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Yelena Belova's Best And Worst Moments In The MCU So Far

If Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) is setting the standard for what to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward, then the future looks bright. With all due respect to Iron Man, why should Disney spend an ocean of money bringing back Robert Downey Jr. when the new Black Widow is just as funny as Tony Stark? 

Making her first appearance in 2021's "Black Widow," Yelena has gotten a whole lot done without much actual screen time. Between her snappy dialogue, thrilling action sequences, and Pugh's expert balancing of Yelena's wide-eyed and jaded sides, however, Yelena emerges as a character who viewers feel they've known for years. That's not yet true, but it hopefully will be: If the post-credits scene from "Black Widow" indicates that Yelena is forming an alliance of some kind with Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), then we can assume the MCU has plans for Natasha's clever, vest-loving sister extending far into the future. While we await Yelena's doubtlessly bright future, let's run through the best and worst moments of her time in the MCU thus far.

Best: Girls' Night at Kate's apartment

The worst-kept secret of the MCU is that most of its audience isn't actually tuning in for the epic battles, the references to Marvel Comics, or, really, anything related to superheroics at all. Most folks just like watching dynamic characters hanging out and telling each other what they think about stuff that's happening. 

The impromptu meal Yelena shares with Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) after she breaks into the latter woman's apartment in "Hawkeye" Episode 5 is certainly as memorable as any other top-tier MCU convo sesh. At first, Kate assumes Yelena's stopped by to do some murderin', only to discover her one-time assailant has prepared macaroni and cheese. The latest Hawkeye never drops her guard, but does lighten up a bit as the discussion drifts to hot sauce, New York City landmarks (including the "new and improved" Statue of Liberty), the drawbacks of eating reindeer, the fact that Yelena knows where Kate's mom lives, and the highly suspect moral bonafides of Clint Barton. 

It's genuinely riveting stuff, and a testament to both actors' skill. If we're lucky, Disney+ is already planning at least 10 episodes of "Hawkeye and the Black Widow," starring Kate and Yelena. Hopefully, Kate will pick up some more cutlery along the way.

Worst: Oksana's death

We don't get a strong sense of how well-acquainted Yelena is with fellow Black Widow Oksana (Michelle Lee), but Yelena clearly recognizes her and knows her name. We can presume, then, that they're on good enough terms. Furthermore, Yelena does not appear pleased with herself when she realizes she's holding a knife and standing over a fatally stabbed Oksana.  

At the onset of "Black Widow," the Red Room sends Yelena to Morocco to off Oksana, a rogue Widow smuggling an antidote to the diabolical assassination empire's mind-control formula. In her last act, Oksana — who, like other "Black Widow" characters, has an obscure Marvel Comics analogue – sprays Yelena with the anti-brainwashing mist, effectively erasing the Red Room's hold over her thoughts and actions. Newly seated behind the driver's seat of her own head, Yelena crouches over Oksana just in time to hear her say, with her dying breath, "Free the others."

This is, of course, a crucial moment for Yelena: It's her call to action, which leads to everything else we see her do in the MCU. However, when a person gets brainwashed into stabbing someone they know and like, they probably don't consider it one of their better moments. For Yelena's sake, we don't either.

Best: Fighting Natasha to a draw in Budapest

Despite being an action-fantasy franchise based on superhero comics, the MCU isn't really known for its hand-to-hand combat scenes. For better or worse, conflict in the MCU typically takes place between CGI-altered heroes and enemies, often at great range. That's why the marketing for 2021's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" could emphasize the film's multiple martial arts sequences to distinguish it from the MCU pack — it truly stands alone in that arena.

"Black Widow" is an interesting exception to this trend, as it includes all kinds of relatively grounded action scenes. None stand out quite like Yelena's encounter with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), however, shortly following the Avenger's arrival at the Budapest safehouse. As neither one-time sister knows if she can trust the other, their meeting quickly gets violent: Torsos are slammed into walls, Natasha tries to shove Yelena's head in the garbage disposal, and Yelena escapes with a dinner plate-oriented attack followed by a monkey flip. The scuffle closes with a double-choke-out, courtesy of a window curtain.

It's quick, visceral, messy, and very unlike prior MCU action scenes. It also establishes Yelena as someone who can match punches and kicks with one of the MCU's most accomplished fighters. In short, it's awesome.

Worst: The rooftop fight in Hawkeye

In the post-credits scene in "Black Widow," Val approaches Yelena at Natasha's grave and tells her that if she wishes to avenge (pun intended) her sister, the man she wants to snuff out is Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Since Disney+ announced "Hawkeye" well before "Black Widow" premiered, the MCU faithful fully expected Yelena Belova to strike at Clint at some point during the six-episode series. 

