After over a year of delays, Black Widow is finally premiering simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ on July 9. Those ready to dive back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the big screen (or the small screen via Disney+) may need a refresher on where the character of Natasha Romanoff (aka Scarlett Johansson, aka Black Widow) is headed — especially in light of her fate in Avengers: Endgame, and how the Black Widow standalone movie fits into the canon.
Read on to learn what you need to know before watching the upcoming MCU film. Warning: There are spoilers below for certain events that happened in other parts of the MCU franchise, in case you're waaaaay behind on your MCU lore.
How to watch
On July 9, there will be two ways folks can watch Black Widow. The first is the old-fashioned, pre-pandemic way: buy a ticket and watch it in a movie theater.
For those not ready to spend over two hours indoors with strangers, however, there’s an at-home option as well. Those with a subscription to Disney+ can access the movie via the streaming platform’s “Premier Access” option. That option comes with a $29.99 price tag on top of the monthly subscription fee for Disney+. If Disney+ follows the timing of its other releases, Black Widow will become available at 12 a.m. PT / 3 a.m. ET on July 9.
Who’s behind Black Widow?
Johansson has been playing Natasha Romanoff in the MCU since 2010’s Iron Man 2. It took about a decade for her to get her own movie, but Johansson has said that the long wait allowed Natasha time to become a deeper, more complex character.
“I think Natasha has a lot of compassion and that’s not necessarily what I would have anticipated when we were filming Iron Man 2 or Avengers or whatever,” Johansson said recently in an interview with Collider. “You’ve seen glimpses of it and it’s developed over time, as we’ve been able to bring the character to the forefront in different installments, but she’s a very compassionate person and that passion is actually what drives a lot of her decision making. I mean, she’s also practical and pragmatic and I don’t think those two things have to necessarily work against each other. That part of her is what really touches me.”
Natasha’s story in Black Widow was was scripted by Eric Pearson, from a story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson. Schaeffer’s work is already known to MCU fans, as she was the creator of the Marvel Disney+ series WandaVision. The film is directed by Cate Shortland — her first foray into the MCU after having helmed the feature films Somersault, Lore, and Berlin Syndrome.
When does Black Widow take place within the MCU timeline?
Casual MCU watchers who have seen Avengers: Endgame may be a bit confused that there’s a Black Widow movie to begin with, as Johansson’s character dies in that film. There’s no multiverse or “other timeline” action going on here though, as the film takes place before the events of Endgame.
So when before Endgame does Black Widow unspool? Immediately after another MCU movie, Captain America: Civil War. In Civil War, we last see Natasha talking with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) after War Machine (Don Cheadle) is seriously hurt. In this scene, Tony is furious with Natasha — in the superheroes vs. superheroes airport battle scene, she turned against Tony’s mission and lets Steve Rogers (aka Captain America, aka Chris Evans) get away. Tony tells her she better run. And she does.
Turns out, Natasha ran toward her past. From the trailer, we know that she interacts with several people from when she was part of the Red Room, Russia’s secret program that turns girls into ruthless assassins.
Who is Natasha hanging out with?
One person she fights and eventually teams up with is Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), another Red Room graduate who, according to critics, is phenomenal in the upcoming movie. In the comics, Yelena also took on the Black Widow moniker and was a foe-then-friend of Natasha’s.
It also seems that Pugh’s character will stick around the MCU after Black Widow. “We didn’t know how great Florence Pugh would be,” Shortland said in an interview last year. “We knew she would be great, but we didn’t know how great. Scarlett is so gracious, like, ‘Oh, I’m handing her the baton.’ So it’s going to propel another female storyline.”
Natasha also runs into Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), an older graduate of the Red Room who knew Natasha and Yelena when they were children.
In Black Widow, Natasha also has a reunion with the Red Guardian (aka Alexei Shostakov, aka David Harbour). The Red Guardian is basically the Soviet equivalent of Captain America. In the comics, he was the husband of Natasha. Based on the recent trailer for the MCU movie, however, he seems more of a father figure to Natasha and Yelena.
Who is she fighting?
The big bad that Natasha must face is the deadly and mysterious Taskmaster. Marvel is keeping the actor who plays this role under wraps until the premiere, so we don’t know too much about them other than their fighting skills are more than impressive.
In the comics, Taskmaster is a mercenary who has fought against Captain America, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man. We know from the recent trailer that the supervillain has been sent to hunt down Natasha and “bring her home.” How that all shakes out remains a mystery, though we only have to wait a few more days to find out.
Black Widow will premiere in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on July 9.