Natasha Romanoff has been part of Marvel's cinematic universe since the beginning -- or since Iron Man 2, at least -- first as an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and then an Avenger, a rogue spy, a self-proclaimed "monster" and ultimately, a martyr. (With a new wig for every occasion.) Now, 23 films into the MCU, Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is finally getting her due and fronting a movie of her own: the long-awaited Black Widow, which is poised to open her infamous ledger and delve deep into the red within.
The movie won't arrive in theaters until May 1, 2020, so until then, we've rounded up everything we know about Black Widow (so far).
Wiping the red from her ledger
Natasha made her debut in the Iron Man sequel as a sexy secretary with a particular set of skills, but it wasn't until The Avengers that the MCU began teasing her backstory: Her training in the Red Room, her time spent as an assassin and operative for the KGB, of crimes committed and debts owed. "I'm looking to wipe out some of that red in my ledger," Johansson teased at Comic-Con. "So you guys will be seeing a lot of that."
"That's what drew me to the story: She has so many secrets," Black Widow director Cate Shortland added. "In this film, we get to understand her past, and she gets to put all the pieces of herself back together and come out a whole person."
But isn't Black Widow dead?
Black Widow is a prequel, of sorts. It takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, when Natasha was still very much alive but living on the lam after allowing Captain America and the Winter Soldier to escape the airport battle in Germany. When we next see her in Avengers: Infinity War, she is blonde and serving as a Secret Avenger alongside Cap, Falcon and Wanda Maximoff.
"She's got no one to call and nowhere to go," Johansson told Entertainment Weekly. "She really is grappling with her own self. When something huge explodes and all the pieces are landing and you have that moment of stillness where you don't know what to do next -- that's the moment that she's in. And in that moment, you actually have to face yourself." Where Natasha ultimately decides to go is Budapest.
Meet the cast
In addition to Johansson, Black Widow stars Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz, David Harbour (Stranger Things), O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid's Tale) and Florence Pugh (Midsommar). Ray Winstone (The Departed) has also reportedly been cast in an undisclosed role.
Seeing as the movie is at least partially set in Budapest, which is now intrinsically linked to Natasha and Clint Barton/Hawkeye, an appearance by Jeremy Renner has long been rumored. Personally, I'm crossing my fingers that Julie Delpy will reprise her Age of Ultron role as Madame B.
Who plays who?
Scarlett Johansson is Natasha Romanoff
"I don't think I could have played this iteration of Natasha 10 years ago," Johansson said onstage at Comic-Con. "I get to play Natasha as a fully-realized woman in all of her many facets. I'm excited for fans to see...what she perceives to be the flawed side of her."
Black Widow marks Johansson's eighth proper outing as the titular superspy. The comic version of Natasha (born: Natalia Romanova) is likewise trained by the Red Room to become an elite assassin, ultimately leaving Russia and the KGB behind for the Avengers. Assumedly, the movie will prioritize the past that's been previously established -- albeit enigmatically -- in the MCU: An encounter with a brainwashed Winter Soldier, being recruited to S.H.I.E.L.D. by Hawkeye, and of course, Budapest.
Florence Pugh is Yelena Belova
In the comics, Yelena Belova is a fellow graduate of the Red Room Academy who became the new Black Widow when Natasha defected from Russia. Yelena has oft been an adversary to Natasha -- resentful of her predecessor's legacy as the Red Room's top operative while simultaneously idolizing her for it -- but has occasionally allied herself with Nat when it's advantageous.
"We have a sister relationship, me and Natasha," Pugh told ET, calling her experience on Black Widow a "constant pinch-me moment." "She is so much fun to play…I get to have a love and hate relationship with her all the time. It's great."
David Harbour is Alexei Shostakov
"In the Cold War, there was a nuclear arms race and the Americans developed all these armaments, including Captain America, and the Soviets retaliated by creating their own version called the Red Guardian," Harbour told ET. "Alexei is a tremendously flawed guy, and he also has tremendous humor and tremendous heart. He's a really complicated guy."
Alexei Shostakov was actually the second Red Guardian in Marvel canon, a celebrated pilot who was recruited by the KGB to become the Soviet Union's counterpart to Steve Rogers. (Harbour said Alexei has "complicated" feelings about Cap.) Alexei and Natasha were also husband and wife in the comics, until the KGB faked his death to exploit Nat into becoming Black Widow.
"When it was pitched to me early on by Cate Shortland, I was excited about this certain version," the actor said. "And then she told me these completely surprising personality quirks and character traits that were completely counter to what I expected a character like this to be."
O-T Fagbenle is Mason
Fagbenle introduced his character, Mason, as a contact from Natasha's past. "They ostensibly have a professional relationship -- he's like, a fixer -- but there's a romantic undercurrent," he said. "Well, at least, I'm kind of into her. But it's tough to make a relationship work when the lady you're into is, you know, an international killer."
Mason could be a version of the comic character Rick Mason, a covert operative known as The Agent, who has ties to Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Fun fact: That character is the son of the Tinkerer, who was introduced in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Rick Mason, at least in the comics, does not have a connection to Natasha.
