Black Widow might serve as a prequel installment, but the movie will have heavy implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s future. Set to launch Phase 4’s film slate, the long-awaited solo title centered on Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) can give the original member of the Avengers one last chance in the spotlight before the franchise flips to a new chapter. With Natasha’s death in Avengers: Endgame, Johansson doesn’t have a clear future with the MCU. With that being said, Black Widow still has the power to alter Phase 4 and beyond.
Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow will document Natasha’s journey between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. As she goes on the run alone, Natasha confronts her complicated past while dealing with a dangerous conspiracy. Investigations into her old life reunite Natasha with figures she once considered family. Those faces include Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).
Even though the 24th installment in the MCU is a prequel, the movie will still be integral to the narrative’s future. Based on Black Widow‘s release date shuffling to ensure it debuts as one of the early Phase 4 titles, it seems the movie will be setting up major aspects of forthcoming projects. So what exactly could Black Widow be establishing for the future?
Among the new figures making their MCU debut, Yelena Belova is already emerging as the most significant. The figure is described as a sister-like woman from Natasha’s past who trained with her in the Red Room. More importantly, Shortland claims the movie will feature Natasha passing the Black Widow mantle to Yelena. Technically, Pugh’s character already falls under the “Black Widow” moniker. Still, the movie will pave the way for Yelena to eventually replace Natasha as the MCU’s sole Black Widow in focus.
Following Black Widow, Pugh is expected to reprise her role as Yelena for the upcoming Disney+’s Hawkeye. This would essentially be her first appearance in the primary timelines following Natasha’s death. With Hawkeye set to center on Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and his legacy as the titular hero, Yelena’s presence will surely complicate matters. Rather than form another Hawkeye-Black Widow bond, Yelena will presumably confront Clint regarding Natasha’s demise and why he urged her “sister” to abandon her original family. More than likely, Yelena will gradually fill the void left by Natasha by appearing in future MCU projects. The figure behind Black Widow will surely be different, but the role seems to be here to stay.
Clint isn’t confirmed to appear in Black Widow, but key moments from his past are expected to come into focus. The prequel will supposedly explore what happened to Black Widow and Hawkeye in Budapest. The characters have referenced the location on several occasions, but the MCU has yet to explain Budapest’s significance. With Natasha’s past on full display and confirmed filming in Budapest, the franchise will finally provide answers. Renner doesn’t need to be present for Black Widow to unearth the truth surrounding the Budapest mystery.
By diving into Clint’s past with Natasha, his backstory could be fleshed out ahead of Hawkeye‘s release. Budapest will have another bearing on Clint’s arc, and it could provide viewers with another layer to the original member of the Avengers. Despite his long-term presence, there’s a lot of questions still linked to Renner’s character. A deeper look at some of his biggest secrets could potentially provide more of an understanding into the skilled archer who put his life on the line to restore half of the world’s population.
Aside from Yelena and Clint’s significance, the return of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) could be setting up a key team-up event for the MCU’s future. The character first appeared in The Incredible Hulk before serving as the U.S. Secretary of State in Civil War. The figure also briefly appeared in Infinity War and Endgame. Since Black Widow is set after the events of Civil War, it makes sense Ross would be hunting down Natasha after she violated the Sokovia Accords. Granted, his presence might be meant to put the formation of the Thunderbolts in motion.
The Thunderbolts are a well-known team from Marvel Comics comprised of reformed supervillains. Ross had a history as a member with other notable figures like Helmut Zemo, Hawkeye, and Ghost. Each one of those characters has established arcs in the MCU, insinuating the franchise might by laying the foundation for a Thunderbolts team-up. Interestingly, Yelena also served as a member of the Thunderbolts in the comics, so it’s possible Ross enlists her after forming the team. With the true extent of his presence not entirely known, Ross’ presence in Black Widow could be more significant for Phase 4 and beyond than initially thought.
Natasha survives the events of Black Widow, considering her presence in Infinity War. That said, Taskmaster won’t make her life easy based on the fight sequences featured in the prequel’s trailers. Taskmaster’s role is shrouded in secrecy, but the figure is expected to portray a primary antagonist in the film. The villain is known for mimicking others’ fighting styles and will presumably present techniques previously displayed by characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and the Winter Soldier. The antagonist hasn’t shown up in the films set after Black Widow just yet, but Taskmaster is theorized to return in Moon Knight. If the villain isn’t the main foe in Black Widow, there’s increased plausibility that the character will reappear in Phase 4. Since Taskmaster has a long history as a villain of Moon Knight, the figure has at least one major opportunity to reappear following Black Widow‘s release.
There’s also ample speculation suggesting Taskmaster will become the MCU’s new antihero. The mercenary for hire makes an effort to hide his (or her) identity, but the comic book version was known for fighting for opposing sides. In fact, Taskmaster was once a member of the Thunderbolts. There’s a chance Black Widow will propel the villain into an eventual member of Ross’ future team. Another option would be to portray Taskmaster as a former villain on the path of redemption, giving the figure a chance to pop in from time-to-time as a wildcard antihero. Taskmaster’s future and the next chapters involving Yelena, Clint, and Thunderbolt Ross, will also rely on what Black Widow has in store.