When the new Black Widow movie arrives this May, it will not only explore Natasha Romanoff’s past. It will also introduce us to iconic characters in her comic history; the most notable is Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova. Since the character’s reveal at San Diego Comic-Con, speculation about what role Yelena will play in the future of the MCU has left Marvel fans wondering about a particular question, especially given that last year’s Avengers: Endgame saw Natasha sacrifice her life to save the universe: Will Yelena become the next Black Widow?
In a recent interview with Uproxx, Pugh herself dispelled the rumor, saying that the movie “certainly didn’t feel like a passing of the torch kind of film” when they were making it. But from a practical standpoint, it seems unlikely Marvel would invest in Pugh’s remarkable talent (and newly-minted Oscar nominated status) only to have her appear in one movie. That logic tracks; Black Widow kicks off Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a perfect place to introduce new characters. And Yelena’s comic history syncs up, too; after Natasha’s loyalty to her country became suspicious, the Red Room began training Yelena as a second Black Widow.
Since the character’s introduction to comics in the early 2000’s, she’s been primarily an antagonist for Natasha. Believed to be superior in skills and espionage, Yelena repeatedly sought to prove that she was the “better” Black Widow. Given what we’ve seen in the trailers so far, even if we get some background to both Natasha and Yelena in the Red Room, it seems unlikely that the movie is going to focus on the enemy history of the characters. Yelena so far seems more of an ally and sister figure to Natasha, but we don’t exactly know the nature of Natasha and Yelena’s relationship in their early years. Natasha found a way to wipe the red out of her ledger; it’s easy to assume Yelena took herself on a different path, which could stir up some emotions and potentially lead to conflict and trauma.
But there’s also the possibility that Black Widow could continue Yelena’s story as a Black Widow by setting up the Thunderbolts. Initially formed by Baron Zemo, the Thunderbolts have had many iterations and leaders throughout comic history. Yelena is a part of Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts (though she was really Natasha in disguise, whom Osborn tricked into working for him). We already know General Ross (William Hurt) is reprising his role in Black Widow in some way; while it remains to be seen how involved he’ll be with the story, we can’t help speculate whether or not he might help the movie set up its team.
Since we know Natasha returns to the Avengers, it’s possible Ross might be interested in recruiting Yelena once he becomes aware of her skills—similar to how Nick Fury showed up at the end of Iron Man to recruit Tony. Whether or not she continues to operate as a “Black Widow,” this would give Yelena the opportunity to continue her adventures in a new and significant role. She could make it uniquely her own, just like how Natasha found her place with her own team.
Captain America passed his shield to Falcon at the end of Avengers: Endgame—another comic accurate transition. However, Black Widow taking place after Captain America: Civil War means even if we wanted to see Natasha officially pass her mantle onto Yelena, we wouldn’t. But we don’t necessarily need a new Black Widow in the MCU; whether it’s with a new team or just on her own, Yelena can still move forward in future movies without “replacing” Natasha. After all, while we’ve come to accept Natasha as the one singular Black Widow, the mantle is technically just a title. The trailers remind us by showing the many women who have gone through the Red Room’s program.
In the new trailer that aired during last night’s Super Bowl, Natasha says “at some point, we all have to choose between what the world wants you to be and who you are”. Yelena embarking on her own narrative and using the Black Widow title doesn’t mean she has to take away from Natasha’s meaningful presence in the MCU or her importance in the Avengers. Showing that two strong female characters can rise from the challenges of their past and co-exist as heroes of their own stories is an important and beautiful message.
Featured Image: Marvel Studios