After ‘Avengers: End Game,’ Marvel Studios focuses on personal stories such as tonight’s long-awaited story
The deaths of Marvel Comics characters doesn’t mean you’ve seen the last of them.
In fact, a hero’s or villain’s demise can set the stage for something even more intriguing, especially on the small or big screen.
Consider Vision (Paul Bettany), the heroic android killed in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018). He came back in an entertaining and profound way as a sudden sitcom dad in Disney+’s “WandaVision” series. Or think of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villainous god of mischief from Asgard who died in “Infinity War.” That death didn’t stop him from getting his own series this summer on Disney+ as a time variant.
Now it’s Black Widow’s turn for a resurrection of sorts. Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) sacrificed her life to help save the universe — or at least one-half of all sentient life, not a small feat — in “Avengers: End Game” (2019). That left fans immediately missing her and wanting to see more of Black Widow.
They’ll get their wish tonight.
After a pandemic-caused delay, Marvel’s “Black Widow” is being released in theaters. The film’s first screenings will take place this evening at theaters across the U.S., including the Arlington Theatre and Metro 4 in Santa Barbara, Camino Real in Goleta and Regal Edwards Santa Maria & RPX. And starting Friday, “Black Widow” is available for premium subscribers to Disney+.
To resurrect Natasha, Marvel placed “Black Widow” between “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) and “Avengers: Infinity War,” which proved an easy way to get around Natasha’s untimely death in “End Game.”
Natasha has been portrayed brilliantly since Ms. Johansson first appeared as the character in “Iron Man 2” (2010). Tonight in “Black Widow,” Natasha faces the darker parts of her ledger. It’s a troubled past that Natasha first discussed in “Marvel’s Avengers” (2012), which, in this writer’s opinion, is tied with “End Game” as the best “Avengers” film.
“Black Widow” examines Natasha’s history as a spy and her broken relationships before she became an Avenger. At the same time, in the “present” (again this is between “Civil War” and “End Game”), a force is pursuing Natasha, who has enough problems as a fugitive from justice after “Civil War” and is living in New York City, a favorite location for Marvel movies.
Besides Ms. Johansson, “Black Widow” stars Florence Pugh as Natasha’s sister Yelena, David Harbour as Alexei/The Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz as Melina.
In an interview on Marvel.com, Ms. Pugh explained Yelena is the “annoying little sister” who says what’s on her mind despite the consequences. But she noted Yelena and Natasha develop a unique friendship and help to heal each other.
Ms. Pugh said “Black Widow” is about women getting their life back.
Directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Kevin Feige, the movie is the first one in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Ned Benson wrote the story, and Eric Pearson penned the screenplay.)
Anticipation is high for the film. Fandango reported advance ticket sales for “Black Widow” are exceeding those for any other movie this year.
There’s little doubt “Black Widow” will be this year’s biggest blockbuster.
One reason is Marvel did its homework, developing the character of Natasha carefully from one movie to the next. Marvel, which is owned by Disney, has succeeded artistically and commercially by building continuity.
Marvel lured fans by making each movie a chapter in a bigger story involving powerful, infinity stones and the end of half of all sentient life in the universe. “End Game” was a perfect finale to that storyline. It was epic with all the Marvel heroes working together to save the universe from Thanos (Josh Brolin). And it was personal with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) sacrificing his life to save the universe and Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) getting a second chance at a happy life with Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).
How do you top that? You can’t.
Marvel knows better than to try.
So instead the studio decided to go with personal stories about heroes other than Iron Man or the original Capt. America.
This year, Disney+’s “WandaVision” brilliantly explored Avenger hero Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her transformation into someone even more magical as she created a fictional sitcom world. But she learns that a studio audience’s laughter can’t drown out the reality in which she lost her boyfriend Vision. She tried to recreate him, but ultimately couldn’t bring him back.
Although less entertaining than “WandaVision” (and actually, harder to follow), Disney+’s “Falcon and The Winter Soldier” succeeded in showing the evolution of Sam, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), into the next Captain America and his friendship with the Winter Soldier/“Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan). The series is consistent with Marvel’s 2021 approach to focus more on individual heroes and, in Loki’s case, a complicated villain who might be evolving into a hero.
“Loki” on Disney+ is rivaling “WandaVision” with its imaginative approach to having Loki roam various eras to track down a variant of himself. The series has creative plot twists that leave you guessing about who the real villains and heroes are. Things aren’t as they appear in “Loki.”
“Loki” continues Marvel’s current trend on developing specific characters, which is how the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with the first “Iron Man” movie (2008). The epic storyline began with providing insights into Tony Stark, a hero who rises above his flaws.
Tonight, fans will see if Marvel is equally successful with Black Widow. Go, Natasha!