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Black Widow release date, cast, director and villain

In the years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off back in 2008 with Iron Man, the franchise has evolved into Hollywood's most enduring success story. However, raking in billions upon billions of dollars has not stopped fans from noticing that the majority of heroes in the 20+ films have been men, with the first film centering around a woman coming with 2019's Captain Marvel. Well, after years of clamoring for a change, Marvel fans are finally getting what they've been asking for with a movie centered around Scarlett Johansson's Russian super-spy. 

After appearing in seven — yes, seven — Marvel films as Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, Johansson is getting her chance to lead an action movie for the Mouse House, but what does Marvel Studios have in store for the master assassin? How, exactly, is Johansson leading a new Marvel movie when her character perished by the end of Avengers: Endgame? Here is everything we currently know about the upcoming Black Widow.

Black Widow's release date

At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige unveiled the closely-guarded details of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Phase 4," including official release dates for all of the company's upcoming film and television projects in 2020 and 2021. This announcement included a May 1st, 2020 release date for Black Widow, which shows the company's faith in the character. May is the first month of Hollywood's traditional "Summer Blockbuster" season, where movies go to rake in the big bucks. 

It is clear that opposing studios are trying to steer clear of the Marvel money-making machine, with the release calendar surrounding Black Widow's release being pretty sparse, outside of counter-programming choices like Trolls: World Tour and the third film in Reese Witherspoon's Legally Blonde film series . It will be interesting to compare Black Widow's popularity with the film-going public to Warner Bros.' Wonder Woman sequel that is scheduled to release just a month later. 

Cate Shortland is directing Black Widow

Continuing their trend of making interesting and unexpected directorial choices, Marvel Studios has brought on Cate Shortland to direct Black Widow. Shortland won the gig after a search that had the comic book giant meeting with over 70 potential directors. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the search lasted over half a year and finding a female filmmaker was priority number one, even though their expansive search stalled at one point and the studio began to look at male helmers.

Shortland eventually booked the highly-sought-after job over other finalists like Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom), Maggie Betts (Novitiate), and Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry). One factor that surely worked in Shortland's favor was having Johansson in her corner, as the actress apparently pushed Marvel to hire the director. Johansson is reportedly a fan of Shortland's female-led 2012 drama Lore, a critically acclaimed picture that tells the story of a young woman who leads her siblings through Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Based on Rachel Seiffert's award-winning novel The Dark RoomLore won numerous awards itself and surely played a big part in landing Shortland such a big project at Marvel.

Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson are Black Widow's writers

The original script for Black Widow was written by veteran Marvel screenwriter Jac Schaeffer. Schaeffer burst onto Hollywood's radar with 2010's sci-fi romantic comedy TiMER and has been working in the industry ever since. In addition to writing the first draft of the Black Widow screenplay, Schaeffer also co-wrote the script for 2019's Captain Marvel and has been brought in to executive produce the upcoming Disney+ Marvel show WandaVision. When speaking with Inverse about working in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Schaeffer said that "there is kind of a delicious amount of freedom... there's no friction on feasibility — the limit is your imagination. That kind of freedom is almost euphoric."

Marvel also brought in Ned Benson — screenwriter and director of the critical darling Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby set of interconnected films — to do a re-write of Schaeffer's screenplay. It is unclear if Benson is doing a full rewrite or just a tune-up, but having well-regarded writers like Schaeffer and Benson on the project is sure to excite Marvel fans.

What's the story of Black Widow?

It should come as no surprise that Marvel Studios is keeping Black Widow details hush-hush at the moment, as that tends to be their general modus operandi. Of the few details that members of the cast and crew have let loose, it is interesting that the film is set after Captain America: Civil War and before the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War. Marvel seems to be taking a more grounded approach to their latest picture, which makes sense following the outrageous bombast of the last two Avengers pictures and the globe-trotting adventures of Spider-Man: Far from Home

After seeing the footage Marvel Studios screened during the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Screen Rant's Molly Freeman mentioned the company "previewed a more grounded MCU movie, one rooted in practical fights and a deeper dive into Natasha's world of espionage." Given the vast variety of different comic books Marvel releases on a yearly basis, it is refreshing to see their big screen counterpart begin to bring different styles of superhero storytelling to the theater.

Black Widow's possible comic inspiration

Having debuted over half a century ago in 1964's Tales of Suspense #52, the Black Widow has had a storied and varied comic book history. Beginning as an Iron Man antagonist, Black Widow would eventually switch sides and become an agent of the American spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D., ultimately completing her transformation from villain to hero by joining the Avengers. Over the years, Natasha has fought countless enemies and has been romantically linked with Matt Murdock's Daredevil, Bucky Barnes' Winter Soldier, and Clint Barton's Hawkeye. Being a major player in Marvel Comics for so many decades offers a lot of potential storylines to adapt to the big screen, but going by Schaeffer's comments, a direct comic story adaptation might not be in the cards at all.

