News

Five Things To Remember Before You See Black Widow

We bring you up to speed on where Marvel's assassin-turned-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent has been and what she's been through before you head into her solo big-screen adventure.

by | July 8, 2021 | Comments

It’s been a long time since a Marvel Studios film debuted in theaters. Spider-Man: Far From Home opened on June 26, 2019 to a very different world, with Marvel planning to unveil the first of its Phase Four films the following May. Then the pandemic happened and Black Widow became one of the key markers determining whether or not release dates for big summer movies were viable across the next year and change.

And after a number of false starts — remember when it was supposed to open in November? — Black Widow is in theaters this Friday.

Yes, the film’s moment is finally here. But for busy consumers of media now taken with Fear Street, Cruel Summer, or even Marvel’s own Loki television series, key details once fresh in their minds about Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) adventures may have been forgotten. Honestly, it is easy to lose track of an ongoing story two years later even in the best of times. Luckily, we’ve compiled the five things you should remember before heading to the theater – or drive-in, or your couch – to watch Marvel’s return to the movies.


It Is Set Between Captain America: Civil War And Avengers: Infinity War

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Captain America: Civil War

(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

This one might seem obvious to those following the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe closely and waiting with bated breath for the arrival of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. At the same time, though, there are those who might assume the film takes place in the relative present alongside WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, despite the fact that Natasha Romanoff is currently, well, unavailable, as it were. In fact, it is possible for members of either camp to so completely believe their assumptions about Black Widow that they are unaware anyone else thinks differently.

Nonetheless, the film takes place a short time after Nat goes on the run following her choice to allow Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) to escape the Berlin airport in Captain America: Civil War. How much time has passed between the films is unclear, even as Marvel becomes more precise about when certain MCU events occurred. Using the film’s release date as a marker, Black Widow is set after May 6, 2016.

Yes, Civil War was that long ago.

On the other end, it can take place no later than April 27, 2018 – the date Avengers: Infinity War was released. Although, considering where Nat is when she first appears in that film, we’re inclined to believe Black Widow takes place in 2017. Splitting the difference between the films on either side of Black Widow seems to make the most sense.

All this grousing about the film’s setting along the Marvel timeline may seem like needless nitpicking, but it does matter, as it sets up Nat’s emotional arc. This is someone without her friends for the first time in a long time. And although Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) can be annoying, they are like family. Think about how quickly she bonded with Steve Rogers and you’ll see how the Nat we’re about to see in Black Widow could be, well, sad — an unusual place for the character to start a journey.


Natasha Was A Russian Spy

Black Widow

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Of course, her training in the Red Room may allow her to keep those emotions in check. What we’ve seen of the Red Room – the ex-Soviet program dedicated to training children into spies – indicates it would force a rather extreme suppression of emotions to survive. Well, presuming her very brief admission of what occurred there in Avengers: Age of Ultron is anything to go by.

But beyond the way the Red Room training might regulate her emotions, it is important to keep Nat’s status as a former Russian spy in mind because she is headed back into that world. It is a place of guns instead of lasers, bike chases instead of time heists, and darker ideas than even Thanos can imagine, though we doubt the film will delve far into the full terror of what it means to be a Black Widow. This is still a Disney picture, after all.

Also, thanks to the trailers, we know part of her spy training was being part of a “family” consisting of Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Alexi Shostakov (David Harbour), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). The nature of that family remains to be seen – could they all turn around and betray her? We expect resolving the nature of their bond (if one even exists), as opposed to the tale of how she defected to S.H.I.E.L.D., is a big reason for the film’s setting.


We’ll Always Have “Budapest”

Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson in Marvel's The Avengers

(Photo by Zade Rosenthal/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

From the Black Widow trailers, we can see Natasha is headed back to Budapest as part of her reunion with Yelena. That city holds some special significance for Nat that, we assume, will become clearer as the film unfolds.

Both she and Clint reference Budapest in The Avengers and Avengers: Endgame, although, as Nat pointed out in Avengers, Clint’s memory of the operation is very different. In fact, exposing the nature of what happened there is something Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) tried to use against Nat in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when she prepares to expose all of Hydra’s secrets to the world.

Clearly, something bad happened in the Hungarian capital while Nat and Clint both worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. Will it point to the agency’s return in subsequent Marvel movies or shows? We doubt it. If we get any additional clarity on the operation, it will be squarely focused on Natasha Romanoff. For one thing, this is her movie, not a S.H.I.E.L.D. flick. And for another, if this really is Johansson’s final turn as Black Widow, this is the absolute last chance to explain Budapest to all the Marvel fans who’ve tracked the reference across the last decade.


