In the wake of a crushing defeat at Thanos' Infinity Stone-clad hands, the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will face their greatest challenge yet in Avengers: Endgame. But, who is the greatest hero in the MCU? Over the next couple weeks, SYFY WIRE will be debating who deserves the title of The Most Important Avenger. Our next contender is Black Widow, the Avengers’ resident master assassin.
Natalia Alianovna Romanoff has served as the Avengers' connective tissue since 2010's Iron Man 2. Other than Tony Stark's Iron Man and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (who got a recast after his outing in 2008's The Incredible Hulk), Natasha Romanoff's Black Widow is the longest-serving member of the MCU, beating out Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and, of course, the other non-original members. Whether she has their love or respect, there's no doubt that Natasha Romanoff, long played by Scarlett Johansson, is the most important Avenger.
Nat's story in the MCU begins, chronologically, as a tragic fairy tale. She was raised as a child in the Red Room and went on to be a KGB agent where she wracked up a damning body count. By all accounts, Nat's story is one of ultimate redemption.
Tony Stark's Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) may have undergone great personal growth, but he's so outlandishly over the top and charming that his relatability is moot — Tony is meant to be entertaining and heartbreaking, not relatable. Neither is Steve Rogers' Captain America (Chris Evans), who's so admirably steadfast in his beliefs that he verges on inhuman. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) comes closest to being relatable in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of way, but audiences haven't really experienced enough of his story outside a larger team setting to find a foothold. Clint Barton's Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) follows suit in that he's never had the chance to develop in the MCU.
And, most importantly, whereas her fellow Avengers are defined by their successes, Natasha has long been defined by her mistakes — at least in her own mind. There's nothing more painfully human than that. Yes, she's a master assassin and an Avenger, but Nat's constant back and forth with her own psyche as she questions where she belongs in the world is all too relatable.
Black Widow is the most important Avenger because of how easy it is for audiences to find themselves in her. Especially female audience members, considering that Nat was the only female Avenger for years until she was joined by Wanda Maximoff's Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), the very movie that undid so much of Nat's development. Still, two women on a team are slim pickings, especially when neither of those women has been the subjects of their own films. That's a lot of pressure to put on your female characters and, for what it's worth, Natasha has been a steadfast and relatable presence in the MCU for nine years.
In The Avengers (2012), Nat may be using her tragic background and the red in her ledger to manipulate Loki's plan from his bag-of-cats brain, but it's all still very real. Natasha feels that she owes debts to society, to her friends, to herself. The most harmful storyline the MCU has ever portrayed — that Natasha believes herself to be a monster because she was sterilized in the Red Room (thanks for that one, Joss Whedon) — set Nat back several steps after a period of enormous personal growth and character development in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). When she takes three steps forward, she also takes two (sometimes three) back.
That rocky path has led her to the final two Avengers films in the Infinity Saga. As of Avengers: Infinity War, Nat seems to have taken up a leadership role of sorts alongside Cap. She’s the first to chastise Wanda and Vision about having stayed off the radar for too long in Scotland and a continuously calm presence all the way up to the Snap. Her leadership role seems to be continuing into Avengers: Endgame, and while she's expected to make it out alive, there's no telling where this narrative will take Natasha and those who find themselves in her story.