Black Widow is supposed to be different. It’s not just the 24th film entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also the first and only to be led by Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, a character who has been present in the MCU longer than both Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). As a result, Black Widow occupies a strange space as both another straightforward action blockbuster from Marvel Studios and as a quasi-apology to all the fans out there who have been asking for this movie for the better part of a decade.
To its credit, the studio knows that it’s taken too long to make Black Widow — a fact made all the more clear coming off the character’s underwhelming death in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. It’s for that reason Marvel has adopted an unusual tactic in its marketing and promotion of the film. “This isn’t just another Marvel movie,” the studio has promised, “it’s our chance to honor one of our oldest characters.”
For most of its runtime, Black Widow manages to do just that too. But then… well.
Major spoilers for Black Widow ahead.
Black Widow’s Disappointing Ending
In so many ways, Black Widow is exactly the film it should be, beginning with its stunning 15-minute opening, which sees Marvel finally confronting the full emotional weight of Natasha’s Red Room origins.
The 90-minutes or so that follow continue to investigate and interrogate the character’s complicated relationship with family and violence in a way that’s not only surprising but often genuinely moving, thanks in no small part to the raw and versatile performances given by Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz. Its third act features the same kind of messy and overlong CGI set piece that has plagued nearly every MCU film to date, but the film successfully brings its focus back to its four central characters in the immediate aftermath of the Red Room’s destruction.
The same cannot be said, however, for Black Widow’s final scene, which sees a now blonde-haired Natasha picking up a Quinjet from O-T Fagbenle’s Mason. It’s the same Quinjet that we see Natasha, Steve, and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) riding around in at the start of Avengers: Infinity War, and the scene ends with Natasha taking off to try and bring her second family back together again.
If Black Widow had been released in 2016 or 2017, when it’s actually set, then the scene would have worked as an exciting lead-in to Avengers: Infinity War. But Black Widow is a 2021 film. We already know that she and the Avengers reunite, and if there’s one question that really didn’t need to be answered, it’s how she got a Quinjet while on the run. She’s a superhero, after all; they get these kinds of vehicles because they can.
The scene’s final shot, of a group of fireflies blinking their lights in a tree’s branches, tries to tie it back into Natasha’s character arc, but it ultimately does so in vain. The scene itself marks the point in Black Widow when Marvel shifts its focus away from Natasha as a character and back towards its wider MCU mythos. The scene’s priority isn’t to say goodbye to one of the MCU’s oldest and best characters but to retroactively and unnecessarily connect it to a film that came out three years ago.
It lacks the emotional and thematic power that Scarlett Johansson’s final scene in a Marvel movie should have had. Unfortunately, Black Widow’s post-credits scene doesn’t do much better either.
The Problem with Black Widow’s Post-Credits Scene
The Black Widow post-credits scene does, at first, manage to serve up some of the mournful emotion that was missing from the film’s “ending.” The scene catches up with Pugh’s Yelena (and her new dog) as she pays a visit to her sister’s grave. It’s an emotional and powerful moment, the first time that we’re getting to see Natasha’s gravesite, and it’s sold completely and beautifully by Pugh.
But then there’s an exaggerated sniffle offscreen, and the scene takes a turn for the worse.
The camera goes wide to reveal Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, the snarky and mysterious character who made her debut earlier this year in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. She makes a few sarcastic comments about “paying her respects” and being “allergic to the midwest” before giving Yelena, apparently an employee of hers, an assignment to go kill Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The scene then cuts to black and Black Widow officially comes to an end.
It’s a tonally messy and, frankly, underwhelming scene — a prologue to a Disney+ series most casual viewers don’t even know is coming. Worst of all, it undercuts everything Black Widow tries to do for its titular heroine. It forces us to ask: if this film was all about honoring Natasha's place and legacy within the MCU, then why does it end with two new characters joking in front of her grave before plotting to go kill her best friend?
Marvel’s Troubled History with Black Widow
The problems in Black Widow’s closing scenes aren’t new.
Marvel Studios has a long and established history of undervaluing and selling Natasha Romanoff short — evidenced perfectly by the fact that we’re only now getting her first solo film after her on-screen death. It’s especially disappointing though, given how beloved she is by Marvel fans. That was something made clear once and for all by the widespread and still-lingering feelings of outrage and disbelief associated with her Endgame death.
Coming off of that 2019 film, Marvel needed to make Black Widow the Natasha-centric film that fans had long been denied. It needed to honor her Endgame death far better than that film actually did, which just makes the studio’s decision to end Black Widow as it does that much more baffling. It’s like if a band played an unreleased track as the final encore song of its farewell tour; it’s a song, sure, but how does it celebrate what came before?
The Inverse Verdict — Watching Black Widow’s final two scenes, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that Marvel still doesn’t understand what it had with the Natasha Romanoff character or with Scarlett Johansson’s layered, beguiling performance as her.
The film’s ending sequences don’t work as closing notes for Natasha’s MCU story. They are more like connective tissue — bridging the film to Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Hawkeye Disney+ series. That’s frustrating on several levels, but especially because of the story Black Widow strives to tell in its first two acts — one of family, redemption, and forgiveness in what might very well be the most well-acted MCU entry to date.
It is the one Marvel film that could have stood on its own as a standalone story, but its final two scenes just prove once again that no MCU title can escape the studio’s endless, all-encompassing franchise demands.
Black Widow is in theaters and available to stream on Disney+ Premier Access.