Considering Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was among the most popular characters in the MCU, it’s bittersweet that we’ve waited 11 years for her solo film debut, only for it to be her swan song. Find out more in this Scarlett Johansson interview.
Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame, in which Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff sacrificed her life in exchange for an Infinity Stone, little is known about the former KGB operative and assassin turned Avenger, aside from a quick peek into her memory in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
“Our movie answers a lot of mysteries about Natasha’s past,” says Black Widow co-producer Brian Chapek. “We’ve seen her character evolve and open herself up to us and we’ve given hints about who she is and what makes her tick. For example, in Avengers: Endgame, we saw Natasha get to a place in her life where she could make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Now we want to tell the story about who she really is as a human being.”
“At the beginning of this film Natasha is really alone for the first time,” Scarlett Johansson tells STACK. “She’s always been a part of something, either by circumstance, by being a victim of the Red Room and then later with the Avengers.”
While The Red Room is featured in the original comic books, first published in 1964, Black Widow offers a real peek into the horrors of the secret Soviet-Russian training program, which turned young women into elite spies and assassins known as Black Widows.
SOMETHING FOR CATE
Determined that Black Widow stand out amongst the male-dominated Marvel stories, Scarlett Johansson reached out to Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland (Somersault).
“Cate came to Los Angeles and fell in love with the character and the possibilities. She realised she could tell a very personal story and do something extremely special on a big canvas,” says Marvel boss Kevin Feige.
Shortland certainly hopes she’s achieved her goals.”I think what’s exciting about the film is we’re playing with the audience’s expectations. We’re exploring parts of Natasha that the audience has absolutely no idea about.
“I thought it should be like a fairground ride; really exhilarating but also raw and to have those things seamlessly mesh together. It was always about putting Natasha at the centre of it but making sure we didn’t let the trauma of her past drag her down, and that we came up to answer it. And we often did that with humour,” she adds.
The film opens in 1995, with David Harbour’s super-soldier Alexei Shostakov and Rachel Weisz’s Black Widow Melina Vostokoff, both Russian undercover agents, posing as a family in Ohio with their surrogate daughters Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova.
After finishing their mission to steal S.H.I.E.L.D intel, they escape to Cuba and rendezvous with their boss, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), who has the younger Romanoff and Belova taken to the Red Room for training, where they will undergo psychological conditioning to ensure their obedience.
Years pass, during which Shostakov is imprisoned in Russia while Romanoff defects to S.H.I.E.L.D. after bombing Dreykov’s Budapest office, apparently killing him and his young daughter Antonia.
If this paints a bleak background story for the two young sisters – who have now grown up into Johansson and Florence Pugh as her lovable younger “sister” Yelena – then much of Black Widow’s joy derides from the unification of this dysfunctional family.
A prequel of sorts to Avengers: Infinity War, Johansson further explains, “When Natasha joined S.H.I.E.L.D, she became a part of a greater whole, but with Black Widow she’s alone and realises she’s got all this possibility in front of her and it’s really suffocating. That was a fun place to start from, where she’s just full of doubt, and it leaves a lot of openings for stuff to creep in.”
With Johansson finally given her time to shine in a solo outing, Black Widow also serves as a reminder of how much we already miss her.