Out of all the deaths in the lead-up to the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame, Natasha Romanoff’s was the hardest to deal with. Not because it was surprising, since there were plenty of surprising deaths in Infinity War, but as her death was in the middle of things, the audience couldn’t mourn her. The team still needed to execute their plan, so the grief had to be pushed aside since they had bigger fish to fry. When we reach the end of the movie, Tony Stark is gone, and his death takes precedence over everything else. I understand that – he was the one who started it all, the first name in the superhero game, played by Robert Downey Jr. with such charisma and depth.
But Natasha Romanoff was the first female Avenger – so doesn’t her character warrant the same measure of respect? Natasha’s death is briefly mentioned in passing with Vision’s in Endgame, when she has been a major character and key player for most of the films since Iron Man 2. She also didn’t get her own movie until after her death, a movie that would resurrect her once more only to kill her again. This is the infuriating thing about doing prequels of dead characters – their fate is set in stone, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Once again, her death is but a footnote in Black Widow, its reference relegated to the post-credits scene, and also at the same time overshadowed by the shady appearance of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina. Many have also noted that the film seems to be laying the groundwork for Yelena’s character more than it is a proper farewell for Natasha.
It’s not that Black Widow isn’t a good movie. We see Romanoff complete her life’s work by taking down the Red Room, and frees the woman she sacrificed for her own means of escape. Antonia is symbolic of Natasha’s past, the assassin she used to be, focused on the mission and the task at hand, her actions governed by those who had power over her. By freeing Antonia and meeting her head-on instead of running away, she frees herself as well. The Natasha we see at the end of Black Widow is more at peace with who she is, ready to go back and do what it takes to reunite her family.
She takes on the man who enslaved her and robbed her of a normal life, allows him to mansplain his way to his own destruction, and liberates all the other black widows in the process. These women, whose bodies and agency have been stripped from them, now get the chance to have autonomy over their own lives, free from a man’s tyranny. She resolves things with her sister Yelena, and as Yelena completes the important work Natasha started, this is the legacy she leaves behind. But it feels so shallow because the buck ends here, since this narrative doesn’t feed into anything except Yelena’s future in the MCU.
If this film takes place after Civil War, why couldn’t it have actually been released in that order? It would have helped drive home her whole character arc even more, since all Romanoff ever wanted to do was to redeem herself and the sins of her past, properly setting the stage for the events of Avengers: Endgame. Also, these black widows, as well as Yelena, Melina and Alexei, all could have appeared in the final fight against Thanos, and it would have been such a great way to honour Natasha’s sacrifice.
Moreover, there is so much of Black Widow’s life and past that isn’t explored. This movie goes into a small snippet of her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D, when this could have been a whole film. We always wanted to know more about the roots of Clint and Natasha’s friendship and what happened in Budapest — I wish the MCU had dived deeper into this. Of course Hawkeye has his own TV series on the way, so this might come into play later on, but I doubt it. Romanoff’s journey has concluded, and this is all that we get.
My conflict with Natasha’s sacrifice has always been tied with lament for the peaceful life she never got to have. There were only brief moments of peace for her: the first is her three years in Ohio with her first family, and the second is the time she spent fighting alongside her second family. But these moments of peace are never sustained, instantly uprooted just as things start to bloom. After things fall apart in Ohio, she is forced to return to the red room, and with the Avengers, there are always conflicts that need resolving. Also, let’s not forget how the possibility of a romance with Bruce is removed from the equation even before it could properly begin.
Tony and Steve were able to lead lives removed from their roles as Avengers, and while Steve got the better deal, living till a ripe old age, this sustained sense of fulfilment always eluded Natasha. Also, the way her death played out perpetuates the idea that she is dispensable, that her loss wouldn’t have as much impact as Clint’s would. Of course we understand that Natasha sacrifices herself so that Clint doesn’t die without being able to atone for his mistakes – she does for him what he once did for her – and that her decision isn’t solely because he has a family, however, it kinda comes off that way.
The sad thing is, after looking at the Avengers as her family, and having given years of her life to the cause, no one even takes the time to mourn her. We see the impact of Iron Man’s passing in Spider-Man: Far From Home, and both Bucky and Sam are clearly mourning Steve in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – we feel very acutely the loss of both men. Even Vision’s death gains more impact because of WandaVision. Since she’s alive in Black Widow, it can’t really do the same thing. So this is my anger with Natasha’s death, that her sacrifice is glorified and viewed as necessary, instead of being a loss we could not even fathom.
Black Widow should have brought me closer to a sense of catharsis and acceptance of her death. Instead, all I felt was more anger, anger that we were given a character arc that is resolved yet so unsatisfying, furious that she was robbed of all the stories she could have had. If this was the plan, then it isn’t a great one. The sad thing is, there aren’t any redos, nor future films for them to turn this around. It is what is is.
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