Marvel was hailed for its decision to finally give fans what they had been asking for: a “Black Widow” movie starring Scarlett Johansson. This is a movie fanboys and fanwomen can get behind with little controversy. The only problem is (spoilers ahead) –
Black Widow is dead.
ICYMI, (and with a global box office take heading beyond $2 billion, how could you?): Black Widow sacrificed herself to get the Soul Stone, so that Hawkeye could go back to his family. This exchange is permanent according to the paragon of truth known as the Red Skull (Do we really trust his word on it and how did he get to be an expert after being sent to Vormir by the Tesseract?). Hulk Banner tried to bring her back with his snap and failed. So, as far as anyone knows, Black Widow is dead forever and ever. Amen.
Of course, permanent in the comic book world is really more like “until pent up demand will sell a whole lot of comics with the right story line.) And Marvel has a problem with keeping its characters dead. Just ask Agent/Director Phil Coulson (I thought his name was “agent”), or any of the dozens of characters brought back in “Avengers: Endgame.” So, what will the “Black Widow” movie be about?
Let’s assume that Black Widow is dead and not coming back. That makes the “Black Widow” movie a prequel – or, as I like to call prequels, a movie with no stakes. We already know what happens to Natasha Romanoff in the future. We know she joins the Avengers and ends up sacrificing herself for the greater good. We spent the last decade learning who Romanoff is now, not knowing much about her past.
This type of “Black Widow” movie would have the same problem that “Solo” had. It’s playing with a character that everyone knows and loves. In “Solo,” there wasn’t enough character turning to explain how Han went from someone who loves a woman to someone who is only out for himself. (Maybe future movies would’ve explored this arc, but those look to be defunct as do many of the other Star Wars movies that were planned.” To succeed, the prequel would have to fully explain how Romanoff went from U.S.S.R. super spy to S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, especially after going through extensive brainwashing and the cultural brainwashing that comes from living in any society.
You could write her change in heart and nature while comparing it to the fall of the U.S.S.R., but this type of political and historical action will need a context that many people today, even those who lived through it, simply lack. It’s a risky proposition fraught with peril and landmines.
A prequel would also necessitate another landmine situation. Scarlett Johansson would have to go through the same de-aging process as Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, and to a lesser extent, Michelle Pfeiffer. In the body-positive age, will anyone be happy with a de-aged ScarJo? No one’s made a bug deal about it with the men or with Pfeiffer, but done incorrectly, it could have a negative impact greater than the trolls that regularly come out to jeer Marvel’s superwomen.
While it’s unlikely that any titular character is going to die in his or her own movie, the possibility of Black Widow’s death in a prequel is zero. Prequels, like flashbacks, have no weight. They have no stakes. Instead of advancing the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they stop it dead in its tracks. “Captain Marvel” was well-received, but knowing she was in Endgame took away some of the power the movie could’ve had. “Black Widow” would suffer in the same way. The film will be like watching a biography or documentary made by a company that usually deals in high stakes movies.
The Alternate Timeline
It’s an alternate timeline Black Widow! This could certainly be more entertaining to watch as Romanoff gets plucked out of time and transported to the present day that requires her specific set of skills. This “Black Widow” could more fully develop Marvel’s version of time travel and the problems it causes. It could even be set up as part of the story line that Black Widow’s death and some seriously negative side effects. (What if she’s the glue for a team that otherwise won’t work together and fails at their mission?) The story could really be anything with an alternate timeline Romanoff.
The problem with this “Black Widow” movie is that people are used to Marvel films and television (even the Netflix shows) taking place in the same timeline. That’s what built up the colossal success of “Endgame.” While some shows may be moving in that direction (i.e. Disney+’s “Loki”), the movies could have a problem keeping their audiences and their tie-ins to each other. Marvel could come up with a designation to separate out the timelines, but it could get messy for quickly and destroy the cohesiveness that has allowed the MCU to flourish on the movie screen. Fortunately, fan sites can help keep people straight on which movie goes where.
The Soul Stone
The Soul Stone is said to trap the souls exchanged for its use inside a pocket dimension or alternate reality. Exploring this world would definitely be interesting and move the story forward. Perhaps, because Black Widow sacrificed herself, the Soul Stone reacts differently to her. It may be the reason she’s able to return, proving the Red Skull wring in the process. The self-sacrifice and its purity in act and intention would explain why Gamora can’t escape, as could her child form. However, it’s possible for her child form to play the role of mentor and guide for Black Widow.
The souls trapped in the stone could be like crabs in a bucket. They keep each other trapped, and Black Widow will have to figure out how to fix that. In this scenario Gamora could be used to betray Black Widow when its revealed that Gamora has been sabotaging Romanoff from the beginning. The Soul Stone doesn’t sound like a good entity if it wants to trap souls. In the case of Gamora, it may be that the longer a soul spends in the stone, the more corrupt it becomes.
If Marvel still wants to include an origin story for Black Widow, it can use the Soul Stone alternate reality as a place made up of the person’s past experiences. This could be a sort of health, especially if the Soul Stone gains its powers through the torture of souls (or through their screams, like Monstropolis in “Monsters Inc.” before they found the true power of a child’s laughter).
Marvel continues to surprise and wow audiences, but even the best of studios is going to make a misstep. Let’s hope “Black Widow” isn’t the next one.