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Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in 'Black Widow'. Image Credit: AP

When a young Scarlett Johansson, still in her early 20s, was cast in ‘Iron Man 2’ (2010), the world was a very different place. The pre-MeToo era was a much more forgiving time for unrealistic and unfair portrayals of women and Johansson’s Black Widow was just another woman entering the big boys club that was superhero storytelling and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But fast forward almost a decade to 2019 when the world watched ‘Avengers: Endgame’, the thrilling conclusion to the Infinity Saga, and we finally meet a grown-up and very in-her-element Natasha Romanoff. That she was sacrificed to service the plot is another matter, but here was a character who was put through the wringer and came out on the other side unquestionably a hero.

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Audiences will be treated to some of that evolution and progress in ‘Black Widow’, Johansson’s first solo outing as the fan-favourite Marvel character, out now in UAE cinemas. Image Credit: AP

In an interview with Collider, Johansson said, “You look back at ‘Iron Man 2’ and while it was really fun and had a lot of great moments in it, the character is so sexualised, you know? Really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or a thing or whatever — like a piece of [expletive], really. And Tony even refers to her as something like that at one point. What does he say?”

“‘I want some’. Yeah and at one point calls her a piece of meat and maybe at that time that actually felt like a compliment. You know what I mean? Because my thinking was different. Maybe I even would have, you know, my own self-worth was probably measured against that type of comment or, like a lot of young women, you come into your own and you understand your own self-worth. It’s changing now. Now people, young girls, are getting a much more positive message, but it’s been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side and be a part of that old story, but also progress. Evolve.”

Audiences will be treated to some of that evolution and progress in ‘Black Widow’, Johansson’s first solo outing as the fan-favourite Marvel character, out now in UAE cinemas.

“When you see Natasha in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she’s often this kind of impenetrable force,” says Johansson, according to production notes provided by Marvel Studios. “She’s reckless and out of control but still has this amazing intellect. What are her secrets? Her vulnerabilities? I am excited to share her fragility and her strength. She is in a male world, and she projects a certain way of being in that world. What we wanted to do is find out who is the real Black Widow.”

Here are five things you need to know about the film:

The timeline

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‘Black Widow’ the film actually goes back some time to take a look at the character’s shadowy past and is set before the events of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’.

If you’ve been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know that Black Widow died in the course of ‘Avengers: Endgame’, sacrificing her life to save the world and her friends.

So ‘Black Widow’ the film actually goes back some time to take a look at the character’s shadowy past and is set before the events of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. “The film takes place on the heels of ‘Captain America: Civil War’,” explains co-producer Brian Chapek. “Natasha has broken the Sokovia Accords, betrayed Secretary Ross, and the Avengers find themselves disbanded. In the beginning of the movie, we establish Natasha desperate to evade Ross and leave US soil. When she gets an opportunity to start over again, she quickly realises that there are darker forces out there in the world that compel her to return to the action.”

Natasha’s family

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Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Alexei (David Harbour) and Yelena (Florence Pugh).

Among the discoveries in ‘Black Widow’ is an unconventional family unit dating back to Natasha’s childhood. Joining Johansson are Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz, who make up her dysfunctional family. Director Cate Shortland says: “We knew that humour and the family dynamic were just as important as her facing her past.”

At the start of the movie, audiences are given a touching and heartbreaking look into Natasha’s past with her ‘family’. “I wanted to make something that felt like a documentary,” says Shortland. “I wanted to hear the bugs buzzing — to feel so real that the audience would totally relate to it. It comes as a shock because it’s at the beginning of a Marvel Studios movie. It’s a beautiful look at what this family was and why the girls would be traumatised by losing it.”

Sisters reunited

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Yelena (Florence Pugh) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson).

If you’ve watched the trailers, you know that Johansson’s Natasha and Pugh’s Yelena have a tense reunion in Budapest. Screenwriter Eric Pearson says, “We shot the scene where Natasha and Yelena are reuniting right at the beginning of production,” he says. “Natasha walks through a safe house in Budapest while they speak to each other — they haven’t seen each other yet. As they reveal themselves, they’re perfectly mirrored. As soon as I saw that, I thought, ‘We have a movie.’

“Yelena is the perfect counterpart to Natasha,” Pearson continues. “While Natasha is withdrawn, Yelena has achieved a level of emotional freedom. She’s outgoing, assertive and blunt — it throws Natasha off-kilter and brings out more of her personality.”

“I think Yelena wants someone to apologise,” says actress Pugh. “She wants to stop feeling like she’s insane. This isn’t normal, and she really wants to let everybody know that she did not have a choice in this. The whole of Yelena’s anger, and I suppose her journey, is just trying to get these people that she thought she knew so well to admit that what they did was wrong, and that she was abandoned.

Natasha Romanoff — human first, hero later

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The makers say the film will be a deep dive into what makes the beloved character tick.

The makers say the film will be a deep dive into what makes the beloved character tick. “There’s a burden to deliver on this woman that we know, love and idolise in so many ways,” says Jac Shaeffer, who contributed to the story. “There is such a rich tapestry to draw from and then we expand upon all of it.”

“At the same time, our movie answers a lot of mysteries about Natasha’s past,” adds Chapek. “We’ve seen her character evolve and open herself up to us. We’ve given hints about who she is and what makes her tick. In ‘Avengers: Endgame’ we saw Natasha get to a place in her life where she could make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Now we want to tell the story about who she really is as a human being and what led to her being capable of making that heroic decision.”

The Red Room

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A scene from 'Black Widow'.

The secret spy organisation that transformed Natasha Romanoff into the Black Widow, which was believed to have been destroyed years ago, has returned. The Red Room has been operating from the shadows with an army of ruthlessly effective Black Widow assassins to do its dirty work, and General Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone) commands this super secret organisation.

Natasha holds Dreykov responsible for her tortured past, and wants to put an end to his Red Room operations. But as she closes in on him, General Dreykov summons all of the forces at his disposal to stop the assassin he created.

But he’s not the only adversary waiting in the shadows. Taskmaster is a masked assassin who carries out deadly missions on behalf of the Red Room. Armed with the ability to mimic their enemies’ every move, the calculating and formidable Taskmaster will stop at nothing until they accomplish their mission.

Will Natasha and her found family be ready for the challenge?

Don’t miss it!

‘Black Widow’ is now showing in UAE cinemas.