Black Widow one of Scarlett Johansson’s “greatest accomplishments” thus far, the actress will proudly tell you. Twenty-three MCU movies in, nearly half of which feature appearances from her superspy-turned-Avenger, Johansson is toplining her own solo film and doing so as an executive producer, becoming the first original Avenger to earn that distinction on their standalone project.
“In many ways, my greatest accomplishment on this film was being able to executive produce it and carve this out of nothing,” Johansson tells ET’s Nischelle Turner. “We made the movie because we wanted to, not because we had to, which was liberating in a lot of ways. We got to really focus on what we thought was the most important part of Natasha’s story and this is the result.”
Black Widow is Marvel’s version of a character study, an exploration into Natasha Romanoff as an assassin and a spy, a survivor and a murderer, an antihero and Earth’s Mightiest Hero. Over the course of the movie’s runtime, the MCU’s most enigmatic character is deconstructed — examining each piece of the puzzle that is Black Widow — and reassembled anew. “Natasha is really reckoning with the trauma she has faced and she’s been running away from,” Johansson says.
As directed by Cate Shortland, the film never shies away from the titular heroine’s blood-soaked past. Early in the film, fellow Widow Yelena (Florence Pugh) tells Natasha, “We’re still killers. You’re just a killer that little girls look up to as a hero.” Natasha has always been a character that exists in the gray area, so her film must be willing to go there as it delves into her ledger full of red.
“She’s been a part of a large organization for her entire life, and I think that there’s a lot of gray in that,” Johansson says. “You’re working towards a greater goal — for better or worse — and it’s not driven by any personal desire. We’ve alluded to that — I mean, that was Thanos’ big argument, right? — and the Marvel universe has played with that idea a lot.”
“In Ultron, [it was] how many casualties for a greater good is acceptable? And Cap has always said zero. It’s been a big debate, that’s what Civil War was about,” she explains. “It’s a gray area that she had no active choice in but has felt so guilty about, and [she’s] not understood or been able to really deal with the trauma that she’s experienced because of that. And it’s Yelena who allows her to — even, like, forces her to — reflect on that, so she can move past it.”
Lest that all sound too high-brow, Black Widow is also a globetrotting spy thriller that sees Natasha — on the run after the events of Captain America: Civil War — teaming up with her “sister,” Yelena, to stop a new comic book baddie. De rigueur in the MCU, there are plenty of huge set pieces and winky one-liners and David Harbour stuffed into a red spandex suit as Russia’s answer to Captain America.
Since Natasha is dead in the present-tense timeline of the MCU — having scarified herself in Avengers: Endgame — this film is at once a prequel, an origin story and swan song for its star. Johansson shot the film in 2019 — it was initially slated to be released last year — and so has had an unforeseen amount of time to reflect on the end of her Marvel tenure.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think and be self-reflective and honestly, we had such a wonderful experience making this film,” Johansson has concluded. “It was made with so much love, and I feel really good about it. Yeah, I’m verklempt too. I have bittersweet feelings about it. It aches a little in my heart, but I also love this movie so much and I love this character so much and I feel like it’s OK to set it free. It’s ending on a high note, and I feel really positive about it.”
Black Widow is in theaters and available on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9.
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