Schaeffer has gone on record saying, "I'm not interested in adhering to comic canon that is discriminatory in any way or that violates my values system." It is unclear whether Black Widow will change anything severe from the character's comic book history, but changing with the times or ignoring unsavory elements of a character's history — Captain Marvel certainly did not mention Carol Danvers' unfortunate comics past — can be a good thing.

Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow

To the delight of Marvel fans everywhere, Scarlett Johansson has signed on to return has Black Widow and garnered a significant pay increase to do so. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Johansson will finally be making an amount of money that is equal to her male counterparts — she will be paid $15 million to appear in Black Widow, the same amount Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth each earned for playing Captain America and Thor in Avengers: Infinity War. That may not be a Robert Downey Jr. level of money, but it is nice to see Johansson getting her fair share of the Marvel pie after all of these years.

For her part, Johnasson is excited to be returning to the role for which she has become most famous. Playing the Widow this time around should provide the actress with more opportunity than ever to dive deep into the character as a lead rather than a supporting part. While talking to Entertainment Weekly about the film, Johansson explained, "Where we find Natasha in her life at this point is very specific. She really is in a dark place where she's got no one to call and nowhere to go. She's really grappling with her own self."

David Harbour is the Red Guardian

Having hit a new level of nationwide recognition due to starring in Netflix's cult phenomenon Stranger Things, experienced character actor David Harbour has been using that exposure to book bigger roles in Hollywood, including the titular role in the disastrous 2019 Hellboy reboot and his upcoming role as the Red Guardian in Black Widow. Introduced way back in 1967's Avengers #43, Alexei Shostakov — a.k.a. the Red Guardian — was an acclaimed test pilot whose heroism caught the attention of the Russian authorities. They wanted a national hero to represent them, just as Captain America represented the United States. Of course, Shostakov's comic book history is tumultuous and convoluted... he was even married to Black Widow at one point! 

Harbour is excited for his chance to play a Russian take on the Captain America-esque soldier. "In a way he's a super-soldier, but he's also a very complicated guy," the actor explained. "He has a lot of flaws, a lot of idiosyncrasies. It's a very rich character." Interstingly enough, Harbour has also described his take on the character as a "rock star," which sounds just truly delectable. 

Florence Pugh is Yelena Belova

If you are not an avid reader of Marvel Comics, you might be surprised to learn that Natasha Romanoff is not the only Black Widow that exists in the company's seemingly unending superhero universe. Another character who has used the moniker is Yelena Belova, initially created as an antagonist for Romanoff in the late 1990s. Belova's character history runs the gamut of comic book tropes as she's consistently hopped back and forth between good and evil, retires from the superhero world only to return shortly thereafter, and is seemingly killed off only to — shockingly! — not actually die. 

Florence Pugh will be starring in Black Widow as Belova, though it is unknown if she will be a protagonist, antagonist, or something in-between. Pugh has turned heads in recent years, having turned in an award-winning performance in 2016's Lady Macbeth as well as starring in the critically-acclaimed 2019 horror film Midsommar. The actress describes Belova as Natasha's "sister figure" and has teased fans by saying, "They meet one another and it's quite heightened and heated."

Rachel Weisz is Melina

Outside of Johansson, Rachel Weisz is the biggest Hollywood name to appear in Black Widow. The English actress is a true movie star, having appeared in everything from blockbusters like 1999's The Mummy and 2012's The Bourne Legacy to awards fare like 2005's The Constant Gardener (winning her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) and 2018's The Favourite

Weisz will star as yet another Black Widow named Melina, an original character for the film who is apparently just one of numerous women to wear that mantle. When speaking with IGN, Weisz revealed that "there are quite a number. I'm a Black Widow and there's Scarlett [Johansson] and Florence [Pugh]. There's quite a lot of other characters you'll also meet that are Black Widows." Of course, Weisz can't reveal much more than that as Marvel has all those involved keeping their lips shut. Weisz did let it slip that Melina is "also deeply involved in a scientific experiment which I cannot tell you about because it's part of the story we can't talk about!" It sounds like Black Widow's spy-centric story will be pretty topsy-turvy, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

Taskmaster will test Black Widow

As the release date for Black Widow creeps closer and closer, more details keep leaking out on the next chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Handmaid's Tale's O-T Fagbenle has been cast as Mason, an ally from Romanoff's S.H.I.E.L.D. days who is romantically interested in her, while prolific English actor Ray Winstone has been cast in an undisclosed role. Even though there has not been an official casting announcement nor confirmation that the character is in the film, based on the footage shown at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, it appears that classic Marvel Comics villain Taskmaster will have a part to play in all of the mayhem. 

