’s sister, Yelena, frequently calls her a ‘total poser,’ poking fun at how she has been perceived in past films.
I’d like to offer that Black Widow’s solo, backstory movie in Phase One would have meant a lot more to people than the other films at that time did. Her history is not only the most interesting, but also addresses issues of abandonment, human trafficking, family trauma, and the strength of women/sisterhood. I believe that seeing more of her relationship with Dreykov and the Red Room would have enhanced the story told in Black Widow for viewers. Not to mention that watching her and the Widows lead on the big screen in the early 2010s would have been an unforgettable moment for a lot of young girls.
With all of that being said, considering the story that was already written for her in the timeline, and despite the fact that we were robbed of a true backstory film, I very much enjoyed Black Widow. The story, set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, follows Natasha on the run as she reconnects with lost family and attempts to officially dismantle the Red Room. It was wonderful to see Scarlett finally be given the space to let her beloved character grow, and in turn, we got an idea of just how special she is. No one was supposed to be able to do what Natasha did. She was the blueprint for Widows around the globe. Her story is elevated by a phenomenal cast; Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova is the most exciting addition Phase Four yet. The villain, Taskmaster, was fun to watch while providing for great conflict and action.
There were a few great callback moments to previous MCU projects that tugged on the heart strings. Most noticeable was Taskmaster’s perfection of several Avengers’ fighting styles, including Captain America, Spider-Man, Winter Soldier, Hawkeye and Black Widow herself. My personal favorite callback was Natasha’s line after her chat with Dreykov, “Thank you for your cooperation.” You might remember it from her interrogation of Loki in The Avengers.
I can’t shake the feeling that Marvel chose to release this movie after Avengers: Endgame because they knew that fans would have been even more outraged about her death otherwise. The argument that she didn’t have a family is now clearly disproven. I always thought it should’ve been Clint, and Black Widow validated that for me even further. Natasha was never truly recognized for her tireless fight for redemption.
While I’m sad to see Scarlett’s time in the MCU come to a close, I’m excited by all the doors that she opened for other women in the universe. She has always been and will always be one of my favorite superheroes.
Where does the Black Widow legacy go from here? Not sure. But I do know it’ll be hard to make fans dislike Yelena… *wink*