Black Widow is a 2010 film released in the Earth-11584 continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Released on August 6, 2010, it features the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, who was first featured in Iron Man 2. It also marks the first onscreen appearance of Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye. The film was directed by Doug Liman and is the 4th film in Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite being released to generally favorable reviews, the film had the lowest gross of any film in the MCU to date, making only just over $250 million at the global box office.
Unlike many of the other heroes in Phase 1, the rights to the Black Widow and SHIELD remained with Marvel during the formation of Marvel Studios. When Phase 1 of the MCU was announced in 2007, Black Widow was left off the release schedule along with Iron Man 2, instead referred to as "untitled Marvel films". Speculation was rampant that this film would instead be one about the hero Ant-Man, which had been in development with director Edgar Wright for several years. However, it was eventually confirmed to be a film about Black Widow and SHIELD, setting some of the backstory for the larger MCU. Scarlett Johansson was attached to star in this film, when the decision was made to add her to the Iron Man 2 film to introduce her character, and use this film as an origin story. Director Doug Liman was hired shortly after the announcement of Phase 1, based largely on his work with Mr. & Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity.
Liman decided to include Hawkeye into the film to give the film an audience avatar, casting Jeremy Renner in the everyman type role. NCIS actress Cote de Pablo was also added, playing Mockingbird. Liman decided to use Taskmaster as the villain, forgoing the character's origins as an agent of the KGB despite the film being set in the 90s primarily for that reason. Titus Welliver was quickly hired to play the master criminal. Filming began in September of 2009, and wrapped in late November of that same year.
Opening in a flashback to the early nineties, where remnants of the Soviet KGB are running a training camp for mercenaries called the Red Room. 14-year old Natasha Romanoff is the prized star of the class, showing cold calculating effect in carrying out her duties. Yet, when she is called upon to kill, she briefly hesitates and asks why. Her instructor scolds her, saying that the why is never important. A year later, at her graduation, Romanoff kills without hesitation. She is told that she has been auctioned off to a new client, someone only going by the name, Taskmaster.
Cut to 1999, where Army Rangers Clint Barton and Barbara Morse are being court-martialed for failure to follow orders. Though their actions saved the lives of several men and women, it also cost them the mission of the man they were hunting. Before they can be found guilty and sentenced to Leavenworth, the judge in the case is handed a note from someone else. He declares the case dismissed and informs the two they've been reassigned. Upon leaving the courtroom, they run into SHIELD Agent Nick Fury, who informs them both that they can use people of their particular talents.
Elsewhere, Widow is continuing her work for Taskmaster, currently undermining duly elected governments. She engages in a fight with members of the Argentinian military as he infiltrates the Presidential palace to assassinate the newly Democratically elected leader of the country. Upon reaching the President and his family, she quickly kills him with his wife as collateral damage. Yet she is brought to tears almost by the sight of the young girls she has just orphaned, covered in their father's blood. She escapes capture though, and returns to Taskmaster, who compliments her on her good work. She merely responds in a robotic fashion. Later, she overhears Taskmaster speaking with someone concerning a biological weapons shipment in Russia. She is then given her next assignment by Taskmaster, to capture this weapons cache and bring it to ultra-nationalists in Russia.
Through a montage of SHIELD training academy, where Morse and Barton are at the top of their class. They quickly graduate to the status of SHIELD special agents, and their first mission is to escort a team of weapons experts to a newly discovered cache of biological weapons in the old Soviet Union so that they can be properly disposed of. It is at this point they meet the director of SHIELD, Wolfgang von Strucker. Strucker informs them that there are certain criminal elements that are interested in the cache, in particular Taskmaster and Black Widow. If they encounter the Widow, they are to terminate her without question. Barton asks that Widow might be a valuable intelligence asset, but Strucker sticks to his orders.
In Sochi, on the Black Sea, Barton and Morse begin escorting the weapons shipment to the weapons lab in Volgograd. As expected, Widow leads a team of commandos against Barton and Morse. While she does manage to take out Mockingbird, Hawkeye and Widow fight for a bit on top of a moving cargo train. Before long, Mockingbird gets back into the fight just as Widow is about to kill Barton, and the two of them together manage to eliminate Widow from the train. However, Barton falls off the train with Widow, while Mockingbird gets kidnapped by the commandos who have successfully hijacked it and the shipment. Barton has a chance to fulfill his orders and kill Widow, but something she had said to him makes him think twice. He radios for extraction.
Back in Istanbul, at a SHIELD HQ, Barton is read the riot act for not killing Widow, who is currently being held prisoner. Fury takes Barton's side, saying that the intelligence Widow could provide is invaluable. Strucker merely replies that nothing she says can be trusted. Nevertheless Fury is tasked with interrogation, while Barton is put on leave while a plan to rescue Mockingbird and recover the weapons is formulated. Strucker also, surreptitiously, tells a newly minted agent named Jasper Sitwell to keep an eye on Hawkeye. At Natasha's debriefing, she doesn't reveal much about her past or about Taskmaster, but she does say that there is more going on here than what she's comfortable with. A repoire opens between Fury and Widow, but it is broken when Strucker himself takes over the interrogation. Unbeknownst to Strucker, though, Hawkeye has been listening in, and he finds out that Strucker is in league with Taskmaster, each trying to steer events towards creating a Civil War in Russia that might restart the Cold War and lead to a new Arms Race. Widow, realizing this as well based on the conversation she overheard earlier with Taskmaster (and confronted with the point that Taskmaster may have set her up to be killed), tries to break free, but Strucker tries to kill her. Barton breaks her free and, with a little surreptitious help from Fury, escapes from Istanbul to go after Taskmaster alone. Strucker merely orders Fury and Sitwell to launch a manhunt for the two fugitives.