While Yelena does indeed attack Clint and Kate Bishop towards the end of "Hawkeye" Episode 4, she does so in a ski mask that covers her entire face. When she exits the scuffle, she pulls off the mask, as if intending to provoke a sense of surprise. But it's not a surprise for anybody who watched "Black Widow" — meaning, a lot of the audience — and neither Kate nor Clint have ever met Yelena before. So why does the show put a mask on her in the first place? Furthermore, why did Pugh get scolded on social media for "spoiling" her own appearance, on a show most of us expected her to appear on? Nothing about this situation adds up.

Best: Her showdown with Clint Barton

The much-ballyhooed MCU return of the Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio) in Episode 6 of Disney+'s "Hawkeye" series inevitably soaked up much fan attention regarding that installment. But while the one-time big bad of Netflix's "Daredevil" beats up Kate Bishop, much higher emotional stakes play out in the ice rink face-off between Yelena and Clint Barton.

Yelena's got Clint on the ropes before he deploys his secret weapon — he knows the whistle Yelena and Natasha communicated with as children, first seen in the '90s flashback in "Black Widow." Clint goes on to recall details of Natasha and Yelena's family escape to Cuba, bolstering his claim that Natasha talked about Yelena frequently and warmly. For a moment, the pair of sympathetic mercenary killers bond over their grief. Then, they peacefully part ways.    

Pugh and Renner act their hearts out in this deeply resonant moment, which stands among the high points of the entire "Hawkeye" series. Since Yelena leaves the show understanding that Clint isn't responsible for Natasha's demise, does that mean Yelena now understands that Val is a big ol' liar? We suppose we'll see.

Worst: Her family's brutal separation

Before the opening credits for "Black Widow" get going, a flashback to suburban Ohio in the mid-'90s introduces us to a temporarily nameless family, who abruptly flee their tranquil domestic existence. As it turns out, this man, woman, and two girls are merely posing as a family in order to conceal a clandestine espionage operation. One of the girls is young Natasha Romanoff, who appears to understand the performative and provisional nature of her American "family." The other, little Yelena Belova, is too young to comprehend what's going on, or her part in it. 

Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), the "mom" of the bunch, catches a bullet during their airborne escape from the authorities. Yelena responds less like a cold, mission-oriented spy and more like a little kid who just saw her mom get shot. Not long after, Yelena is separated by brutally efficient soldiers from what, according to her, might as well be her real parents and sister. The experience of being yanked away from caregivers is uniquely traumatizing to developing minds. Losing her parents and sister — pretend though they may have been — certainly counts as one of Yelena's worst moments.   

Best: Calling Natasha a poser

As might've been inevitable considering its mid-pandemic release and multiple postponements skewing audience expectations, the critical response to "Black Widow" wasn't entirely positive or negative. Another read on the movie is that it's an utterly solid globe-trotting action romp that'll age well, as reflected by its encouraging Rotten Tomatoes audience score. Nevertheless, some folks gripe that Natasha seems to play second banana in her own movie. During her scenes alongside the highly charismatic likes of Yelena and/or Alexei "Red Guardian" Shostakov (David Harbour), it's hard to argue with this stance — they're just too darn likable.

Does the original Black Widow say the funniest line in "Black Widow"? Nope! That achievement belongs to Yelena, who makes fun of Natasha's ridiculously cliché superhero landing pose to tremendous effect. "Why do you always do that thing?" Yelena asks. To demonstrate the "thing" she means, she crouches with one leg extended and one arm raised, mimicking Natasha's signature stance, first seen in 2010's "Iron Man 2." "It's a fighting pose," Yelena observes. "You're a total poser." 

Oddly enough, Natasha does not answer the original question: She deflects, and claims her poses were posed while doing good deeds on behalf of humankind. That may be true, but it doesn't explain the purpose of the pose. Yelena backs her ultra-poised sister into an embarrassed, squirrelly corner, and we love her for it.

Worst: When Natasha discredits their family

Even stacked up against rescuing half of all living things in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame," Natasha Romanoff's decision to leave the Red Room and become an Avenger has a massive impact on the entire MCU timeline. On a more personal level, walking away from the assassin lifestyle gives Natasha a support system and a found family alongside Earth's Mightiest Pals. Yelena, meanwhile, remains in the thrall of the Red Room, and basically becomes who Natasha would have been, if Clint Barton and Nick Fury had never entered the picture.

Natasha can easily dismiss the three years she spent pretending to be a family with Yelena, Alexei, and Melina as nonsense, because she's experienced an authentic sense of belonging and acceptance elsewhere. But Yelena has experienced no such thing. During the impromptu family dinner that unfolds when the former faux-kinfolk reunite at Melina's compound outside Saint Petersburg in "Black Widow," Natasha accurately points out that their family "wasn't real." By doing so, she might as well have kicked Yelena in the teeth. 

"Please don't say that!" Yelena exclaims. "It was real to me!" It becomes clear that Yelena's dark sense of humor and veneer of detachment are both based in quite a lot of deep-seated anguish. She proceeds to spell out her legitimate grievances: "The best part of my life was fake, and none of you told me!" It's an incredible scene, and one of her most painful moments.

