You wouldn’t have the Marvel Cinematic Universe without Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Still, while the movies’ male heroes piled up solo movies, the key MCU hero had to be satisfied with merely co-starring in other characters’ movies – until now. Well, after the all the chaos delivered on the film by the coronavirus-induced delay has calmed down anyway.
When the solo Black Widow movie finally arrives, the much-deserved spotlight will be on Natasha Romanoff, and her mysterious past life as an assassin trained by the Russian government. As we’re lurched back into aftermath of Civil War, the Black Widow movie is the MCU pioneer heralding the dawn of a new era alongside Doctor Strange and Black Panther sequels, and new properties like The Eternals and Shang-Chi.
Here’s what you need to know about the Black Widow movie release date, trailer, cast, and how it fits into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline. Spoilers for older MCU films follow.
The Black Widow release date has moved to 2021
The Black Widow movie is now slated for May 7, 2021, a full year after its original release date. Primarily due to the coronavirus, this means there will be no MCU films to come out in a calendar year since 2009, as The Eternals and Shang-Chi make way for Romanoff’s adventure by shifting back later into next year.
Before Black Widow was delayed into next year, Disney confirmed to Digital Spy that the UK release date would be a week earlier than in the US, but it’s anybody’s guess how the state of the world and the film industry will look as we approach the new Black Widow release date.
Black Widow trailer: meeting the family
Above, you can watch the final Black Widow trailer. The other four, including the Super Bowl 2020 Big Game spot and behind-the-scenes featurette on Marvel’s YouTube channel. When it comes to what the teaser footage tells us so far, the final trailer shows us more of the Taskmaster’s plan: he’s using the Red Room where Natasha was trained to control agents.
The first trailer opens with a montage of Romanoff staring into a mirror and scenes from previous MCU movies to highlight the film’s key theme: family. “I used to have nothing. But then I got this job. This family. But nothing lasts forever,” she says.
We also see Romanoff meeting a returning William Hurt as Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross – could this be where the Russian agent is persuaded to defect to the United States? – and Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, an operative with similar skills to Black Widow, who Romanoff describes as “sis”. Biological sisters, or spiritual? We’ll have to wait and see.
In the ‘special look’ trailer we can see that Black Widow must face up to her past by tackling a new breed of assassin, a “new world of Widows”. In the original trailer Widow hints at the “mistakes” she made before joining S.H.I.E.L.D and this army of assassins appears to be those made manifest, which seems to be her major arc in the story.
Black Widow cast explained
Alongside the returning ScarJo, Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz plays Melina, a Russian spy who goes under the alias Iron Maiden, who is a villain in the comics. Florence Pugh is Yelena, who assumed the Black Widow mantle after Natasha Romanoff in print.
And then there’s Stranger Things/Hellboy star David Harbour plays Alexie Shostakov, otherwise known as Red Guardian. He’s Russia’s super-soldier answer to Captain America, though in the movie, he appears to be a little out of shape.
The principal cast is rounded out by the aforementioned William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross, and Ray Winstone in an as-yet-unrevealed role. OT Fagbenle plays a character called Mason, but there’s speculation that Fagbenle is playing the aforementioned Taskmaster, a masked, bow-wielding vigilante. Marvel is playing that particular card close to its chest.
There are also reports that Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man will make an appearance – he may have been killed in Avengers: Endgame, but as with Romanoff, the Black Widow movie’s position in the timeline makes a comeback feasible.
How does Black Widow fit into the MCU?
Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed the inconvenient fact that (spoiler alert for the two or three people who haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame) Black Widow was one of the high-profile casualties of the final Avengers movie. The new film isn’t messing around with continuity, however, because it’s set some time in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, when Natasha Romanoff is living as a fugitive after helping Captain America and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) escape the authorities.
“There are ways to do prequels that are less informative or answer questions you didn’t necessarily have, and then there are ways to do prequels where you learn all sorts of things you never knew before,” MCU overlord Kevin Feige teased io9 back in June. “I look at Better Call Saul as a wonderful example of a prequel that almost completely stands on its own apart from Breaking Bad because it informs you about so many things you didn’t know about before.”
It also seems likely that the movie will feature plenty of flashbacks – the scene with Ross in the trailer features a significantly de-aged William Hurt, suggesting the meeting takes place much earlier in Romanoff’s history. We also see hints of the brutal “Red Room” facility seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Black Widow was trained. In other words, expect this to be the MCU movie from the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Black Widow story: what else do we know?
Beyond what’s in the trailers? Not a lot. This is Marvel, after all, a studio well known for not giving away unnecessary plot details. With Black Widow being such a popular character, however – along with the fact MCU movies tend to get sequels – we can’t help wondering if this will be an excuse to bring the deceased Natasha Romanoff back into the wider Marvel continuity, much as Avengers: Endgame provided a way back for Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.
However, in an interview with Total Film, Johansson made clear that “One of the themes of the film is family. What is family? How does it define us? How does our past define us? How does our family – however we define it – make up who we are, for better or worse?” It looks like revelations from Widow’s past will change plenty about how we perceive the character in her previous MCU outings. It also suggest the film will lurch from typically action-packed superhero fare to family drama, which sounds promising.
Black Widow director: Cate Shortland is making this Marvel movie
The Black Widow movie’s director is Cate Shortland, the Australian helmer of Somersault, Lore and TV series The Secret Life of Us. It’s another admirably leftfield choice for Marvel who, after Taika Waititi on Thor: Ragnarok, and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck on Captain Marvel – are making a habit of taking a chance on interesting filmmakers.
The screenplay, meanwhile, is from Jac Schaeffer (who’s showrunning upcoming Scarlet Witch/The Vision Disney+ show WandaVision), and Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby).
Can Black Widow continue the MCU’s form?
A Black Widow movie is the right move for Marvel after Avengers: Endgame. The stakes of the MCU need to dial back a bit before they can escalate to that level again, and a movie that at last explores Natasha’s origins feels like a dead cert. The quality of the ensemble cast, too, speaks to how well Marvel Studios is regarded right now – everyone wants to be part of it.
It’s just a shame we have to wait for it, but that’s just the way things are right now in cinema.