Marvel Means Big Action (In Theaters Anyway)

Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Although the three Marvel Studios TV shows on Disney+ have been impressive in their own ways, they tend to avoid the spectacle of a Captain America: Civil War or an Iron Man 3. Instead, the shows go for more contained fights without as many explosions or car chases. Some of them can be quite thrilling, but still pale in comparison to, say, Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to evade Hydra in The Winter Soldier. From the reviews we’ve seen of Black Widow, it seems that sort of explosive action is back in a big way. And, to be fair to the TV shows, which still pulled off some great things, explosions and car chases belong to movies more than television. They have the time and budget to pull those things off more effectively. Well, at least for now, anyway.

Meanwhile, we imagine if you’ve spent the last 18 months at home, the spectacle of Black Widow may be jarring. Of course, it is also possible you’ve already seen F9 and you’re ready for more explosions, cars getting crushed, and the like. Nevertheless, there are some who may be startled by the level of action in this film and, if they brave the theaters, the volume of the elaborate speaker systems. It is something even avid moviegoers need to adjust to after so long a time without theatrical releases, and this is to say nothing of just being inside a theater again if Black Widow is your  first return to the movies since March of 2020. That could be a shock all its own before the film even starts.


Leviathan May Resurface

Bridget Regan in Marvel's Agent Carter

(Photo by Patrick Wymore/©ABC)

This might be a long shot, but as we were avid Agent Carter fans, we’re never going to let this one go. The short lived Hayley Atwell series introduced a character known as Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan). Although never outright called a “Black Widow,” she was trained at the Red Room Academy in Belarus in manner quite similar to the instruction Natasha would receive decades later. Initially ordered to aid in obtaining secret Stark technology, she came into contact with Peggy Carter (Atwell) and the Strategic Scientific Reserve — the forerunner agency to S.H.I.E.L.D.

In a curious twist, Dottie’s orders came not from Hydra, but from Leviathan, a Soviet program devoted to both scientific research and espionage. Behaving in a similar manner to Hydra – with a side order of secret society shenanigans – Leviathan seemed poised to become Peggy’s main adversary in Season 3 before ABC sadly cancelled the series. But considering Endgame’s acknowledgment of the program via star James D’Arcy’s cameo as Edwin Jarvis, there is room for Black Widow to offer us some clarity on the matter, if even just to say the Red Room continued Leviathan’s objectives following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Again, we admit Leviathan is the least likely thing you need to remember before seeing Black Widow, but it is always possible Marvel Studios will put it into play as it fleshes out more of Nat’s past. Also, like the Red Room itself, it could still be operational in 2017, to say nothing of Phase Four’s present day.


Black Widow opens in theaters and streams on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9, 2021.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