En route to Volgograd, Barton and Romanoff learn a bit more about each other, with Barton convincing Widow that maybe she's in the wrong line of work. Natasha admits she'd been thinking about trying to go straight, but that in her line of work that was usually a death sentence. They get to Taskmaster's hideout in Volgograd, where Hawkeye goes after Mockingbird and Widow goes after Taskmaster. Barton manages to free Morse and the two fight off goons, stopping any further transport of biological weapons to a nearby DC-10 and blowing the plane up. Meanwhile Widow goes after Taskmaster, who admits that he sent her on this mission to get her killed, realizing that after Buenos Aires she was a "liability." The two fight with Taskmaster using his eidetic memory of Widow to easily best her at hand to hand combat. Barton and Morse come in to fight as well, but Taskmaster is able to handle all three for the most part. However at that time Fury and Sitwell enter the fray, the distraction causing Taskmaster to lose focus for a brief second and Widow to take him out.
Sitwell shoots Widow in the leg, threatening to kill her and Barton, but Fury orders him to stand down. Strucker, who had been following the two, remands the order, but Fury turns on him, revealing that he found the recording Barton made of his confession. Exposed, Strucker flees, with Barton and Fury giving chase. However he is able to escape into a nearby waiting plane and take off. Taskmaster is arrested, and Romanoff is given medical assistance.
In the following weeks, Fury is made the new director of SHIELD. Barton is promoted to a special field operative, but Morse decides to "be more of a reservist," working more closely with intelligence gathering. Romanoff is granted amnesty in exchange for working with SHIELD at taking down the rest of Taskmaster's criminal enterprise. She and Barton agree to have each other's backs going forward. The flashback narrative ends, with Widow in the present day being handed a new assignment, a deep cover shadow of Bruce Banner in Calcutta, to make sure certain parties stay away from him.
[Fade in on the frozen wastelands of the Greenland Arctic, as a snowmobile slowly pulls up to a large base camp. Agent Phil Coulson dismounts from the snowmobile, approaching an older Agent Jasper Sitwell.]
Coulson: This better be important Sitwell. I have big concerns in the Southwest region right now.
Sitwell: Trust me sir, I don't think they can be bigger than this thing is right now.
[We pan out and see the outlined body of a large craft of some kind, buried underneath the ice. We cut to a radar like station where a large amount of electronic equipment is set up, including a video monitor.]
Sitwell: We're just about ready to switch on the drone and get a look inside before we send in a team.
[The screen flickers on and we see a video image of the inside of the large craft entering into small hallway that leads into the larger front end of the ship.]
Coulson: Any ideas on what it is?
Sitwell: It appears to be an aircraft of some kind. But we never had one this big before. Might be Russian or something similar...
Coulson: Wait...enhance that frame...
[We cut to see Coulson's face as he stares at the image, a look of awe crossing his visage.]
Coulson: Get Director Fury on the line right away.
Sitwell: But it's 3 AM there...
Coulson: I don't care. This one has waited long enough.
[We cut to the inside of the aircraft, where we see a figure in the pilot's seat, a red, white and blue shield frozen in a solid block of ice next to him before we cut away.]
Summary of Changes
Black Widow is an entirely original film within the Earth-11584 universe, with no real world counterpart to the mainline MCU.
- Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow- A Russian Master Spy in the employ of the Taskmaster, who eventually turns on her employer and joins SHIELD.
- Bella Thorne plays a 14-year-old Black Widow in the opening portions of the film.
- Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye- A former Army Ranger and Master Archer who joins SHIELD as a field operative, and in his first assignment is told to stop Taskmaster and hunt down Black Widow.
- Cote de Pablo as Barbara Morse/Mockingbird- Another former Army Ranger who joins SHIELD as a field operative, and also is Hawkeye's girlfriend in the film.
- Titus Welliver as Taskmaster- A master criminal warlord who, through eidetic muscle memory can accurately predict the moves and actions of whoever he is fighting or trying to outwit, who hires Black Widow as his personal assassin.
- Thomas Krestchmann as Wolfgang von Strucker- A German Baron who serves as the director of SHIELD, recruiting Clint Barton and Barbara Morse and assigning them to hunt down the Black Widow, who has compromising information about his connections with Taskmaster and him using SHIELD to start a World War.
- Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury- A deputy director of SHIELD who is appointed director at the end of the film. Jackson portrays a younger version of the character he played in the previous MCU films.
- Clark Gregg as SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson- A special agent of SHIELD who appears in the closing minutes of the film to give Widow her next mission, as well as in a post-credits scene.
- Maximiliano Hernandez as Jasper Sitwell- A fellow classmate at the SHIELD Academy with Barton and Morse.
In addition, Stan Lee cameos as one of the examiners who tests Hawkeye and Mockingbird's skills and accuracy with firearms. Hawkeye demonstrates his deadliness with a bow and arrow by piercing a Coke Can that Lee is holding in his hand.
The film received largely positive reviews, with review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes recording the film at 80% with an average score of 6.9/10 out of 260 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though it's title character feels like a second banana in this spy thriller, a strong overall cast and slick direction bring a welcome dose of realism to the fantastical Marvel universe." Critics strongly praised the acting in the film, particularly from Johansson and Renner, and also gave praise to Doug Liman's evenly paced action scenes. The critics were less kind to the script, criticizing the flashback nature of the story and the lack of characterization for Black Widow, despite the film being named after her.
The film opened at #1 at the box office opening weekend, with a gross of $42 million, the lowest opening gross of any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film did manage good word of mouth over the month of August, which gave it a final domestic gross of $144.2 million overall. The film finished with the lowest worldwide box office gross of any MCU film, however, with $252.1 million overall.