Photo Credit: Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios
Black Widow is finally, actually here. For some of us anyway. The film is releasing next week on Disney+ with Premier Access, but for those in countries like India, will have to wait until it comes into the normal Disney+ roster. Scarlett Johansson's first standalone Marvel movie is also the first instalment in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — nearly two years on from Spider-Man: Far From Home. In a Marvel first, the MCU's new era began in fact on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar, with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in WandaVision, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and the ongoing Tom Hiddleston-led Loki. But unlike its three predecessors, Black Widow is not set after Avengers: Endgame. That's virtually impossible, given Johansson made the ultimate sacrifice in that mega multi-billion-dollar-grossing chapter.
Instead, the newest Marvel chapter is set in the immediate aftermath of Captain America: Civil War. With the Avengers all but disbanded and on their own, Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) is on the run, having opposed the Sokovia Accords along with Captain America and the rest. Leaving her adopted home country of USA, Natasha finds herself running between a series of safe houses in Europe, where she's confronted with the dark past she left behind. Yes, Black Widow will finally answer what happened in Budapest, paying off a stray remark made by Natasha in 2012's The Avengers. Black Widow will also take us to Norway, Morocco, and the UK.
“When we first started talking about locations, we all agreed that we had to find out what happened in Budapest,” Johansson said in prepared statement. “I think Natasha is haunted. She has this huge sense of doom. There's unfinished business and a sense of guilt that follows her around, and it all stems from what happened in Budapest. The film is not about what happened in Budapest, but it helps us understand the heaviness that Natasha walks around with and what her burden is. It gave us a great jumping-off point for a lot that goes on in the film.”
For Johansson, Black Widow will be her eighth credited MCU appearance, following 2010's Iron Man 2, 2012's The Avengers, 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2016's Captain America: Civil War, 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, and 2019's Avengers: Endgame. And it might just be her last too, given Black Widow will hand the baton to her sister-figure Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh. With Black Widow, Johansson — introduced as a hyper-sexualised version of her Marvel Comics character in Iron Man 2 — is getting the layered send-off that she deserves. Officially announced just two years ago, it's been in the making much longer than that.
“I know a lot about this character, because she's in me. But I haven't really had the opportunity to access all the parts of her,” Johansson added. “Having played this character for a decade, I wanted to make sure that it would feel artistically and creatively rewarding for me as well as the fans. [...] [Black Widow director] Cate [Shortland] loves the idea of going inside this character. I've been able to make a lot of discoveries about her — to find different strengths and different flaws. It's been pretty therapeutic. I can't imagine that many actors have the opportunity to do that with a character they've played for 10 years.”
With a global release around the corner, here's everything you need to know about Black Widow.
Johansson's solo Marvel movie is out Wednesday, July 7 in Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden, and the UK.
It will open Thursday, July 8 in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and UAE.
Black Widow will release Friday, July 9 on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets. Premier Access for Black Widow will cost $30 or equivalent, in addition to your monthly Disney+ subscription fee.
On the same day, July 9, it will be available in cinemas in Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, and USA. India was supposed to be a part of the rollout as well, but that's not happening as cinemas are closed nationwide due to COVID-19.
Black Widow is expected October 8 on Disney+ Hotstar, but that could change if and when it releases in Indian cinemas. When it does release, it will be available in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada.
The Marvel movie was supposed to originally release last May — April in India, in fact — but it was pushed indefinitely after the world went into lockdown last March. It was then moved to November 2020 shortly after, but then pushed to May 2021 in September.
Finally, this March, Marvel delayed its next movie a couple of months more to its current July 9 release date.
Naturally, Johansson is in the lead for the movie named after her character. Ever Anderson plays a young Natasha. Of getting to explore new avenues with Black Widow, Johansson said: “When you see Natasha in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she's often this kind of impenetrable force. She's reckless and out of control but still has this amazing intellect. What are her secrets? Her vulnerabilities? I am excited to share her fragility and her strength. She is in a male world, and she projects a certain way of being in that world. What we wanted to do is find out who is the real Black Widow.”
