In the movie world we’re used to sequels — “Fast & Furious” is up to 12. And occasionally we see prequels, a story that takes places before another movie, like “X-Men: First Class.” And what about all those “Star Wars” episodes — weren’t they out of proper order?
Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige calls his new superhero blockbuster “Black Widow” a prequel, comparing the film to the television series “Better Call Saul,” which is a prequel to the series “Breaking Bad.” He says it was “a wonderful example of a prequel that almost completely stands on its own ... but it informs you about so many things you didn’t know about before.”
But fact is, “Black Widow” is not really a prequel — it’s an in-betweener.
This movie’s storyline actually fits between two other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Following the events of “Civil War” (2016), Black Widow finds herself on the run while dealing with a dangerous conspiracy that’s tied to her past as a trained Russian assassin. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, she must face her personal history as a spy before she became an Avenger.
As all fanboys know, Black Widow (aka Natalia Alianovna Romanova, aka Natasha Romanoff) is a Marvel Comics character created in 1964 by Stan Lee, Don Rico and Don Heck.
Romanoff was introduced as an antagonist to Iron Man. A Russian spy, she was trained in the infamous Red Room from childhood. She later defected to the United States, where she joined the counter-terrorism agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and became a key member of the Avengers.
Originally a non-costumed character, Black Widow got a makeover in 1970 with the “Amazing Spider-Man” #86 comic book, emerging with shoulder-length red hair, a skintight black costume and wristbands that fired spider threads. She has an arsenal of high-tech weaponry. Enhanced by biotechnology, her body is resistant to aging and disease and heals above the human rate.
When I was publisher of Marvel Comics, we used her in “Journey Into Mystery” #517-519 (February to April 1998). The following year she appeared in the Marvel Knights series that I had launched as a place for self-contained limited series like Black Panther, Daredevil and Punisher. It was a good platform for launching movies.
Black Widow has been portrayed in the Marvel movies by Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation,” “Marriage Story”). This makes her eighth MCU film, a run that started with “Iron Man 2” in 2010.
Not sure whether Johansson would extend her contract, Marvel has hedged its bets by introducing Florence Pugh (“Little Women”) as a sister-figure to Romanoff who is handed the Black Widow baton in the new movie.
David Harbor (TV’s “Stranger Things”) appears as the Russian counterpart to Captain America.
And Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz (“The Constant Gardner,” “The Bourne Legacy”) takes on the role of Melina Vostokoff, another version of a Russian-trained Black Widow. She seems to be the superhero character known as Iron Maiden.
Toss in another Academy Award winner (William Hurt) and a Marvel regular (Ray Winstone) and you have the makings of another Marvel billion-dollar blockbuster.
The film is directed by Cate Shortland (“Berlin Syndrome”), one of the 65 female filmmakers interviewed by Marvel Studio for the project. These days in the woke world of Hollywood, female directors do movies about female protagonists.
The filming of “Black Widow” officially wrapped in October 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed the opening until now. This week you can find it in theaters and simultaneously on Disney+ with Premier Access.
Fans worry that Black Widow was killed off in the previous Avengers film and that this standalone movie may be her last appearance in the form of Johansson. My friend Eric Kohn at IndieWire said, “If this is the last time we get to see Johansson mete out justice to her assailants with gymnastic velocity, it’s an apt send-off.”
True. But in comic books, nobody ever stays dead. And if a movie’s box office is big enough, an actress never says no to a return.