Who Is Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

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black widow

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Whether you’re an MCU movie lover or a Marvel comic book enthusiast, this character guide for Natasha Romanoff has all the details on Black Widow’s storyline, abilities, and impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Black Widow feature film with Scarlett Johansson reprising her role as Natasha Romanoff is scheduled to be simultaneously released in theaters and digitally on Disney+ (with additional $29.99 fee for Premier Access) on July 9, 2021. Read on for everything you need to refresh your memory of Natasha Romanoff and get up-to-date before Black Widow.

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How Natasha Romanoff was introduced to the MCU

Who is Natasha Romanoff in the MCU?

Natasha Romanoff was regarded as one of the deadliest assassins and most skilled hand-to-hand combatants in the entire MCU. A former spy for the KGB, Natasha operated under the codename Black Widow before being recruited into SHIELD by Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), better known as Hawkeye. Black Widow went on to become a founding member of the Avengers.

Despite not possessing any enhanced abilities like her fellow Avenger, Captain America, or an advanced suit of cybernetic armor like Iron Man, Black Widow presents a formidable challenge to her enemies with her proficiency in martial arts, mastery of engagement tactics and strategy, and her signature electroshock weapon, the “Widow’s Bite.”

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Who is Black Widow’s sister?

The Black Widow (2021) movie will explore Natasha Romanoff’s complicated personal history for the first time. To this point, Black Widow’s backstory has only been alluded to in the MCU Avengers movies. A character set to feature prominently in Black Widow, is Natasha’s “sister,” Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh).

While not actually blood relatives, Yelena and Natasha were shaped into the world’s deadliest assassins by a top-secret Russian training and indoctrination program, known as the Red Room.

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The Red Room’s goal was to create an elite force of killer spies, choosing young women for a strict regimen of strenuous, violent daily combat training that lasted for years. Also known as the Black Widow Program, the Red Room psychologically abused the young girls it took on, using extreme brainwashing techniques to bend their will to fit their evil ambitions.

Growing up in this environment, the leadership of the Red Room often pitted Yelena and Natasha against one another in combat training. Though their rivalry runs deep, and has often resulted in an on-and-off relationship over the years, the two formed a sisterhood born of the bond of shared trauma and mutual experience.

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Credit: Marvel Studios

How is Natasha Romanoff introduced to the MCU franchise?

Audiences were first introduced to Scarlett Johansson as the MCU Black Widow in Iron Man 2 (2010). At this point in her story, Natasha Romanoff was an elite SHIELD spy infiltrating Stark Industries under an assumed name, Natalie Rushman. Her mission, as assigned by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), was a covert evaluation of Iron Man’s worthiness to join the Avengers. She was tasked with monitoring Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and learn what his Iron Man armor, and the man himself, were capable of.

"Black Widow" reported to have already began production
Credit: Marvel Studios

Natasha’s initial assessment of Iron Man was mixed — cool tech, flawed man. However, in The Avengers (2012) when Loki entranced Hawkeye to join his side, and threatened the Earth with invasion, Natasha was tasked with helping to recruit Iron Man and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to SHIELD’s cause. Along with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans) these six main players formed the core of the original Avengers.

The most character development Natasha Romanoff has received in the MCU so far is in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). In this movie she works side by side with Captain America, Steve Rogers, uncovering a HYDRA plot for world domination. This led to the discovery that HYDRA had infiltrated SHIELD and the U.S. government and had been pulling strings for decades.

Captain America and Black Widow were successful in stopping HYDRA’s plans. Though, in exposing the HYDRA conspiracy, Black Widow’s bloody past as an assassin came to light in public for the first time, forcing Natasha Romanoff into hiding. After a time, she eventually rejoined the Avengers.

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Natasha is never given a true love interest in the MCU Avengers franchise before her death in Avengers: Endgame (2019). Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) sets up a love story between Romanoff and Bruce Banner that goes unrequited. Critics criticized writer/director Joss Whedon for a half-hearted attempt at giving Black Widow a worthy storyline in this effort. Vulture in their “MCU Superhero Romances Ranked” list, said of the clichéd star-crossed coupling,

“The romantic pairing of Natasha and Bruce could and should work, but Whedon writes Natasha as a woman simply pining for a life she knows she can never have…”

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How does Natasha meet her fate in the MCU?

Audiences witnessed Natasha Romanoff’s ultimate sacrifice and Black Widow’s end in Avengers: Endgame (2019). After the events of Infinity War (2018) left half of all life blipped out of existence, Black Widow participated in Endgame’s “Time Heist” to get a do-over with Thanos.

She traveled to Vormir in pursuit of the Soul Stone with the intention of denying Thanos another opportunity to wield the full Infinity Gauntlet, Natasha travelled through time and space to ultimately give her life in exchange for the powerful Soul Stone. Following her sacrifice, Clint Barton was able to retrieve the Soul Stone, allowing Iron Man to successfully use the Infinity Stones to destroy Thanos and his army.

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Natasha Romanoff’s skills and abilities in the MCU

What superpowers does Natasha Romanoff have?

Natasha Romanoff is an elite super-spy with world-class ability in martial arts and armed combat. She is a master of disguise and the art of espionage, and was once known as the world’s deadliest assassin.

While not possessing any enhanced abilities or super powers, Black Widow is highly effective with all manner of weaponry, particularly with her signature weapon, the electroshock bracelets known as “Widow’s Bite.” Widow’s Bite, equipped as wrist gauntlets are capable of delivering robust electrical discharges capable of incapacitating opponents. Romanoff has also been known to utilize similar electricity-based weapons like batons or taser discs.

