Four Ways Black Widow Points To the Future of Marvel's Phase Four

The latest MCU entry is a look back at the recent past, but it still has big implications for the franchise's future. Here's what we think can -- or will -- happen.

by | July 12, 2021 | Comments

Marvel Studios’ “phase” concept is a curious thing. Originally designed as a loose grouping of films between Avengers installments, the notion of a block of individual stories working cohesively toward an endpoint (or is it an endgame?) generated a lot of excitement. The idea, of course, comes from the comic books, where various titles often work together to build up to an event storyline. In film, though, it was unprecedented, and now that Marvel has proven it works, Black Widow stands at the first Phase Four film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Although, it doesn’t really feel that way for most of the movie.

Set before Avengers: Infinity War, the film feels more like the missing piece of Phase Three — a story offering deeper meaning to Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) choices in Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. In that context, Black Widow is a worthy addition to the overall Marvel story, but it seems to lack the hooks one might expect from a film opening a new MCU phase. Granted, the same can be said for Iron Man 3, which kicked off Phase Two.

Black Widow, ultimately, has a more important story objective in showcasing Natasha one last time and deepening her as a character. But even within that, there are a few nods (both subtle and direct) to Phase Four and suggestions of where the MCU story can go buried within its runtime. Join us as we take a look at a few of them.

[This article contains SPOILERS for Black Widow.]

Mining the Past for New Stories

Rachel Weisz, Scarlett Johansson, and Florence Pugh in Black Widow

(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Black Widow joins Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel as a select group of Marvel Studios movies purposefully set in the past — even if that past is just six or seven years prior to the MCU’s present day. It reflects a seeming desire within the studio to utilize past eras more often to establish character beats, flesh out plot details, or set stories in, say, 1963 just because it makes more sense.

Not that we expect Fantastic Four to take place in the ’60s, but having a number of Marvel films serve as prequels to the current narrative while also acting as origin stories has a certain appeal. It  would be one way to re-introduce the X-Men in a proper 1980s setting, for example. But beyond the more grandiose way a prequel can be used to further the MCU, it also opens up the possibility for Black Widow as a continuing film series: more stories of Natasha in the past.

Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner in Avengers: Endgame

(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Consider, for a moment, a Black Widow 2 set in the five-year gap between Thanos’s (Josh Brolin) death and Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) return from the Quantum Realm. Would Natasha be as weary as she seems in Endgame? Why would she feel that way if she reestablished ties with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and Alexi Shostakov (David Harbour). Did they get Blipped? Or did another falling out occur, leaving her to run the Avengers with occasional in-person visits from Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)? Alternatively, a sequel could see Nat and Yelena teaming up for another quip-filled adventure as the Red Room still needs further dismantling.

Also, we’ll point out here that another objective of Black Widow was to establish Yelena as a major Marvel player going forward, so we expect any Black Widow sequel would feature her. That said, a Marvel more comfortable with prequels could go back to the Budapest operation (even if we got the gist of what transpired in Black Widow) or even focus on a story in which Natasha is the villain during her time as a Red Room agent. More prequels mean more possibilities while still maintaining the deaths and actions of certain characters — a feat even the comics can’t pull off!

Implications for the Hawkeye Disney+ Series

Florence Pugh on poster for Black Widow

(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

But speaking of Yelena, the film’s most direct nod to Phase Four comes during the film’s post-credit stinger, when the former Black Widow accepts a mission to hunt down Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), a thread that will be picked up in the upcoming Hawkeye television series. Shot in late 2020 and early 2021, the Disney+ series will see Clint training — or assisting — Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), a new Hawkeye with issues all her own. Also, we’re pretty sure they’re going to run afoul of tracksuit-loving mobsters and adopt an adorable golden retriever with a love of pizza.

The project was one of Marvel Studios’ worst kept secrets, with its existence long-rumored and Steinfeld’s part in it leaking a year before the studio made the news official — and even then, photos of the actor in costume appeared on the internet a good week before studio president Kevin Feige finally confirmed her participation at the December 2020 Disney Investor’s Day presentation. Another rumor about the show indicated Pugh would be making her first post-Black Widow appearance in the series. Then, in December of 2020, it was reported that Pugh officially joined the cast of the series alongside a handful of others. Just a couple of days ago, in an interview with Variety specifically about the post-credits stinger at the end of Black Widow, director Cate Shortland and Pugh essentially confirmed what everyone suspected when Pugh confessed that she “didn’t ever really imagine that [her role in the MCU] would continue quite so quickly.”

It’s worth noting, though, that as Black Widow was originally slated for release last year, the Hawkeye reference sets up something well into the Disney+ slate. It sidesteps the initially announced programs in favor of what will be Marvel Studio’s sixth television program, although there is a nod to another TV show we’ll talk about in a moment. As it stands now, Hawkeye will debut less than year after Black Widow, which means Yelena will be fresher in viewer’s minds when she inevitably beats the living daylights out of Clint.

