NOTE: This article contains spoilers to Black Widow.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been awful for a library full of serious reasons, it also struck a karmic blow to fans of all stripes that saw impending books, upcoming TV shows, and highly anticipated films pushed further and further back from their original debut date. Perhaps no single group felt the sting as much as fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who saw a whole array of films and TV shows that were announced in 2019 moved again and again. But, as the world has tried to return to normal, films have slowly crept back into movie houses. And this weekend, a film that was much-anticipated long before COVID became a household world makes its long-awaited debut. Ladies and gentlemen, here a few things you should know about Black Widow. (And yes, spoilers ahoy.)
1. How Long Has It Been?
Though the rights had been in play for years, serious talk of a Black Widow solo film in the MCU era began in 2017. That’s when Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson, met ahead of Marvel hiring writers for the project. The film’s story is by Jac Schaeffer (the creative force behind the critically acclaimed WandaVision) and Ned Benson, and the screenplay was by Eric Pearson (who also wrote Thor: Ragnarok). Cate Shortland (known for Lore and Berlin Syndrome) came aboard as director in 2018. Filming took place between May and October of 2019. The film’s originally scheduled release date was May 1, 2020. After the shutdown, it was subsequently moved to November 6, 2020, then again to May 7, 2021, before finally settling on July 9, 2021. The 14-month delay means that it’s been just over two full years since an MCU film opened in theaters (that was Spider-Man: Far from Home on July 2, 2019).
2. Wait, I’m New Here. Who’s Black Widow?
Natalia Alianovna Romanova/Natasha Romanoff is a Marvel Comics super-hero who made her debut in Tales of Suspense #52 in 1964. Initially a villainous Russian spy and a partner of fellow bad guy Hawkeye, Widow and the archer both moved to the heroic side. Natasha became the sixteenth member of the Avengers in the comics. Originally trained as an assassin, the Widow is a formidable hand-to-hand combatant and skilled in the use of a number of weapons and gadgets. For many years, Black Widow was the consummate team player, usually appearing as a member of teams like the Avengers or the Champions or pairing up with the likes of Daredevil. The character eventually began appearing as the lead in various mini-series before headlining a number of ongoing comics over time.
When Marvel Studios began coalescing around Feige’s pitch to launch an Avengers-led franchise in the early 2000s, Black Widow figured prominently in those plans. Scarlett Johansson debuted as Black Widow in 2010’s Iron Man 2. Since then, she’s played the role in 10 other MCU movies, including all four Avengers films. The character sacrificed herself as part of the grand effort to save the universe in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. The Black Widow film takes place in the time between 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.
3. Is That Sheriff Hopper?
Like all Marvel projects, Black Widow has a fully loaded cast. Though Natasha made a home and family with the Avengers, her character also had many ties back in her native Russia. The film introduces several characters familiar to comic book fans. Florence Pugh plays Yelena Belova, another young woman trained in the same “Red Room” as Natasha. Rachel Weisz is Melina, a woman of similar training but a more mysterious background. And David Harbour, the popular actor from Stranger Things, plays Alexei Shostakov, aka the Red Guardian. The Red Guardian of the comics is a physically enhanced super-hero and is usually seen as a member of the Winter Guard, a team of Russian heroes that often includes the armored Crimson Dynamo, the mutant Darkstar, and Ursa Major, who can turn himself into a huge bear. The primary antagonist of the movie is the Taskmaster, a Marvel villain with “photographic reflexes,” allowing them to mimic the fighting style of anyone they observe; the identity of who is actually playing the villain has been a closely guarded secret.
4. How Is It Going to Do?
The box office question is big one, as theaters are still in recovery from the pandemic. While there have been bright spots like A Quiet Place 2, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and F9, prognostication shows that Black Widow might be the big one. Tracking from sources like Variety, Deadline, and BoxOfficeMojo.com as of Friday morning puts the movie on track to break all pandemic-era opening records. Variety projects an opening weekend of between $75 and $85 million dollars in the U.S., which would be great news for the beleaguered movie houses.
5. Is This the End for Black Widow?
After over 11 years and 10 movies, Scarlett Johansson has signaled her intentions that this is her last turn as the title character. With a very active and heavily award-nominated career for films like Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit, and (according to reports) a second child on the way with her SNL cast member husband Colin Jost, she has plenty of other work to do. However, comic readers know that Yelena Belova (Pugh’s character) has also been the Black Widow in comics. Early reviews are wildly effusive about Pugh in this film, and the actor is allegedly on board for multiple forthcoming Marvel projects, so it would seem that the Black Widow, in name at least, will carry on.
Black Widow is a study in contradictions. The character was long overdue for a solo film, but the wait was even more exaggerated from the pandemic. The film is a victory lap for Johansson, but it’s also the beginning of a new phase of Marvel films. The one straight-forward assumption you can make is that it’s going blow right past box office records. And that’s a fitting farewell for the biggest action movie heroine of the 21st century.
Featured image: John B Hewitt / Shutterstock
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