"In rehearsals with Cate Shortland, we filled out the backstory between the two," Fagbenle told ET. "It's one of those things where it's on the precipice, on the cusp of something happening, but they never quite know how to make it actually work."
Rachel Weisz is Melina
Weisz told ET has character Melina has "been cycled through the Red Room Widow program five times, so she's a pretty highly-skilled, trained spy-assassin who's also pretty interested in science." When asked whether she will go head-to-head with Natasha, the actor demurred, "I couldn't say."
Yet, working off those clues, it's an easy assumption that Weisz's Melina is, in fact, Melina Vostokoff, a former KGB black ops agent-turned-mercenary and supervillain who goes by the name Iron Maiden. (The moniker is derived from her metallic supersuit.) In the comics, Melina feels like she was forced to live in the shadow of Black Widow's legend and thus grows to despise Natasha and sets out to end her.
Who's the villain?
Taskmaster. In the comics, Tony Masters is a one-time S.H.I.E.L.D. agent born with "photographic reflexes," which gave him the ability to perfectly mimic any fighting style he witnesses. During a mission, Masters injected himself with a Nazi offshoot Super Soldier Serum that allowed him to instantaneously absorb knowledge and thus became the hooded mercenary, Taskmaster. In those books, he's often an adversary for Ant-Man, Captain America or Iron Man.
Whether the actor cast as Taskmaster has yet to be announced or one of the above characters will be revealed as Taskmaster remains unknown. One popular theory predicts that Weisz's Melina becomes Taskmaster (as opposed to Iron Maiden) or otherwise has a hand in giving him powers to take down the Widows. (In an EW interview, Weisz revealed, "[Melina is] deeply involved with a kind of scientific experiment which I cannot tell you about because it's part of the story we can't talk about.")
Andy Park, Director of Visual Development at Mavel Studios, provided a first look at Taskmaster via concept art of a scene described below:
Behind the camera
Shortland is helming Black Widow from a script by Jac Scaeffer. An Australian director best known for the 2012 historical drama Lore, about a young woman who leads her siblings through Nazi Germany as Allied forces roll in (watch the trailer here) -- she is among the first female filmmakers to direct a Marvel Studios movie. (Anna Boden directed Captain Marvel with partner Ryan Fleck.)
Scaeffer previously scripted the Anne Hathaway-Rebel Wilson comedy caper The Hustle and had a hand in Captain Marvel. (She will also serve as showrunner for Marvel's WandaVision series.) "The fighting [in Black Widow] is a lot of close contact, hand-to-hand combat. It's very visceral," Schaeffer told Inverse. "There's a lot of aggression and power in a very human way that I find really satisfying, but it's the polar opposite to writing for super-powered characters."
Is there a trailer?
Not yet, as the movie is still in production. But the Black Widow team previewed some early footage during Comic-Con: It began with a montage of footage from previous films, with Natasha's voiceover from Endgame -- about how she found a family and was better because of it -- and culminated with Tony Stark warning her, "They're coming for you."
And then it cuts to new footage: Budapest. Natasha sneaks into a safe house. "I know you're out there," Yelena calls. "I know you know I'm out here," Natasha says. The two meet in the kitchen and circle each other, guns drawn, before a brutal fight breaks out. (Think Winter Soldier meets Bourne Identity.) There are knives and broken glass and DIY waterboarding, ending in a stalemate with both spies on the floor strangling and being strangled by the other.
"It's good to see you too, sis," Natasha says as she pours Yelena a shot. "You just had to come to Budapest, didn't you?" The remainder is quick shots: Other Widows, a motorcycle chase, Natasha crashing a car. She stumbles from the vehicle and onto a bridge, where Taskmaster waits. Another fight breaks out, but every move Natasha uses, Taskmaster perfectly mirrors.
At D23, Kevin Feige debuted another first-look, which was made up of much of the same footage, with a few noted additions: A grizzled Alexei leading a prison break and suiting up in a red and white Red Guardian suit; a brief shot of Rachel Weisz's Melina in a Widow-esque suit; Taskmaster bowing up a car. In the last scene, Yelena teases Natasha, "Why do you always do that thing? That thing you do when you're fighting?...It's a fighting pose, you're a total poser." We cut to Natasha, in an all-white suit, dropping into frame during an action sequence and striking the exact finger-to-the-floor pose.
Is there a poster?
Not a theatrical poster, but Andy Park painted a one-sheet exclusively for D23 that provides a look at Pugh's Yelena, Harbour's Red Guardian and Weisz's Melina, along with the debut of Natasha's new Black Widow suit:
BLACK WIDOW!!! Official D23 poster I had the honor of painting. She’s very near & dear to me since it’s the gazillionth time I’ve concept designed/painted her. What a cast & crew! #BlackWidow@MarvelStudios#ScarlettJohansson@Florence_Pugh@DavidKHarbour#RachelWeisz@DisneyD23pic.twitter.com/fxMOI4fJ5R— Andy Park (@andyparkart) August 25, 2019