The Contessa As Phase Four’s Fury

Florence Pugh and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Photo by ©Walt Disney Company)

Of course, the stinger also features an appearance by Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). According to Feige, she was always meant to debut in Black Widow, with the stinger serving as a forward link to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But since her debut ended up occurring in that series, the Contessa’s appearance here has a slightly different effect — it amplifies, rather than establishes, the notion that she’s serving as Phase Four’s answer to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

As we theorized after TFaTWS‘s finale, the Contessa is collecting a team of her own. From her conversation with Yelena, we can gather that Yelena already works for her by the time she learns of Natasha’s death on Vormir. But just what is the Contessa’s aim in building her own Avengers?

The character’s comic book history offer some clues, as the character evolved into the most adept rogue agent ever trained. In her lifetime as a comic book character, she has betrayed S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and seemingly Leviathan, although she could still be loyal to that group. So far in the MCU, the Contessa’s subordinates include an ex-Russian spy and a failed Captain America. That doesn’t feel like an accident, despite whatever promise of glory and country she feeds to John Walker (Wyatt Russell).

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Photo by ©Walt Disney Company)

Is it possible she runs the current incarnation of the MCU’s Leviathan, the Soviet scientific research and espionage agency we mentioned in our round-up of Five Things to Remember Before You See Black Widow? Like Hydra, it was built to survive, and she could easily be its director.

Then again, she could be working with Fury. The two have a long history in the comics, and she could be collecting Phase Four characters on his behalf. The motive: a further defense against whatever foe is up in space that Fury is planning for with the Skrulls (as glimpsed in the Far From Home post-post-credits stinger). But that all depends on whether or not the Contessa is in any way altruistic.

Lastly, there is always the possibility that she herself is a Skrull and furthering an agenda to be revealed in Secret Invasion — another Phase Four Disney+ series due next year.

No matter the true answer, it is interesting to see a character assembling a new team for a shadowy purpose.

Taskmaster As A Continuing Threat


(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Marvel Studios)

We admit this one may be built on a flimsy premise — Marvel seemingly cast Olga Kurylenko for a two-line role in Black Widow. But a face as familiar as hers suggests to us that we will see Taskmaster again. For one thing, she’s a great hand-to-hand foe. Imagine Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) or Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) facing an opponent who knows their every move. Try to think of the quip Clint will deliver after she squarely trounces him.

But beyond the physical threat she poses to just about everyone, there is also a further story to tell about her. As opposed to her comic book counter, who is often just a mercenary, Antonia’s story is one of trauma and the horrible realization that her own father put her in this situation. How will she come to terms with that? Will her freedom from mind control and apparent turn away from evil at the end of Black Widow actually stick, or will her anger lead her down the villain’s path? If the latter, will she be clever enough to organize some of the villains herself, or will she fall in with someone like Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl)?

Taskmaster in Black Widow

(Photo by Adrienn Szabo/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Come to think of it, one of the few things Marvel Studios has yet to attempt is a villain team-up. Is it time for the Masters of Evil? Granted, they’ll need a slight rebranding as that name hardly suits Zemo’s style or politics.

Marvel could also utilize Taskmaster as a recurring villain, which the franchise has done on occasion (not counting big bads like Thanos or Loki). Antagonists generally die or get completely de-fanged by the end of a Marvel movie, and one of comic book Taskmaster’s great strengths is his resiliency. Antonia could prove more successful at the recurring villain role than Crossbones (Frank Grillo) or Batroc (Georges St-Pierre). Also, as Taskmaster fights everyone in the comics, Antonia could appear in anything from an Eternals sequel to the Moon Knight series to Blade.