A supervillain with genius-level intellect, Taskmaster continues the "trust no one" theme that Marvel seems to be going for with Black Widow. There have been times through his publication history in Marvel Comics where Taskmaster has proven to be an anti-hero, working with superheroes against the evil powers that be. 

Black Widow's first trailer arrives

Marvel fans finally got their first look at Black Widow when a teaser trailer for the film dropped in December of 2019. Though the year had seen the triple release of Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, MCU fanatics were probably beginning to get a little anxious about the lack of new footage since the studio's Phase 4 unveiling at San Diego Comic-Con. Running just over two minutes, the teaser was a welcome reprieve from the drought, finally providing some hints as to just how Natasha Romanoff's film would play out. 

The trailer opens with a series of flashbacks briefly summarizing Nat's MCU past before it shifts into all-new territory. We get some of the first glimpses of several new characters, including a scene around a dinner table with Natasha joining her "sis" Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Alexei Shostakov, a.k.a. the Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), whose role remains shrouded in mystery.

Along with this "spy family" quartet, the trailer reveals the anticipated return of Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross, a first look at the intimidating villain Taskmaster in action, and multiple hints that Nat's old partner in crime, Clint Barton, could be gearing up to get in on some of the action.

Of course, it was a matter of seconds before fans began to pick the trailer to shreds. While most were happy with what they found, a few took offense at the way that Red Guardian's weight was portrayed — especially after the outrage leveled at "Fat Thor" in Endgame.

A Thunderous return

William Hurt's Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross has been in the MCU nearly since its inception. He played a crucial role as then-General Ross in the franchise's second film, 2008's The Incredible Hulk, where he relentlessly hunted down Edward Norton's Bruce Banner. From there he became Secretary of State and had a major presence in the events of Captain America: Civil War. That was followed by a brief holographic appearance in Avengers: Infinity War and a cameo in the final moments of Endgame

All things considered, though, the hell-raising politician hasn't really been in the spotlight since Civil War — a fact that looks like it's about to change. While his appearance in the Black Widow trailer is brief, it likely indicates that the military leader-turned-statesman is headed for a collision course with Romanoff. That wouldn't exactly be surprising, considering the latter's betrayal of Team Iron Man in Civil War. Of course, given the obvious digital de-aging on display, we have some questions about how far back in the timeline these scenes take place.

Ross is a welcome presence, as his antagonistic overtones have a wonderful way of keeping everything on edge, even when the true villains aren't in the room. Besides, he still has that connection to Banner... and Abomination. 

A method to Marvel's madness

In an interview with io9, Kevin Feige was asked about the wisdom of going backward in time in order to start Phase 4. After all, it's a phase that clearly is angling to move forward from the heady days of the Infinity Saga. Is spending time dwelling on past events — for a deceased character, no less — really a good idea? 

In response, the Marvel mastermind assured fans, "There's a method to the madness," adding that "...doing things in an unexpected way is something we find fun." Feige's further explained, "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." He went on to reference Better Call Saul as a successful prequel that stands entirely on its own in spite of the fact that it rests in the potent shadow of its predecessor, Breaking Bad

Phase 4 may be starting with a blast from the past, but that doesn't mean the Black Widow movie won't be packed with new tidbits of information that will continue to bear fruit far into the future.

Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow motivations

While there are certainly many reasons behind Scarlett Johansson's decision to lead a Marvel film, there are a couple that stand out as nothing short of obvious. First, there's the actress' commitment to the character. This will be her eighth appearance as Natasha Romanoff (ninth, if you include her mid-credits cameo in Captain Marvel), giving Black Widow one of the lengthiest histories in the MCU. 

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Johansson pointed out that she would have bailed on the character by now if she felt that Nat had "run out of gas," but the momentum just kept on going. Even with that said, though, the actress made it clear that while she wanted to explore the character further, she wasn't initially sure if Marvel would give her the input on the storyline that she wanted. Fortunately, Kevin Feige's vision for her solo film was something that she was able to "incorporate into [her] own," helping her to commit to the prequel.

Will Robert Downey Jr. make an appearance in Black Widow?

From the second Tony Stark sacrificed his life in Avengers: Endgame, the rumor mill began churning about how he could potentially return to satisfy fans who just can't get enough Iron Man. Perhaps he could come from another timeline? Did he upload his persona into the Iron Man armor? Maybe he could play a role on a Disney+ series.

