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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. With the Avengers (as we know them) "ending," Aquaman making a boatload of money, and the upcoming Joker tracking very well, a shift could be coming in the lucrative superhero film business.

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 2020 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.