Johansson is joined by the aforementioned Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Little Women) as the deuteragonist who will take up the Black Widow mantle going forward in the MCU. Violet McGraw plays a young Yelena. Pugh said of her character: “Yelena is hurt and complicated and acts out. One of the coolest things about playing Yelena is just how complex and broken she is for someone who is so sure of what she does. She knows exactly how to function in the areas in which she's been trained, but she has no clue how to live as a human being. She's a lethal weapon but also a bit of a kid. That's been one of the nicest qualities about her.”
They are joined by Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) playing Natasha and Yelena's mother-figure, Melina Vostokoff, who's been through the Red Room's Widow programme four times. Having returned from her spy work in the US, she's now one of Red Room's lead scientists. Weisz said: “She was recruited when she was very young. She became a Russian spy and was planted with Alexei and two very young children in America pretending to be a suburban family with a white picket fence. I think Melina was a lot happier in those years. I think her heart really hardened after that. She became maybe a little bitter.”
Alexei Shostakov — played by David Harbour (Stranger Things) — is the Red Guardian, the Red Room's answer to Captain America whose years of espionage are behind him and is currently serving a sentence in a repurposed gulag prison. Harbour said: “He grew up in the Soviet Union and was chosen for a program similar to the Americans' Captain America. The problem was that he did not become as famous as Captain America, and it's the great tragedy of his life. He feels very unappreciated.”
“In the beginning [on Black Widow], for Alexei, everyone is sort of a reflection of him,” Harbour added. “That's the narcissist's MO — he is not interested in anyone else. He's interested in how he's reflected in their eyes. ‘So, am I cool? Am I strong? Do you like me? I know you do.'”
In Black Widow, Natasha has a bone to pick with Red Room's leader General Dreykov, played here by Ray Winstone (The Departed). Naturally, as the Avenger closes in on him, he calls in all the forces at his disposal. Winstone said: “Dreykov is a guy who came from old Russia. I think he was a man who started off with great intentions, but like most people who are put into that kind of situation, the greed and the power take over.”
Dreykov's arsenal is led by Taskmaster, the master assassin whose actor is being kept secret. All Shortland would say about Taskmaster is that he has a connection with Natasha's past: “In some ways, the Taskmaster is the living embodiment of Natasha's backstory.”
And oh, Taskmaster can copy his opponents' every move. Black Widow executive producer Brad Winderbaum said: “He has this ability called photographic reflexes — so if he fights you once he knows how to emulate your style. Natasha's tricks might work in their first altercation, but by round two and three he knows everything, and she has to come up with something else.”
Taskmaster will be aided by 22 Widows for whom the Black Widow team picked actresses, stuntwomen, dancers and martial arts practitioners from different parts of the world. Black Widow stunt coordinator Rob Inch said: “We were looking for people with all types of martial arts, Wushu-based skills, judo and kickboxing. We made sure they all had a signature in their own fighting skills.”
Natasha will be helped by Mason — played by O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid's Tale) — a former soldier turned international smuggler who's rescued from a Cambodian prison and hence owes Natasha one.
William Hurt will return from Civil War as US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross who's trying to get Natasha arrested for violating Sokovia Accords.
The aforementioned Cate Shortland became the director on Black Widow after Johansson personally reached out to her. She said: “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. We explore her family, love and passion, and you get to see all these facets of her we have never seen before.”
“I worked with a Russian historian in London to build a history of where she would've been born, what her mother would've been like, why her mother would've given her up and what her childhood would've been like before she went into the Red Room,” Shortland added. “Then we had to create a whole narrative that fit within the narrative of our film — how she would've been trained to be an American girl, to speak English and understand popular culture. I always try to build characters from their skeleton to create real people. Even though this is about a superhero, I went through the same process. Black Widow is a femme fatale, but what is she underneath that?”