Whatever the future might have in store for Mr. Stark, though, it seems that his first — albeit likely brief — reappearance could take place in Natasha Romanoff's film. That's right — rumors are indicating that Marvel Studios is planning on having a cameo from the Iron Avenger in Black Widow. Before you get too excited, though, most reliable sources are suggesting that this may be little more than another use of old footage. If this is true, it will likely be left over scenes that were shot while filming the all-out superhero brawl that is Civil War

This isn't the first time that Marvel would take advantage of their voluminous stock of excess footage, either. They famously dug up some old clips from Thor: Dark World in order to avoid the need to bring Natalie Portman back to film new scenes for Avengers: Endgame. If they repeat the stunt, Tony Stark's first postmortem cameo could end up being little more than a glorified deleted scene.

A special look at Black Widow

A 90-second special look trailer for Black Widow came out in early January, and it steered heavily into the "reunited spy family" theme. The clip kicks off with Nat telling Yelena Belova that she's on the run. As she talks with her sister-in-espionage, the conversation dwells on Nat's crusade to do good things and rise above being a trained assassin — although her sister reveals her disagreement with the quippy remark, "You're fooling yourself." She follows this up with the line, "We are both still trained killers."

As the trailer progresses, Nat is heard saying "We have unfinished business," to which Yelena asks, "Who's we?" At that point, the trailer picks up speed, immediately shifting to show the Red Guardian and Melina Vostokoff in action. The family vibes are reinforced by Marvel Entertainment's YouTube description, which leads with, "Family. Back together again." The familial focus has even been brought up via a set of character posters for the movie, which when put next to one another, shows the cast in front of Black Widow's iconic hourglass icon.

The final thing worth noting is that this trailer gives us a much better sample of Taskmaster. The talented malefactor shows up in multiple scenes, this time mimicking Nat's own fighting style and even wielding a Captain America-esque shield to boot.

Black Widow's Super Bowl spot

A 30-second spot for Natasha Romanoff's comeback film aired during the 2020 Super Bowl, and despite its short length, it delivered a fresh batch of interesting tidbits for fans to chew on as the months creep by. This time most of the clip was narrated by Nat herself, who points out that the Avengers weren't her first family — which, yeah, they're definitely hitting this whole "the family of my past" storyline hard in the promotional material.

"At some point, we all have to choose," she goes on, "between what the world wants you to be... and who you are." As we hear Scarlett Johansson speak the line, we see glimpses of the spy family together as they hold each other amidst what appears to be battlefield wreckage.

There are also flashes of what appears to be new widows training in the Red Room, numerous explosions, falling debris, and more Taskmaster. The villain is wielding that shield yet again, this time kicking it up from the floor onto his arm in a very familiar manner. While it was short, in many ways the clip seems to succinctly sum up what the film will be focused on: family, facing your past, and a new villain with shiny new powers.

Who has Taskmaster already fought in the MCU before the events of Black Widow?

While Taskmaster's role in Black Widow has continued to become clearer with each piece of promotional material, there's one mystery that has only gotten bigger: who has Taskmaster already fought? The fella's primary power revolves around his "photographic reflexes." In other words, if he can see someone do something, he can replicate the action exactly.

That said, in the trailers that have been released so far, we've seen the masked dude draw a bow and arrow with the air of Clint Barton, flip around like Black Widow, and wield a shield as if he was Cap himself. All of these seem to hint at the fact that Taskmaster has been doing his homework. The question is, has he simply settled down to watch some news footage of the Avengers in action, or has he actually come face to face with them before this point?

The particularly telling moment comes when he kicks his shield up onto his arm in the Super Bowl trailer. While he may have seen Captain America fight on film, that particular move is extremely reminiscent of one scene in particular, and a very private scene at that: the famous elevator fight from Captain America: Winter Soldier. Does Taskmaster have some distant connection that goes that far back into the MCU? While theories are already popping up, only time — and the removal of that skeleton-themed face mask — will really tell.

What kind of MCU cameos might we see in Black Widow?

While the news of RDJ's potential appearance in Black Widow's flick set the internet ablaze, it actually isn't the only rumor of a big-wig cameo that could take place in the film. According to We Got This Covered (whose sources are posts on 4Chan, so absolutely grab a grain of salt) there may actually be as many as four major cameos, although keep in mind that number could be far from accurate.

Of course, every lead up to a Marvel film is filled with rumors that, while often inaccurate, are still worth considering. In this case, if the rumors are true, we could end up seeing Iron Man, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and even Walton Goggins' Sonny Burch. Hawkeye dropping in to visit his ol' friend would be a natural fit for the film, and Nick Fury is everywhere, so those two make sense. But... Sonny Burch?

While he's only played the part of the smarmy, antagonistic bully in Ant-Man and the Wasp thus far, Sonny Burch's role as a crime lord means he could easily see his involvement in the MCU grow over time. The question is, what on earth is going to be the connection that enables him to cross over from the Ant-Man franchise? Again, only time will tell.