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Credit: Marvel Studios

When did Natasha Romanoff gain her skills and abilities in the MCU?

Trained as part of the brutal Black Widow Program, Natasha was the top pupil of the Red Room where she excelled not only in hand-to-hand combat, but also advanced tactics and strategy. Her high level of intelligence makes her hand-to-hand combat prowess even more dangerous.

Natasha was recruited at a very young age by the Red Room, and developed her espionage and fighting abilities over years of strenuous training. After operating for a period of time as the KGB’s top assassin, Natasha was eventually able to strike out on her own leaving her Soviet ties behind her before joining SHIELD and the Avengers.

MCU Fans will likely get more detail on Natasha’s backstory in her upcoming solo film. Although the action of Black Widow (2021) is set to take place between the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), sources say we can count on a heavy dose of flashbacks to flesh out Black Widow’s intricate backstory.

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How does Natasha Romanoff become the Black Widow?

Before escaping the clutches of the Red Room in Russia to eventually join SHIELD and the Avengers, Natasha had made quite a few enemies in her homeland. In the upcoming Black Widow film, Romanoff returns to Russia to settle unfinished business with the Red Room.

The trailer reveals that lethal villain Taskmaster has taken utter control of the Red Room and it’s young female students. It’s implied that the Black Widow movie, through Romanoff’s confrontation with Taskmaster’s powers and the new iteration of the Red Room, will reveal much more about how Natasha Romanoff came to be the Black Widow MCU fans are familiar with today.

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Complete List of Marvel Cinematic Universe Black Widow Appearances

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The Avengers (2012)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Captain Marvel (2019) post-credits scene*

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Black Widow (2021)

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How Natasha Romanoff differs between the MCU and the comic books

What are the differences between the comic book Black Widow and the MCU’s Black Widow?

Natasha Romanoff’s origins in the pages of Marvel comics were quite different than her MCU premiere. Black Widow’s first appearance was in Marvel’s “Tales of Suspense” #52 (1959). Her earliest appearances in Marvel Comics were as an Iron Man villain. She initially debuted without her signature black costume. While she was a Russian spy in the comics as well, Natasha didn’t demonstrate much of an allegiance to any government or crime syndicate.

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Credit: Marvel

As Natasha’s appearances became more frequent, the character donned her signature Black Widow costume, and defected to the United States where she became a member of SHIELD.

Something many fans of Natasha Romanoff in the MCU don’t realize is that her comic book counterpart has super powers. Natasha was given a version of the super-soldier serum during her time with the Red Room, as were all members of the Black Widow Program. The super-soldier serum granted her peak human strength and agility.

An aftereffect of the serum left Natasha unable to carry children. While this detail was alluded to in Age of Ultron, there’s never been any indication that Black Widow received enhanced abilities from a super-soldier serum variant.

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Which comic books should you buy to better understand the Black Widow movie?

 “Deadly Origin” (2010)

 If you only read one Black Widow comic arc prior to checking out the Black Widow movie, 2010’s “Deadly Origin” is the one you want. This story is the ultimate origin story of Natasha Romanoff, unraveling her complicated history from deadly assassin to exemplary hero. The story is definitively representative of the Black Widow character and also features some fun cameos from Marvel heavyweights like Wolverine and Winter Soldier.

No Place Like Home” (2004)

“No Place Like Home” is a 2004 limited run series that focuses on Natasha’s brutal training with the Red Room and does a deep dive into her troubled past.

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” (2016)

“The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” arc from 2016 is particularly relevant to the upcoming Black Widow film. It’s another story that examines Natasha’s past with a key emphasis on Yelena Belova. In Itsy-Bitsy, Yelena believes she is the only Red Room alum worthy of the Black Widow mantle, and comes gunning for Natasha. Since we know Yelena will feature prominently in the Black Widow movie, this is a great place to learn about the two characters’ intertwined history.

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What is the relationship between Captain America and Black Widow in the comic books?

Despite their close working relationship over decades, and deep personal friendship, Captain America and Black Widow have never been romantic, at least in canon. In one alternate future timeline based an animated feature Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, Natasha and Steve Rogers have a son, James Rogers, with super soldier powers similar to those of his parents.

In Marvel Comics main timeline, Natasha Romanoff has often been paired romantically with the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes, who for a time took on the Captain America mantle.

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 Natasha’s MCU legacy in the Black Widow movie?

What is Natasha’s MCU legacy in the Black Widow movie?

Natasha’s legacy is a story of hope, redemption, and self-sacrifice. From her violent upbringing, to her time as a killer Russian super-spy, Natasha has carried the burden of her past with her throughout her entire MCU story arc. Natasha was able to leave her dark past behind her and become one of Earth’s most celebrated heroes. Her self-sacrifice on Vormir to literally save the Universe will go down in Marvel history as one of the most heroic — and important — acts in the MCU.

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Cate Shortland, director of the Black Widow movie, has more or less confirmed that Natasha Romanoff will be passing the mantle of Black Widow to her Red Room “sister” Yelena Belova. In an interview with Empire, Shortland stated,

“[Kevin Feige] realized that the audience would expect an origin story so, of course, we went in the opposite direction … And we didn’t know how great Florence Pugh would be. We knew she would be great, but we didn’t know how great. Scarlett is so gracious, like, ‘Oh, I’m handing her the baton.’ So it’s going to propel another female storyline.”

Scarlett Johansson has brought so much to the table for the enduring popularity of the MCU in her role as Black Widow. Now, fans will watch her pass the torch to the next generation in her well-deserved, long overdue solo feature, coming to theaters and Disney+ July 9, 2021.  For more Black Widow check out Black Widow movie leaks and the latest Black Widow trailer.

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