Is Black Widow really the last turn of Scarlett Johansson in Marvel?

‘Nothing lasts for ever,” Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow tells us in the new trailer for her debut standalone Marvel movie, the best part of a decade since we were introduced to Natasha Romanoff in 2010’s Iron Man. This is not, frankly, something fans of the MCU really wanted to hear, given that several of the superheroes we’ve grown to know and love were ripped from us at the end of Avengers: Endgame, apparently for ever.

As well as Paul Bettany’s Vision, we lost Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man and Romanoff herself, though Vision will be back in the Disney Plus show WandaVision, while the latter pair are coming back in Black Widow. Perhaps the trailer’s early prediction of the finite nature of all things should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

The biggest question surrounding Black Widow is whether it actually is a standalone entry. It is set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, when Romanoff was still very much alive, but may contain seeds that will feed into the wider events of Marvel’s Phase Four. The latter possibility seems likely. Why kick off the latest chapter in this ever-growing web of comic-book intrigue with a movie that, with Romanoff dead in the current MCU timeline, can only ever be a storytelling dead-end? It seems distinctly un-Marvel-like; what on Earth would they do with the mid-credit sequences?

Whether Romanoff gets resurrected in the main timeline or not, Black Widow director Cate Shortland has opened up a window into a fascinating eastern bloc corner of the superhero world. Imagine if the makers of Guardians, the infamous Russian superhero turkey about a team of Soviet superheroes, had not made such a ham-fisted attempt at creating a local answer to The Avengers: their movie might well have ended up looking a lot like Black Widow.

Romanoff’s new companions include Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a fellow graduate of the Red Room where Natasha’s spy abilities were honed, and Alexei Shostakov, AKA the Red Guardian (David Harbour), who appears to be a sort of Mr Incredible figure – Russia’s answer to Captain America rather gone to seed but presumably still capable of super-soldiering his way to victory.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is Melina (Rachel Weisz). Could she be the story’s real villain, and even the clue to how Romanoff might make a return from the dead in future instalments? If Romanoff is here to take down Russia’s Black Widow programme, as seems likely from her comments in the trailer, she is presumably going to come into conflict at some point with the woman who, in the comics, seems to epitomise its deadly spirit.

There’s also the small matter of Taskmaster, the masked wielder of bow and arrow in the trailer. In the comics, the supervillain has the power to mimic the skills of any person they meet. The fact we are not allowed to know their identity sets the stage for a possible reveal in the movie’s latter stages that could manifest as its major plot twist. Could it be somebody we’ve already met under a different guise?

Everything about this early trailer screams care and attention to the minutiae of Black Widow’s world away from the Avengers, which makes it hard to imagine Romanoff simply being put back in her Civil War-era box when the movie is done. Yet there are clues as to how the spy-cum-superhero might live again. For a start, all graduates of the Red Room here seem to be codenamed Black Widow, which makes one wonder if Pugh’s Belova might one day take over the mantle in the main MCU timeline (as she has at times in the comics).

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Romanoff herself has previously been cloned in print. We all thought Black Widow might be resurrected via cosmic chicanery after her entanglement with the soul stone in Avengers: Infinity War. But it turns out there may be other ways for her to return.