(Note: This article includes key events in Avengers: Endgame, so consider this a spoiler warning for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet.)
Although the conversations surrounding the movie’s most significant character arcs tend to focus on Captain America and Iron Man, a change in one particular character’s status could have the most direct — and immediate — effect on the next phase of the MCU: Black Widow’s death.
The long-rumored (and long-requested) Black Widow movie began gaining momentum back in January 2018 when Marvel Studios hired screenwriter Jac Schaeffer to pen the script, and the buzz grew louder a few months later when Lore director Cate Shortland was attached to direct. When Marvel handed MCU veteran Scarlett Johansson an impressive $15 million payday for the film, though, the project’s status officially shifted from “potential” to greenlight.
Early reports suggested that the Black Widow movie might be a prequel film of sorts — possibly set before The Avengers, the original, 2012 team-up film — but it was always expected that the character’s modern-day adventures would factor into the story.
With Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America exiting the MCU after Endgame, the only remaining, active members of the original Avengers were Thor, Bruce Banner, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. Predictions regarding the future of the MCU often cited Johansson’s character as the most likely to lead the team post-Endgame, and the announcement of a Hawkeye television series focusing on him training his protege only seemed to increase the likelihood of a Black Widow-led Avengers.
Even Endgame itself seemed well aware of those expectations and had Hawkeye and Black Widow fight each other to determine which hero made the ultimate sacrifice to acquire the Soul Stone (likely leaving the other to lead the Avengers in the story’s aftermath).
As with many MCU predictions, however, Endgame shattered what we thought to be true going into the film, making Black Widow one of the film’s first casualties in the mission to reverse Thanos’ actions in the climax of Avengers: Infinity War.
The Black Widow movie remains in development, though, leaving a few potential story arcs — some new, some well-circulated in the past — to consider when it comes to the return of Natasha Romanoff, the Russian spy who became one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
More than any other possibility, Endgame seems to have cemented the notion of the Black Widow movie exploring Natasha’s years as a spy before joining Nick Fury’s “Avengers Initiative.” How far back in her timeline the film will go remains a mystery, and it will be interesting to see whether it unfolds before she meets Fury or while operating as one of his field agents, possibly keeping tabs on some of the major and minor players in the pre-Avengers MCU.
Given the success in de-aging Samuel Jackson for his role as a younger Fury in Captain Marvel, anything is possible when it comes to the Black Widow movie overlapping with the known MCU characters and events, but it should be mentioned that it’s not easy for any actor to go back more than a decade in time.
As for crossover characters, Black Widow will likely need some of that MCU crossover love to be a success, as female-led spy movies haven’t exactly been big draws at the box office on their own.
Neither 2017’s Atomic Blonde nor 2018’s Red Sparrow — two films led by some of Hollywood’s most bankable leading ladies — managed to make the kind of money that even the lowest-grossing Marvel film generates. For a Black Widow movie to succeed, the film will likely have to establish some clear connections with the MCU, making cameos and familiar faces that much more important.
Back to the future
Another possibility is a Black Widow movie that uses the malleable nature of the current MCU timeline to pluck the character from her own past, in much the same way the Avengers temporarily removed the Infinity Stones from various points in time during Endgame.
Death is rarely a permanent condition in comic books, and although Marvel seems intent on maintaining a sense of certainty surrounding the casualties of Endgame, plenty of people made it out in one way or another. Apart from the snap survivors, Loki appears to have escaped the fate he suffered in Infinity War, and it appears we’ve got a new Gamora in the MCU as well. Could Black Widow be another big name on that list?
Having a time-displaced Black Widow embark on an important mission — with the specter of her imminent demise in Endgame looming large — could add an extra level of drama to everything unfolding on the screen.
Back from the dead?
A resurrection of Black Widow could also be a way to get the character back in action.
Endgame pushed the boundaries of everything certain in the MCU, so at this point, reviving Black Widow for her solo feature in one way or another is indeed an option. (Whether doing so would cheapen the deaths of other characters is another discussion entirely.)
No matter what Marvel chooses to do with Black Widow, it’s a testament to the studio’s success that the character’s solo feature continues to be an intriguing project, even after her death. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the MCU in the years to come (to put it mildly), but Marvel and studio head Kevin Feige have earned a fair share of faith in whatever they have planned for the Avengers’ super spy.
Endgame might have changed what we expect from a Black Widow movie, but one thing is certain: It didn’t decrease fans’ excitement about seeing more of Natasha Romanoff’s adventures.