With the Marvel Cinematic Universe set to enter “Phase 4” in 2020, fans are no doubt curious what the franchise’s future holds following the departures of Iron Man (now, Robert Downey Jr. is talking to animals) and Captain America (now, Chris Evans puts on killer knitwear). But before the MCU sets about addressing that future, there’s apparently more stuff worth digging through in the past—as the first film in this new phase will be Black Widow, due out in May.
Starring Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow is obviously set before the events of Avengers: Endgame because—spoiler alert for the highest-grossing movie of all time?—the character sacrifices herself so that the Avengers can acquire the Soul Stone and defeat Thanos. Black Widow’s death was a somewhat unceremonious—and on some corners of the internet, controversial—end, especially given Tony Stark’s dramatic death at the end of the same movie. A character who’s hung around the MCU since 2010’s Iron Man 2, Black Widow’s stand-alone movie has been a long-rumored, and long-awaited, event. One that seems to be arriving at the perfect time: Following Endgame, there’s natural interest in Romanoff’s backstory. And, oh yeah, the supporting cast surrounding Johansson absolutely rips.
Confirmed to take place at some point between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow will see Romanoff reckon with her past, which has been vaguely alluded to in previous MCU entries. Basically, she appears to have been trained by the same creepy Russian spy academy as Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow to become the perfect KGB killing machine. Around her are other apparent castoffs of the Red Sparrow Academy, including David Harbour as Red Guardian (the Russian equivalent to Captain America), Rachel Weisz as Iron Maiden, and Florence “mah wife!” Pugh as Yelena Belova.
Weisz kicked ass long before she became the subject of thirst tweets for her Oscar-nominated turn in The Favourite, and Harbour is a beloved character actor whose work on Stranger Things elevated his mainstream appeal and dad-bod icon status. (One of the most promising things about the Black Widow teaser: Harbour’s dad bod is intact.) But if she wasn’t already on everyone’s radar, Pugh’s debut in the MCU will soon make her a household name.
Pugh is one of Hollywood’s most exciting young stars, with an impressive and versatile early body of work that includes roles in Lady Macbeth, the Little Drummer Girl AMC miniseries, Fighting With My Family, Midsommar, and later this month, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. She’s legit. (If the Oscars actually rewarded the most deserving performances year in and year out, Pugh’s stellar work in Midsommar would be a shoo-in for 2020.) Don’t be surprised if Pugh’s in the MCU for the long haul.
Belova, whom Romanoff refers to as “sis” in the trailer, is the second Black Widow in the comics—so this film could be a passing of the torch from Johansson to Pugh, ensuring Black Widow continuity in the MCU going forward. That would be a slight bummer, if only because doing more MCU films would prevent Pugh from filling out the 2020s with more indie hits, but that would be an undeniable win for Marvel. As an employee of The Ringer I’m contractually obligated to make a vague sports reference: Nabbing Pugh is like locking up a prized free agent on a team-friendly deal during the prime of their career, otherwise known as “doing that thing James Dolan isn’t familiar with.”
It’s hard to gauge too much from a two-minute teaser, but Pugh looks great in Black Widow, and her thicc-as-hell Russian accent is already the subject of thirst tweets (and not just from my account!). I can’t really say what Black Widow itself will hold; there’s word of Robert Downey Jr. and possibly Jeremy Renner reprising their roles as Iron Man and Hawkeye, respectively. There’s a comic villain called Taskmaster who’s set up as the main antagonist, though his identity (and the identity of the actor who plays him) remains a secret, which feels like a potential twist waiting to happen. Also, there’s so much talk between Romanoff, Belova, Red Guardian, and Iron Maiden about the importance of “family” in this trailer that I’m half convinced this is going to be a stealth Fast & Furious spinoff—even if there’s a reprehensible lack of Corona product placement in the teaser.
In any case, Black Widow might not have much to reveal about the actual future of the MCU—sans the potential for a new Black Widow via Pugh. But Marvel fans have gone to theaters in droves for far less, and this looks like a fun-enough spy flick with an exciting cast. How do you say “lit” in Russian?