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The MCU Has Still Failed Black Widow - Even After Her Solo Film

Warning: This post contains Black Widow spoilers.

The MCU has sadly failed Black Widow - even after her solo film. Marvel originally cast Emily Blunt to play the part of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, but scheduling conflicts meant she was unable to perform the role, and the studio turned instead to Scarlett Johansson. It proved an inspired choice, because over the last 11 years Johansson has become the definitive Black Widow.

Marvel's super-spy has been a constant presence in the MCU, becoming a member of the first incarnation of the Avengers and serving as a supporting hero for both Iron Man and Captain America. Her story came to a close in Avengers: Endgame, when Black Widow sacrificed herself to ensure the Avengers gained access to the Soul Stone and could reverse Thanos' actions, restoring half the living creatures in the entire universe; that's why Black Widow is actually a prequel story, stepping back in time to tell a previously untold tale of why Natasha Romanoff decided not to give up on the Avengers.

Related: Black Widow: All Easter Eggs, MCU Connections & Hidden Details

And yet, for all Black Widow is a major recurring character in the MCU and an iconic member of the Avengers, the sad truth is that the franchise has largely failed her. That's even the case now, after her much-anticipated solo film.

The MCU struggled to pin down Black Widow's character and role, resulting in an inconsistent and uneven portrayal. That is somewhat understandable for Iron Man 2 - where Johansson was brought in pretty late in the day - but Marvel's subsequent writers failed to resolve the problem. That's one reason viewers became so engrossed in solving the mysteries of Black Widow's past; because those subtle hints and nods seemed more interesting than her future direction, which was largely as a sidekick and secondary character to franchise leads. Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly didn't help matters, with a "monsters in love" subplot that was criticized as reducing Black Widow to her reproductive choices.

Still, for all Black Widow lacked definition as a character, demand continued to grow for her to star in her own solo superhero film. Unfortunately, Marvel proved to be in no hurry to meet this demand, likely in large part because of the influence of Marvel's reclusive CEO Ike Perlmutter. Ike was not an advocate for the importance of diversity, insisted female superheroes couldn't sell action figures, and even fought against Black Panther and Captain Marvel. It wasn't until 2015 that Disney forced a corporate restructure at Marvel that redirected the film studio from his influence, with Kevin Feige becoming president of Marvel Studios. The modern Marvel is consequently a very different company from the one that started the MCU, with Feige pushing ahead with female leads and focusing on improving the franchise's diversity. But even Feige doesn't seem to have been able to see how to weave a Black Widow solo movie into the Phase 3 slate, which was building up to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and as a result, Black Widow feels decidedly overdue - a case of "too little, too late."

Black Widow was utterly failed by Avengers: Endgame, with her death scene involving a by-the-numbers fight between Hawkeye and Black Widow over who should be sacrificed for the Soul Stone; this literally marks the third time the two have dueled in the MCU. Its resolution felt entirely arbitrary, with Natasha Romanoff killed purely because the script demanded it, and frustratingly it meant the MCU's most prominent female superhero was missing during the final battle with Thanos - including in the "A-Force" scene that showcased the women. Matters were made worse by Marvel's decision not to show a funeral for Black Widow, instead focusing almost entirely on the death of Tony Stark. Marvel has scrambled to justify this creative decision, initially arguing it was more fitting for a private person like Black Widow to be mourned quietly rather than in a major funeral scene. "Tony gets a funeral. Natasha doesn’t. That’s partly because Tony’s this massive public figure and she’s been a cipher the whole time. It wasn’t necessarily honest to the character to give her a funeral," co-writer Christopher Markus told The New York Times. More recently Marvel insiders have pivoted to saying the grief would be dealt with in her solo film, suggesting even they knew that argument wasn't satisfying.

Related: Black Widow's Hawkeye & Yelena Belova's Future Set Up

Spider-Man: Far From Home made Black Widow's death worse, because the film was set in the immediate aftermath of Avengers: Endgame and saw the world still dealing with its grief over the fallen Avengers. Wherever Spider-Man went he saw murals dedicated to Iron Man, reminding him of his personal loss, but there were no memorials to Black Widow. This is all the more striking when it's remembered that Tony Stark was supposed to have retired during the five years between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, while Natasha Romanoff remained active as a hero - so there should have been just as much a sense of loss over her death as Iron Man's.

Sadly, Black Widow doesn't really solve the pre-existing problems surrounding Natasha's treatment; the film seems overdue, and is overshadowed by Black Widow's ultimate fate in Avengers: Endgame. It can't quite decide whether it's a coda for Natasha Romanoff's story in the MCU or an origin story for Yelena Belova (and Taskmaster), meaning its supposedly central character doesn't quite shine as she deserves to. The problem culminates in Black Widow's post-credits scene, which initially feels poignant and emotional, finally giving viewers a sense of closure as they watch Yelena mourn the death of her big sister. The inscription on the grave is touching; "Daughter, Sister, Avenger." And then the grief is rudely interrupted by the Contessa blowing her nose, handing Yelena a photograph of Hawkeye, and telling her she's been authorized to kill the man the Contessa blames for Black Widow's death.

Marvel essentially gave Black Widow her memorial - and then ruined it. Rather than give viewers time to process their grief, to mourn alongside Yelena, and consider the character whose adventures had come to an end, the post-credits scene seems to tell people to just get over it because there are more stories to come. Marvel would probably have been wiser to do a mid-credits scene featuring the grave, as a coda to the MCU's original Black Widow, and then a subsequent post-credits scene as setup; by combining the two, they damage them both. And so, as good as the film may be in spite of its flaws, Black Widow becomes a symbol of the studio's failure - a final reminder that a character's potential was never truly realized.

More: All 13 Marvel TV Shows Releasing After Black Widow

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