Best: Her new vest and its amazing pockets

Before she was the wise-cracking operative we know and love, Yelena Belova traveled all over the world, murdered scores of people, and directly participated in the highest level of global espionage. Due to the Red Room's mind control, she also made essentially zero decisions of her own during that time, which ended with her encounter with Oksana in 2016. So, in one respect, Yelena's been through some of the most extreme circumstances imaginable, and is desensitized beyond the average person's comprehension. In another respect, however, she has a heightened appreciation for mundane experiences — being able to buy and wear whatever outfit she feels like, for instance. 

During a car ride in "Black Widow," Yelena finds a quiet sense of triumph in her new army surplus vest, the first article of clothing she's ever bought for herself. She's especially impressed with its incredible number of pockets, which grant her the ability to carry and conceal all the tools and weaponry she could ever need. With this vest, Yelena harkens back to a Marvel Comics tradition that began in the '90s: Tons and tons and tons of pockets and pouches. '90s icons like Adam-X and Gamesmaster aren't slated to appear in the MCU anytime soon, but at least Yelena is around to represent their generation's insatiable enthusiasm for sartorial storage.

Worst: Ceasing to exist for five years

As of this writing, the MCU has yet to include a scene where any character discusses the experience of returning from the catastrophic cosmic event known as The Snap, in which the mad titan Thanos used the Infinity Stones to erase half of all life in the universe. 

From what we can tell from the final scenes of 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War," individuals randomly selected to stop existing don't feel any pain as they disintegrate. Nobody says "Ow!" or even winces — they simply transform into ashy particles and drift away into nothingness. Meanwhile, the folks we've seen blip back into existence, like Yelena, rematerialize in a state of total obliviousness. They have no idea that anything unusual has occurred whatsoever.

It's nice to know that the sensation of snapping out and blipping back into existence doesn't hurt. But imagine looking down at the sink to wash your hands, only to look back up and find that five years have gone by and your superhero older sister is dead. That's what happens to Yelena in Episode 5 of "Hawkeye," and suffice it to say, it's a very bad moment for her.

Best: Red Guardian sings American Pie

As father figures go, Yelena Belova gets a pretty raw deal. She only has a dad for three years, and it's the Red Guardian, who hands her over to be brainwashed and turned into an assassin before she even knows her times tables. The events of "Black Widow" hardly redeem Alexei: He appears to be extremely proud of the death and misery Natasha and Yelena inflicted during their respective Red Room years. We can surmise, then, that he hardly feels crippled by guilt over his choices. 

So yeah, the Red Guardian isn't a completely fantastic guy. But he's also a guy with layers, who genuinely cares about his former "daughters." He proves this with his attempt to cheer Yelena up after an upsetting dinner table conversation. A tall tale involving an ice fishing expedition and his own father's urine predictably fails to cheer Yelena up in the slightest, but then, the Red Guardian succeeds in his mission of being a good dad by singing Don McLean's "American Pie," Yelena's favorite girlhood song. It's a touching moment ... that is unfortunately cut short when Red Room soldiers swoop in and abduct everyone in the compound. 

Worst: Yelena is a terrible helicopter pilot

The Red Room teaches its trainee Black Widows how to fight, use a sniper rifle, zipline off the sides of buildings, withstand and subvert interrogation techniques, and many other skills necessary to function as part of an effective and clandestine murder squad. Evidently, however, helicopter piloting is not among those skills. 

Midway through "Black Widow," Natasha and Yelena fly to a Siberian prison to rescue Alexei, out of the belief that he knows the Red Room's location. At one point, Natasha jumps off their aerial transport to beat up guards — and Yelena almost mows her faux-sister over with the helicopter's tail. "We're both doing a really good job!" Yelena shouts, shooting Natasha an affirmative thumbs-up for emphasis.

Yelena is lying, of course. Natasha is doing a good job beating unhelpful people up — Yelena is doing a very bad job flying the helicopter. The situation gets even worse when Yelena fires a bazooka at a guard and causes an avalanche in the process. For the presumptive new Black Widow of the MCU, it's not the greatest look. 

Best: Explaining her hysterectomy

Over the years, many things have been said about Natasha referring to herself as a "monster" in connection to her infertility in 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron." Few of those things have been positive. Surprisingly, Yelena manages to reframe this moment in "Black Widow" to hilarious effect. When Alexei rudely asks if it's Yelena's "time of the month," Yelena notes that she does not get a period. "That's what happens when the Red Room gives you an involuntary hysterectomy," she explains. "They kind of just go in, and they rip out all of your reproductive organs. They just get right in there and they chop them all away, everything out."

Yelena lays out this perfectly horrifying event in her life in an utterly deadpan tone. She doesn't skimp on the graphic details either, principally for the sake of grossing out Alexei. Natasha even chimes in to clarify that their ovaries were also removed, lest Alexei think otherwise. It's a perfectly oddball moment of sisterhood, and a unique reclamation of an MCU low point.