Shortland is working off a screenplay from writer Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok), who said: “I think she's the one Avenger who's shared the least about herself ever since we met her. She's not who she says she is in Iron Man 2. She chooses to withhold her past and who she is personally from the audience and the other characters. In Black Widow, we get to rip open her past and see what led to her hesitation to open up.”
WandaVision creator Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them) contributed to the story. Schaeffer said: “There's a burden to deliver on this woman that we know, love and idolize in so many ways. There is such a rich tapestry to draw from and then we expand upon all of it.”
Marvel Studios president and Marvel's chief creative officer Kevin Feige is the sole producer on Black Widow. Louis D'Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Brad Winderbaum, Nigel Gostelow, and Johansson served as executive producers. Brian Chapek and Mitch Bell are co-producers.
Gabriel Beristain (Agent Carter) served as the cinematographer. Leigh Folsom Boyd (Spider-Man: Far From Home) and Matthew Schmidt (Avengers: Endgame) are the editors. Charles Wood (Endgame) is the production designer. Jany Temime (Skyfall) is the costume designer). Geoffrey Baumann (Black Panther) served as visual effects supervisor Geoffrey Baumann. Black Widow's background score was composed by Lorne Balfe (Mission: Impossible – Fallout).
Temime is behind the Black Widow's new white suit: “For the first time, we have a white costume for Black Widow. Scarlett has an incredible white suit because she has to fight in Siberia. I looked at military outfits designed for the snow, and I thought, ‘Why not?' I added black accessories to keep it tough. It works brilliantly. It's just gorgeous.”
Balfe turned to Natasha's Russian roots for his music: “I wanted to introduce the soundtrack of her story. I listened to a lot of Russian folk music — it's a very particular sound. This music is the ghost of the past that is always with her. The instrumental DNA includes balalaikas, duduks, dombras and hurdy-gurdies.” Balfe's score also nods back to Alan Silvestri's Black Widow theme in Avengers films: “It's always a joy to touch what's a holy grail of themes — it's subtle, but it's a good Easter egg.”
The new Marvel movie has been through a two-part marketing campaign due to COVID-19 — one before the pandemic hit, and one after it locked its new July release date.
There was a supposedly “final” Black Widow trailer in early March, just before the world went into full chaos mode. After almost a year-long silence, the Disney marketing machine revved up with a new trailer this April (below).
Since then, we had a rolling stream of clips, TV spots, featurettes, and special looks: “You Got A Plan?”, “Playmaker”, “Let's Go”, “Ready Set Action”, “In Pursuit”, “Got This”, “Dad Jokes”, “Spy”, “Control”, “A Spy on the Inside”, “Fight”, “Chance”, and “Launch”.
In Marvel Studios' action-packed spy thriller Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.
Early reviews for Black Widow have been largely positive. On reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the new Marvel movie stands at 85 percent “fresh” off 146 reviews, with an average rating of 7 out of 10. And on fellow reviews aggregator Metacritic, Black Widow has a 70 “generally favourable” score based on 33 reviews.
While Marvel Studios has yet to officially say anything on this matter, a sequel to Black Widow is possible but it won't involve Johansson, naturally. It will most likely have Pugh in the lead, what with the Black Widow baton passing to her character in this film.
Before a potential Black Widow 2 though, Pugh will reprise her role in Hawkeye, out late 2021 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar.
If it does happen, don't expect Black Widow 2 for a while. The MCU's big screen future is completely packed at the moment. Three more films are due in 2021 alone, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on September 3, Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao's Eternals in late October in India and November 5 elsewhere, and Spider-Man: No Way Home on December 17.
Then in 2022, we have Benedict Cumberbatch-led Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on March 25, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Guardians of the Galaxy in Thor: Love and Thunder on May 6, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on July 8, and Brie Larson-led The Marvels on November 11.
Paul Rudd-led Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is slated for February 2023, with James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 due in May 2023. Films based on Fantastic Four with Spider-Man director Jon Watts, Blade with Mahershala Ali, Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 3, and Captain America 4 with Anthony Mackie are also in the works.
Here's the official poster for Black Widow from Disney and Marvel Studios: