This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame
Following the earth-shaking events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios is hitting the reset button on its franchise. The first three “phases,” as Marvel calls them, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) set up an epic battle between the Avengers and the environmentally-conscious but maniacal villain Thanos. The Avengers saved the universe, as they always do, but at great expense to the superhero group. Many of the original Avengers are departing. New ones will step up to take their place. Marvel is now entering “Phase 4,” and a long-awaited Black Widow solo movie will kick off the new era for the superhero studio.
The first trailer for Black Widow dropped Tuesday, and its tone is reminiscent of a spy thriller, like the much-loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The movie is a prequel, set before the events of Infinity War. It will serve as an origin story for Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, a hero we’ve been watching for a decade since she first did that strangle-a-bad-guy-with-her-legs move in Iron Man 2.
The film will reveal what, exactly, happened to Natasha when she was training to become an assassin in Russia and how she switched sides and became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Here’s everything we know so far about the Black Widow movie.
Black Widow is the first movie in Marvel’s Phase 4
Black Widow will kick off a new phase for Marvel when it hits theaters on May 1, 2020. Cate Shortland (Lore, SMILF) is directing.
Black Widow will be followed by The Eternals (Nov. 6, 2020), Shang-Chi (Feb. 12, 2021), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 2, 2021), Thor: Love and Thunder (Nov. 5, 2021), Black Panther 2 (May 6, 2022), Blade (release date TBD), Captain Marvel 2 (release date TBD) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (release date TBD) on the big screen.
Marvel’s Phase 4 will also include in-canon Marvel Studios TV shows on Disney’s new streaming service Disney+, including The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (fall 2020), WandaVision (spring 2021), Loki (spring 2021), What If…? (summer 2021), Hawkeye (fall 2021), Ms. Marvel (release date TBD), Moon Knight (release date TBD) and She-Hulk (release date TBD).
The movie is a prequel — and no, Black Widow’s fate hasn’t changed
It took Marvel 12 years and 23 movies to finally give Black Widow her own solo film. Fans have been begging for years for the first (and for a long time only) female Avenger to get her own movie. The movie is finally arriving next year, but the timing is slightly confusing given the events of the last Avengers movie.
If you’re one of the three people on Earth who somehow missed Avengers: Endgame, here’s some bad news: Black Widow dies in that movie. She and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) play a game of chicken regarding which one will sacrifice him- or herself to save all of humanity, each arguing that the other ought to survive. Black Widow “wins” the face-off and falls to her death.
Many fans hoped that Black Widow might resurrect the character so that she could continue to fight in the future of the Marvel Universe. But no such luck. This movie is a prequel, set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.
Fans will recall that Civil War pitted the various Avengers against each other after their superhero antics caused too many accidental casualties. Iron Man, ever the rogue, is plagued by his guilt over civilian deaths. He proposes that the heroes sign a pact to allow a NATO-like group of international leaders decide when the Avengers should and should not intervene in conflicts, essentially turning the superheroes into government-controlled agents. Captain America, seemingly the poster boy for patriotic duty, has seen the horrors of fascism in World War II and refuses to become a yes-man to a group with suspect motives.
The superheroes break up along ideological lines, with Black Widow siding first with Iron Man, but later with Captain America. Captain America and his allies — including Natasha — all become fugitives.
Black Widow is getting a family reunion with her fellow assassins
The trailer begins with a Black Widow voiceover: She says that she had nothing before becoming a part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers team, that they have become her family, “but nothing lasts forever.” After the Avengers break up and Black Widow becomes a fugitive, she has nowhere to go, untethered from the only family she has ever known. Something motivates her to revisit her past and right some previous wrongs from her career as an assassin.
The movie seems to be set mostly in Budapest. The footage features Black Widow fighting and then reconciling with Yelena (Midsommar‘s Florence Pugh). She calls her “sis,” suggesting that Yelena was recruited and trained by the same assassin program as Natasha was. Black Widow tells Yelena that they need to go back to “where it all began,” presumably where they were trained.
David Harbour a.k.a. Stranger Things’ Detective Hopper joins the gang
Later, Natasha and Yelena meet up with David Harbour (Stranger Things), who plays Red Guardian, the Russian counterpart to Captain America — who, as the trailer points out, may have been in retirement for a bit before this movie. They are joined by Rachel Weisz’ Melina Vostokoff. She is also a “Black Widow,” a moniker that turns out to belong not to just one assassin but a whole group of assassins.
The villain will be Taskmaster
The first trailer for Black Widow gives us a look at Taskmaster, the main villain in the film. Marvel has not yet revealed who is playing the character.
Taskmaster is a Marvel villain who has fought Ant-Man, Captain America and Deadpool, among others. While he doesn’t have any superpowers, he can learn any physical skill simply by watching another person execute it. That makes him a formidable opponent in battle when he mirrors every punch and kick. After watching and mimicking as many superheroes and supervillains as he could, he opened what is essentially a villain training facility, teaching criminals how to fight the Avengers.
Taskmaster has long been a third-tier villain. Neither alien nor god, he is not able to measure up to the powers of a Thanos or a Loki. But he is a good fit for human heroes who rely mostly on physical combat rather than gadgets or superpowers in fights, and therefore makes sense as a counterpart to the brawler Black Widow.
Iron Man might show up
Good news for Marvel fans mourning the death of Tony Stark: Avengers: Endgame may not have been Robert Downey Jr.’s last movie after all. Downey Jr. has been very vocal about his desire to retire the Iron Man character that resurrected his career and served as a security blanket of sorts throughout the last decade: “There’s always a dependency on something that feels like a sure thing. It’s the closest thing I will ever come to being a trust fund kid,” he told Cinema Blend this summer. His heroic death at the end of Avengers: Endgame — and the specter of his heroism haunting the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home afterwards — closed Iron Man’s story.
And yet there is a rumor circulating online that Downey Jr. will make a cameo in Black Widow. It would be a fitting sendoff for Black Widow. The two characters have been tied together in one way or another since Iron Man 2. And while Tony Stark got a big funeral and lots of mourners at the end of Endgame, Black Widow did not. It would be nice if Tony Stark and Black Widow got to have some sort of talk in Black Widow that would honor Natasha’s service and wrap up their arc.
There’s a lot of pressure for Marvel to get this movie right
Black Widow made her debut in Iron Man 2 as Tony Stark’s assistant — and a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. spy keeping an eye on the cocky billionaire. Her portrayal in the franchise has changed a lot since that 2010 film: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) called Black Widow a walking sexual harassment suit in that movie, a line that is unimaginable in a Disney film in 2019. She went on to become the only female member of the Avengers, until Scarlet Witch joined their ranks (and the object of some sexist jokes by her fellow cast members).
As male Marvel superhero movies proliferated, the absence of a Black Widow film felt like an increasingly glaring omission. A Black Widow movie was first floated back in 2004 with David Hayter attached to write and direct. But it was scuttled when Marvel Studios (before they were bought by Disney) couldn’t find a studio they thought would do right by the character. A decade later, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige began to tease a future Black Widow movie. Johansson spoke out publicly about pressuring the studio to finally greenlight the long-gestating project and get the movie right.
Meanwhile, DC beat Marvel to the theaters with a major female solo superhero film with Wonder Woman in 2017. Last year, Marvel Studios finally released its first solo superhero movie, Captain Marvel. Black Widow will be its second solo female endeavor.
Given that fans have been waiting a decade for Natasha to get her own movie, there’s quite a bit of pressure on Marvel Studios to get this movie right. That strain is only compounded by the fact that Black Widow will essentially serve as a transition film between the superheroes we know and love and the unfamiliar ones that will follow her in Phase 4.
Black Widow might link to the Eternals or Shang-Chi
Yes, Black Widow is a prequel, and as far as we know, Natasha does not have a future in the movies post-Thanos. (The final fight between Thanos and the Avengers takes place in 2024.)
Still, Marvel has a knack for linking all of its movies together so that you cannot miss a single entry in the franchise if you want to understand all the machinations of its cinematic universe. After all, Marvel found a way to connect the 1990s-set Captain Marvel to the 2024-set Spider-Man: Far From Home, by introducing an alien race that would attract the attention of Nick Fury and launch the future of the Avengers franchise into space.
Marvel is introducing two major sets of characters to the MCU in Phase 4: The martial arts master Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and the celestial family The Eternals (led by Angelina Jolie). It’s possible that an earlier version of Shang-Chi or one of the Eternals will pop up in Black Widow, if only in a post-credits scene, to motivate fans to buy tickets to watch these new characters’ adventures.
Fans are theorizing about a Stranger Things crossover
Spoilers ahead for season 3 of Stranger Things
The last season of Netflix’s hit 1980s show Stranger Things ended with a man — presumably Harbour’s character Hopper — imprisoned in the USSR. That’s led some fans to theorize that the grizzled and bearded Harbour who shows up in the Black Widow trailer, is actually Hopper, tortured and made a turncoat by the Russians, decades on.
Stranger Things and Black Widow are made my two different studios — Netflix and Disney, respectively — so it’s highly doubtful that Hopper went on to become Red Guardian. But it’s fun to imagine that Hopper survived capture and maybe even escaped to befriend Black Widow.