Marvel's Black Widow was one of the many 2020 summer movies not released in theaters due to Covid-19, but when the solo movie on premieres on November 6, it could be our first look at a new Avengers lineup. New reports confirm what we already assumed: After Black Widow, Florence Pugh (Midsommar) will take the reins from Scarlett Johansson, and that could have huge implications for Avengers 5?
What Happened? — In a new interview with Empire, Black Widow director Cate Shortland confirmed what fans have only theorized about the movie: Black Widow will be Scarlett Johansson's final performance in the role of Natasha Romanoff.
While that seems obvious, considering the character died in Avengers: Endgame, Shortland also dropped another exciting detail. Florence Pugh, who stars in the movie as Yelena Belova, will take over as the new Black Widow, which may include starring roles in future Avengers movies.
"We didn't know how great Florence Pugh would be," Shortland said. "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."
The "Baton" of Black Widow — Aside from the literalness of the metaphor (because Black Widow uses escrima batons in her arsenal), Shortland's quote heavily suggests (if not outright confirms) that Florence Pugh is taking over Johansson's place in the Marvel franchise after Black Widow.
Johansson, who has spent the last ten years portraying Natasha/Black Widow beginning with 2010's Iron Man 2, is joining fellow Avengers castmates in hanging up their masks. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who played Iron Man and Captain America respectively, left the Marvel Cinematic Universe after 2019's Avengers: Endgame.
Anthony Mackie, who has starred as the Falcon since 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, will become the new Captain America in the upcoming Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Chris Hemsworth, who has played Thor since 2011, is expected to bow out as well after 2022's Thor: Love and Thunder; Natalie Portman, who will return to her role of Jane Foster in the movie, may become the next Thor.
Mark Ruffalo, who plays Bruce Banner/Hulk, is still sticking around in a supporting role but may also give up his place pending what else we learn about the Disney+ series, She-Hulk.
Who is Yelena Belova? — In the comics, Yelena is a younger spy/assassin trained in the same Red Room program that created Natasha. She is introduced as a rival/antagonist to Natasha, but the two eventually become allies.
Though Yelena sought to defeat Natasha and assume the role of the new Black Widow, they make peace and Yelena retires to Cuba. But in the controversial 2017 storyline Secret Empire, Natasha is killed by Hydra, encouraging Yelena to return and take over the mantle Black Widow in her predecessor's honor.
The Inverse Analysis — Fans more or less guessed that Black Widow would be Johansson's final appearance in the MCU due to her shocking death in Avengers: Endgame. (The movie will take place a few years prior to Endgame.) When Pugh, in the midst of a spectacular 2019 starring in movies like Midsommar and Little Women, was revealed to be Yelena, it wasn't hard for fans to put two and two together. Because of Yelena's comic book history, it was easy to speculate Pugh taking over for Johansson as the Avenger's resident super-spy.
The only thing left to wonder is what this means for Avengers 5 when it comes to Pugh's Black Widow. At San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, Marvel announced (mostly) all of its movies up to 2021 (with the pandemic pushing that schedule well into 2022) without ever using the word "Avengers."
Without an Avengers 5 on the docket in the next two years at least, it begs the question of what capacity Pugh's Black Widow will have. Will Pugh actually be an Avenger, or will she pop in and out of MCU movies (like Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury?). Yelena's never been a formal member of the Avengers in the comics, but that doesn't mean she couldn't join or even lead the team in a future movie.
Frankly, there isn't anything more fitting for the character of Black Widow than not knowing what she'll do next.
Black Widow is scheduled to be released in theaters on November 6, 2020.