travel indie jamie lee curtis Women's History Month Paramount Network 20th Century Fox young adult joker political drama cooking game of thrones NYCC docuseries Lifetime Christmas movies YA Ghostbusters cars Turner Classic Movies Oscars hist stop motion mutant PaleyFest dragons adenture breaking bad Red Carpet sag awards IFC E! medical drama television LGBTQ scorecard Spectrum Originals TV renewals Amazon Endgame OWN japanese Teen Pop all-time Captain marvel Lifetime Star Wars Travel Channel HBO Go reboot CMT Marvel news DC Comics Tubi Music Comedy Central technology The CW talk show cancelled TV shows stand-up comedy Family Pixar Photos WGN serial killer mission: impossible superman Warner Bros. know your critic Mudbound animated spy thriller strong female leads Nominations king kong Mindy Kaling Sundance TV zero dark thirty japan Image Comics Trivia dceu PBS FX Pride Month Hallmark Pop TV TCA 2017 Academy Awards TCA Awards Extras See It Skip It crime thriller GIFs sequel suspense First Reviews revenge award winner free movies MCU comics Showtime Columbia Pictures international boxing Binge Guide CBS All Access Exclusive Video President satire Reality Competition Funimation Paramount Toys romance Country Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Hulu critics Year in Review marvel comics ESPN Quiz AMC FXX 2020 asian-american women lord of the rings Kids & Family directors hispanic Fox News tv talk Sundance Now screen actors guild legend SXSW hidden camera 24 frames ABC Starz Rom-Com Christmas Hallmark Christmas movies spinoff Fantasy batman VH1 godzilla rt labs critics edition Comedy parents Valentine's Day kaiju Pet Sematary Emmy Nominations Apple TV Plus IFC Films VOD Mystery Food Network Paramount Plus Super Bowl Disney streaming service crime drama CBS posters Wes Anderson Trailer independent BAFTA Tumblr HBO book blockbuster Television Critics Association First Look TCA The Academy festivals DirecTV GLAAD transformers X-Men king arthur twilight WarnerMedia Chernobyl football BBC America pirates of the caribbean DC Universe Mary Tyler Moore universal monsters Walt Disney Pictures Shondaland Amazon Studios Lionsgate Broadway San Diego Comic-Con Cannes Sundance E3 Peacock gangster Alien 2018 worst movies debate TCM dc razzies biopic action-comedy Brie Larson concert classics A24 Vudu 2021 sitcom anime Pacific Islander NBA kids reviews harry potter The Walking Dead USA Network FOX slasher miniseries anthology stoner worst Amazon Prime TIFF Infographic jurassic park rom-coms a nightmare on elm street The Walt Disney Company sequels dramedy new star wars movies streaming movies archives TV movies Esquire TNT RT History spider-man Comics on TV fresh science fiction new york rotten movies we love 45 Universal ViacomCBS video space psychological thriller spanish adventure Winter TV New York Comic Con dark hollywood Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Sony Pictures Tokyo Olympics child's play GoT RT21 Television Academy Biopics facebook Disney+ Disney Plus Epix movies what to watch LGBT versus finale witnail TruTV natural history films olympics slashers 4/20 Spike superhero DGA documentary werewolf name the review live action Classic Film Character Guide criterion biography teaser festival james bond Disney Film Festival rotten fast and furious crime Reality Box Office binge singing competition zombie italian supernatural robots Marvel Television CW Seed El Rey french Britbox Podcast rt archives 2019 high school Tarantino wonder woman monster movies feel good Film renewed TV shows comiccon Crackle royal family A&E canceled spain 2015 historical drama Avengers justice league streaming comic book movie Election true crime Rock Awards Tour Mary Poppins Returns Emmys 007 Winners deadpool dogs nbcuniversal The Witch Song of Ice and Fire basketball Writers Guild of America Heroines Syfy Cosplay Schedule NBC best Horror CNN doctor who theme song 21st Century Fox halloween Spring TV Marvel Studios Black Mirror popular christmas movies police drama black ratings golden globe awards Comic Book screenings Musical Adult Swim Awards Stephen King social media comic Summer Superheroe casting Disney Plus Sci-Fi Cartoon Network Thanksgiving Watching Series ABC Signature Tomatazos indiana jones Fox Searchlight TV One Netflix The Arrangement Anna Paquin foreign Hear Us Out Shudder USA adaptation mcc Nickelodeon MSNBC series comic book movies 71st Emmy Awards BBC One Apple TV+ cancelled TV series Ovation video on demand 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards movie franchise The Purge period drama FX on Hulu golden globes YouTube Premium National Geographic laika australia Comic-Con@Home 2021 BBC comic books ID critic resources APB Video Games nature Sneak Peek blaxploitation rt labs Amazon Prime Video 72 Emmy Awards Holiday ghosts Freeform Creative Arts Emmys discovery prank emmy awards obituary ITV DC streaming service 73rd Emmy Awards cancelled television telelvision MTV 99% kong Bravo romantic comedy composers Drama Set visit cancelled unscripted TLC YouTube History cops target latino Premiere Dates Calendar diversity scene in color psycho Opinion Trophy Talk mockumentary heist movie Interview disaster boxoffice based on movie Certified Fresh Pirates toronto comedies venice 93rd Oscars HBO Max thriller cats Fall TV richard e. Grant Legendary vampires Rocky Martial Arts politics Action Rocketman docudrama American Society of Cinematographers blockbusters halloween tv Crunchyroll Lucasfilm Masterpiece book adaptation SundanceTV Logo Turner PlayStation Acorn TV ABC Family game show zombies quibi SDCC Polls and Games Superheroes cartoon Western hispanic heritage month VICE TCA Winter 2020 new zealand Dark Horse Comics TBS Apple cults aapi TV Countdown canceled TV shows spanish language 90s Star Trek trailers crossover 2016 Holidays Nat Geo sports scary movies marvel cinematic universe Netflix Christmas movies nfl Disney Channel south america green book elevated horror children's TV war 1990s cinemax dexter Discovery Channel Elton John Black History Month aliens chucky Best and Worst Grammys BET YouTube Red die hard Baby Yoda Musicals Arrowverse BET Awards toy story Mary poppins Marathons Ellie Kemper documentaries remakes saw TV Land Animation OneApp 2017