Like many highly anticipated movies over this past year and a half, Black Widow, the next film in the MCU, has been delayed several times due to COVID-19. However, with the Black Widow film hitting streaming platforms and theaters in less than a month, it is the perfect time to reflect on what this Avenger’s solo film means for the MCU. In fact, many fans well-versed in the MCU such as Clayburn Griffin and Nikhil Kasbekar, the hosts of the nerd-adjacent and superhero-focused podcast, We Understood That Reference, have taken the time to analyze and comment on Black Widow’s evolution in the MCU. The first episode of their podcast is entirely dedicated to the development of the Black Widow character and what it means to have a female avenger finally take the lead on the big screen.
Nikhil and Clayburn explain that Black Widow’s initial introduction to the MCU is partially due to the fact that her backstory is relatively easy to introduce in relation to the other avengers that have been brought to the screen. Additionally, there is the evident fact that Marvel had to address its lacking of a female character and she filled this role. So this begs the question of how did Black Widow transition from the token female character to one of the most important avengers, (especially considering her role in End Game with her self-sacrifice to save the whole universe)?
Black Widow joined the Avengers Team in #29 of the Marvel comics and actually started off as an Iron Man villain. Therefore, her arc has not only been one of tokenism to character complexity, but also a rise from antihero to good guy. Clayburn suggests that part of Black Widow’s character depth stems from the fact that she has always seemed very “S.H.I.E.L.D.-like.” In the We Understood That Reference Black Widow episode, Clayburn states: “She seems like a character that is not so much a superhero, but more of a company man.”
Moreover, it is important to note that this evolution was steered more by Marvel Studios and its parent company Disney rather than the comics themselves. Originally, the Wasp held the role of the solo female in the Avenger squad and was actually considered a founding member. Black Widow was chosen as a replacement by the studios solely because her action figures seemed more marketable, again possibly to due her inherent S.H.I.E.L.D. qualities.
Now, it seems hard to imagine the Wasp being part of any of the Avengers films instead of Black Widow, especially End Game, but it is equally hard to imagine anyone else but Scarlett Johanson playing the part. In the scheme of this character’s rise to popularity, it would be unfair to not acknowledge the actor who brings the character to life. It is undeniable that Johanson has contributed to Black Widow’s incredible evolution and helped earn the love and trust of MCU fans with her series of compelling performances.
If you would like to learn more about Black Widow’s evolution in anticipation of the upcoming film and consider more aspects of her character (like the development of her look and if the MCU has made good use of her skills as well as the ways she compare with other female icons) check out the We Understood That Reference podcast. They also cover superhero movies and comic book stuff in general. You can find them on their website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. They’re all over the place!
Black Widow is set to be released in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on July 9th.