The news comes far, far too late, but it is welcome regardless: after eight years of dithering, Kevin Feige has finally announced that a script for a Black Widow film is in the works, with Scarlett Johansson herself consulting on the script treatment. At this early stage of development the finished product is far from a certainty, but instead of giving into cynicism let’s build the hype of what could be.
The timing of this announcement is well overdue. Johansson has been able to headline a film at least since 2014’s Lucy (which grossed $463.4 million at the box office despite its promising premise’s disappointing execution) and Black Widow has been a cornerstone of the MCU since her 2010 debut. However, this timing is also ideal. Marvel has not slowed its impressive streak, and the market finally feels ready for female action stars and superheroes. Many were excited for Atomic Blonde’s promises of intrigue and John Wick-style fight sequences, only to be let down by their joyless delivery. The Tomb Raider franchise reboot and Proud Mary – an action thriller led by a world-weary contract killer (sound familiar?) – will both be released in March. Lest we forget, last summer’s Wonder Woman is the highest grossing superhero origin film. Lastly and most pertinently, Red Sparrow is out this week in the UK. With its Soviet setting and organisation of ballet-dancing secret agents, it could easily be a Black Widow movie with the serial numbers filed off.
The real Black Widow is set to stand out from these entries by featuring a beloved and well-established character finally taking her rightful headlining spot within in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Below is by no means an exhaustive list, but a short exploration of what one writer wishes to see in this long-awaited instalment.
Natasha Romanoff’s shadowy Soviet past is part of her appeal, but a modern-day take would feel more fresh and pertinent to her continuing MCU presence. This seems right for two reasons: Red Sparrow (ostensibly based on true stories) seems to have the Cold War aesthetic down to a tee, and a current setting would allow the ramifications of her climatic actions in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to take centre stage. As of yet, nothing has come of Natasha’s choice to publish classified records to bring down Alexander Pierce, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra operatives – and herself. A solo film would be the perfect chance for this information on her past to catch up to her present.
This is not to say that Soviet / origin flashbacks (à la Avengers: Age of Ultron without the ‘I’m a monster’ nonsense) would be out of place; if a past associate, commander, or victim discovers her whereabouts, that red in her ledger could be brought to light. It seems the strongest choice for the MCU would be to use Natasha’s past as a springboard to propel its timeline and current themes. In a world of international espionage and global superpowers, Black Widow could pick up the explorations of imperialism, capitalism, and industrial exploitation touched on in Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. As a bonus, that loose Winter Soldier thread would be tied off, and Natasha’s well-earned spotlight guaranteed.
…but familiar tone
Let’s consider Natasha’s line in Avengers Assemble:
“I have a very specific skill set. I didn’t care who I used it for, or on. I got on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar in a bad way.”
Black Widow was introduced – both in the comics and Iron Man 2 – as a femme fatale and later morphed into (or was revealed to be) a superspy. The more sexualised aspects of her character have thankfully become less and less relied upon, both in the comics and the films. A constant, however, has been her stealth- and martial arts-based fighting and diplomatic skills: she does not smash through her enemies but rather outwits them. The setting, therefore, will hopefully amplify these strengths and give her opponents complimentary skill sets (Yelena Belova springs immediately to mind).
Some of Natasha’s best moments are found in Captain America: Civil War – a slick spy/political thriller. With Marvel newest stealth superpower Wakanda having just burst onto the scene, there is even more opportunity for Natasha to involve herself in political intrigue and multinational ethical debates. While doubtful that an event would occur to match the Winter Soldier Hydra reveal without suffering from exposition overload or a deus ex machina down the line, one can dream big.
Established MCU players popping up as sidekicks
This may go without saying, but Natasha Romanoff needs to be – first and foremost – the film’s driving focus. Steve Rogers had two solo films to shine before being somewhat sidelined in Civil War; Natasha’s turn as a headlining act – no matter how many scenes she stole in The Winter Soldier – is belated.
This, however, does not mean there could not be a few Marvel familiars kicking around in the background (depending on who is left after Infinity War). Tony Stark is a typical comics (and Civil War) teammate, but Natasha’s chemistry with Cap himself has been excellently judged throughout the MCU and he would make a welcome addition. Also welcome would be Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, and/or the entire Dora Milaje to join in missions to pave the way for an A-Force film.
The top choices, however, would have to be Bucky Barnes and/or Clint Barton. These two are most closely associated with Natasha in the comics, both romantically and professionally. Since Joss Whedon married off Marvel comics’ favourite libertine, Bucky would be the best choice if resurfacing Soviet tensions – romantic and otherwise – were to be pursued. Perhaps something in Natasha’s newly-published history would also incriminate the super-soldier. Nothing brings people together like brainwashing.
Considering that Jac Schaeffer (writer of the upcoming Nasty Women) has been brought on board to do the initial treatment, the second half of this wish is on its way to fulfilment. Schaeffer is relatively new in the Hollywood scene, but this might not be a disadvantage: fresh voices have resulted in some of the franchise’s most successful entries (Black Panther, for instance, was writer-director Ryan Coogler’s third ever film).
Marvel then bringing in its own Patty Jenkins equivalent to head the filmmaking process would almost be an imperative move considering its stance on Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden. Several great fits for the job suggest themselves: Ava DuVernay’s dynamism, Lynne Ramsay’s fascination with guilt, Reed Morano’s gritty vision, and Lexi Alexander’s proven comics track record. Women’s voices are underrepresented in the director’s chair – notably where multimillion-dollar blockbusters are involved – and therefore the stories they craft are sadly absent. This leads to additional underrepresentation elsewhere in film production, and despite Patty Jenkins’s and Greta Gerwig’s current visibility the diversification trend is stalling. Picking a female director is not only good for telling Natasha Romanoff’s story, but good for the industry – especially with Marvel’s high profile and budgets.