Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, first appeared in a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film in Iron Man 2 (2010) and has since been a regular in almost all subsequent films. Over the years, the character, played brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson, became a fan favourite in the film franchise. However, it took 11 years for Marvel bosses to make a film solely devoted to the only female member of the original Avengers, since her first appearance.
So, the buzz around Black Widow is palpable, especially more so since it is the first Marvel film to hit the screens amid the pandemic. Theatres have been crucial to the success of each of the MCU films since the release of the first film, Iron Man, in 2008. In fact, eight of the 10 highest-grossing superhero films are from the MCU stable and three of them are among the 10 highest-grossing films of all time — obviously, expectations are high from Black Widow.
The film was originally set for release on 01 May 2020. The pandemic struck and, like many other films, Black Widow got delayed. First postponed to 6 November, the film was subsequently moved to 7 May 2021. As the coronavirus situation continued, the makers again postponed the release date, settling on 9 July. It is noteworthy that the July release date is for the US, Canada, Singapore and India, among other countries. The film premiered at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy on 3 July and released in the UK, France, Hong Kong, Egypt, Israel, Brazil, Germany, and Spain on 7 and 8 July.
The film is set after the events depicted in Captain America: Civil War (2016) when Romanoff goes on the run after siding with Captain America and his team instead of Iron Man. At this point, she comes face-to-face with her dark past and the people connected to it. As she tries to reconnect with her “family”, Romanoff finds herself in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy.
So, who exactly is Black Widow? And, how much does she differ from the comic books? We take a quick look at these with some facts about the iconic character.
Scarlett Johansson was not the first choice for Black Widow
Yes, no one would believe that Johansson was not on Marvel’s radar when they embarked on finding an actor to play the role in Iron Man 2. Emily Blunt was supposed to play Black Widow on screen. She would have most certainly played the role had scheduling conflicts with Gulliver’s Travels not forced her to opt-out. Even then, it was not Johansson who Marvel approached next. Eliza Dushku, Natalie Portman and Angelina Jolie were considered for the role as well. When nothing worked out, Marvel placed their bet on Johansson, who was at the time, not an A-lister.
Romanoff is possibly as old as Captain America
It is established in the comic books that the character was born before World War II as Natalia Alianovna Romanova in the Soviet Union. Her parentage is unclear and so is the backstory about how she entered the Red Room, where Soviet authorities ran the Black Widow programme. However, she was injected with the Super-Soldier serum, the same chemical that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. In the films, however, Black Widow hasn’t been depicted as a super-soldier but a very well-trained fighter with no superhuman abilities. In fact, she is shown as one of the only two original Avengers without any superhuman ability — biological, mythical, magical or technological.
A trained spy and warrior
Romanoff was trained in the Red Room, a facility for training lethal sleeper agents for the Soviet Union. She was turned into a killing machine — an expert in weapons and almost all known martial arts, including savate, karate, judo and kung fu. She is also an acrobat and a gymnast. Though she uses guns, her favourite is “widow’s bite” — two bracelets on each wrist that can discharge a high-frequency electrostatic bolt of 30,000 volts, with a range of 20 feet. The weapon is powerful enough to incapacitate superhumans too. Her costume is designed to protect her body from projectiles and help her scale buildings. She is multilingual and can hack into any system to take control of it.
She may have been a ballerina
It is often suggested that ballet is one of her most remarkable talents. But since the Super-Soldier serum and the brainwashing at Red Room played havoc with her memories, she initially had difficulty remembering whether the memories of her as a ballerina are real or planted, until she found out that it was the latter. The only film in which the ballet angle has been briefly visited is Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
Black Widow was not originally on the side of good
Since the character was trained in the Soviet Union and was an agent during the Cold War, the creators presented Black Widow as a villain. The initial comic books show Romanoff get into confrontations with American superheroes. She had tried to kill Iron Man and had manipulated Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, an expert archer, to join her in the quest but failed. Hawkeye’s inherent goodness eventually led to her turning to the good side and joining S.H.I.E.L.D., which is led by Nick Fury. In her first film appearance for MCU, Romanoff is presented as a S.H.I.E.L.D. member.
Black Widow has had a relationship with Hawkeye
Black Widow and Hawkeye are the best of friends in the MCU, with each having more trust in the other than they have in any of the Avengers. Remember the emotional moment when Romanoff sacrificed herself so that Barton can get the Soul Stone in Avengers: Endgame (2019)? That captured their friendship beautifully.
But the comic books have depicted the two in an on-and-off relationship. After manipulating Hawkeye to get to the United States and failure in killing Iron Man, Romanoff fell in love with the archer but defected. Over the decades, the two have somewhat drifted apart.
She has also been romantically linked with Bucky Barnes
James Buchanan Barnes, or Bucky, is the Winter Soldier, a friend who is turned into a super-soldier foe of Captain America. Black Widow and Winter Soldier trained together in the Red Room, which is where the two developed mutual trust and fell in love. Though they are separated by their superiors, they rekindle their relationship years later when Barnes becomes Captain America with her support. Barnes and Romanoff have the same level of trust in the comic books as Barton and Romanoff in the films.
She has been married
In the comic books, Romanoff has had at least one confirmed marriage — with Alexei Shostakov, a renowned test pilot of the Soviet Union. Though the marriage was arranged by the KGB, it was a happy one. The Soviet leaders faked Shostakov’s death to turn him into Red Guardian. Unaware of the truth, a shocked Romanoff goes deeper into the Black Widow programme and becomes the Black Widow. Yet memories with Shostakov and his multiple appearances, whether as a decoy or an evil character, continues to torment Romanoff. David Harbour plays Red Guardian in the Black Widow film, but he is depicted as a father figure to Johansson’s character.
Romanoff isn’t the first Black Widow
Since Black Widow is the name of a programme that produces spies and assassins, there have been many Black Widows before Romanoff. One of the most famous ones, and possibly the first, was Claire Voyant, who appeared as Black Widow in the 1940s. In the Black Widow film, Florence Pugh plays the character of Yelena Belova, a Black Widow. In the comic books, Belova is the most recent spy to use the name and is Romanoff’s rival. The film also has Rachel Weisz playing Melina Vostokoff, another Black Widow.
Before Black Widow, there was a film that never got made
Writer of X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003), David Hayter scripted and directed a Black Widow movie for Lionsgate in 2004. Hayter kept the character’s origin closer to the comic books. However, the film never took off. The reason being the fate of a series of female-led action films around the time. Though Quentin Tarantino’s two-part Kill Bill (2003 and 2004) became one of the biggest cult classics of all time, the disaster of films such as BloodRayne (2005), Æon Flux (2005) and Ultraviolet (2006) dissuaded the makers of the proposed Black Widow film.
(Main and Featured images: Film Frame / ©Marvel Studios 2020)