Black Widow is in theaters and streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access now.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Spike women Disney Channel name the review NBA Logo transformers unscripted SDCC Tubi Comics on TV The Walt Disney Company Shudder vampires cancelled TV shows Elton John DC streaming service a nightmare on elm street dceu Broadway Awards Oscars Tarantino renewed TV shows Turner Classic Movies dc Hear Us Out TIFF twilight golden globe awards superhero Kids & Family Academy Awards rt labs critics edition razzies remakes telelvision Teen TCA Winter 2020 game of thrones E3 comic book movies space cartoon Adult Swim Grammys adventure YouTube worst Food Network Valentine's Day facebook Animation jurassic park Rocketman biography VICE Paramount Network Binge Guide laika Reality CMT Starz slasher adenture award winner Fox Searchlight CBS Comic-Con@Home 2021 worst movies harry potter binge Pacific Islander LGBT Netflix Christmas movies black YouTube Red Musicals ABC Signature Infographic Film Festival FOX child's play kaiju crossover DirecTV 93rd Oscars ITV dexter feel good cancelled television 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards free movies Lionsgate cars animated stop motion Lifetime Red Carpet 2015 Sony Pictures blockbusters war critic resources HBO Max werewolf 20th Century Fox TruTV book adaptation supernatural Baby Yoda cooking Interview zombies BET Awards deadpool Western Wes Anderson science fiction Year in Review 2018 travel Podcast archives ABC Family Fox News Fall TV ratings Star Wars screenings obituary President Reality Competition saw jamie lee curtis APB new zealand rotten movies we love Tumblr TCM Holiday Women's History Month sequels Mary Poppins Returns TLC Mary poppins Apple TV+ latino quibi Holidays Ellie Kemper Musical SundanceTV Country Emmy Nominations superman San Diego Comic-Con golden globes DC Comics The Witch Discovery Channel Super Bowl USA Network TV Land Countdown VH1 halloween Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Election Hulu franchise discovery composers Stephen King American Society of Cinematographers psychological thriller documentary indie NBC 71st Emmy Awards boxing cults Polls and Games Best and Worst Rom-Com Watching Series Brie Larson hist young adult diversity finale news know your critic National Geographic Anna Paquin Chernobyl Avengers Mudbound aapi mission: impossible RT History anthology pirates of the caribbean Showtime A24 based on movie GLAAD television video on demand Ghostbusters Sundance TV high school TCA Awards hollywood stand-up comedy HBO Go popular Bravo LGBTQ streaming football festivals thriller 2021 Spring TV toronto Writers Guild of America cinemax See It Skip It Family Columbia Pictures kong PBS Video Games TV One 2020 criterion GoT versus NYCC Vudu movie heist movie Tomatazos movies cancelled trailers Disney Plus Crunchyroll revenge 99% anime hispanic heritage month posters Emmys classics joker nbcuniversal rotten what to watch SXSW Amazon Prime FX on Hulu History IFC FXX theme song documentaries king kong Star Trek Apple Masterpiece Song of Ice and Fire MCU olympics rt archives RT21 basketball Schedule Rocky 24 frames best christmas movies blockbuster dragons target doctor who Warner Bros. marvel comics kids DC Universe stoner miniseries 1990s Hallmark GIFs halloween tv WarnerMedia First Look Awards Tour Sundance New York Comic Con psycho Esquire E! Britbox romantic comedy reviews comic book movie crime thriller Peacock zero dark thirty Marvel Pop TV japan TNT satire royal family comic books mutant Cosplay TV Endgame historical drama festival PaleyFest cancelled TV series natural history WGN Arrowverse Creative Arts Emmys prank Calendar Film venice 72 Emmy Awards canceled TV shows nature docudrama FX Heroines Pop politics breaking bad ID BBC America Character Guide YouTube Premium Amazon Prime Video Image Comics james bond X-Men Marvel Studios MSNBC french fast and furious scorecard medical drama Pet Sematary cats 2017 tv talk 73rd Emmy Awards hidden camera italian police drama A&E Superheroes Crackle dark batman CW Seed rom-coms series Sneak Peek aliens Comedy Nickelodeon social media Captain marvel Freeform nfl Black Mirror fresh Amazon screen actors guild Paramount Turner monster movies action-comedy reboot casting TCA spy thriller Marvel Television VOD spain comiccon BET DGA TV renewals cops spinoff Disney+ Disney Plus south america crime Set visit OWN comics singing competition Cartoon Network emmy awards indiana jones godzilla The Arrangement Spectrum Originals OneApp The Purge asian-american MTV Sundance Now Universal Trivia 007 IFC Films crime drama independent strong female leads Ovation Lucasfilm concert 4/20 BBC marvel cinematic universe Travel Channel TBS Comedy Central Shondaland Television Critics Association witnail spanish language die hard The Academy new york chucky YA Exclusive Video Comic Book period drama Thanksgiving slashers Extras Black History Month 45 BBC One ViacomCBS Dark Horse Comics talk show Netflix Paramount Plus Disney streaming service video mockumentary Apple TV Plus Disney Winter TV biopic comedies 2016 El Rey USA richard e. Grant sitcom scary movies Lifetime Christmas movies Pixar 2019 Rock 21st Century Fox book Hallmark Christmas movies Tokyo Olympics CNN wonder woman spanish Walt Disney Pictures comic Music Nat Geo robots Quiz Horror legend The Walking Dead game show live action Certified Fresh gangster spider-man Action disaster ESPN green book Syfy TCA 2017 Sci-Fi serial killer The CW PlayStation mcc Christmas Martial Arts Mary Tyler Moore foreign elevated horror Alien Pride Month Marathons Opinion Cannes king arthur Winners films Box Office debate HBO zombie Superheroe teaser Television Academy ghosts all-time Trophy Talk First Reviews sag awards dramedy Trailer 90s japanese canceled docuseries blaxploitation Legendary romance streaming movies universal monsters Summer sports technology scene in color Biopics lord of the rings directors ABC sequel children's TV Fantasy true crime Mystery CBS All Access Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Premiere Dates australia hispanic Classic Film Acorn TV justice league Pirates toy story dogs Mindy Kaling international Nominations Amazon Studios Drama adaptation Photos Funimation suspense Epix parents Toys BAFTA new star wars movies rt labs boxoffice critics TV movies political drama AMC