The first new feature film from Marvel Studios since 2019 has arrived. And if you’re expecting this movie to pick up where other recent MCU offerings like Endgame or Wandavision left off, I’m sorry! The story of Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, the titular Black Widow, is not a sequel to the ongoing and expanding universe, which spans film and television; is a side prequel to thingamabob with a bit of retcon origin story action.
If you’ve been following every Marvel product with a magnifying glass, then this news isn’t surprising. But even for Marvel fans, the Black Widow chronology might throw the viewer for a few loops. At first glance, it sounds like a good old-fashioned spy movie about a girl(s) who is kidnapped and brainwashed by grumpy Russian spies. but, because this is one installment in a gargantuan franchise involving time jumps and a multiverse, it’s obviously more complicated than that. so here are the black widow timeline questions, answered, now with more pop songs!
so when does black widow take place?
the black widow timeline is something of an mcu sandwich. The pre-credits prologue, set during Natasha’s childhood, takes place in 1995. After that, most of the movie takes place in 2016, right after the events of Captain America: Civil War. (this is why natasha talks about the avengers split). After all of that, the post-credits scene takes place in 2023, right after the events of Avengers: Endgame.
and the movie really wants you to know the time period. cue the music After Natasha goes through the harrowing experience of the prologue, the credits open with Malia J’s cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which was released in 2015. The original Kurt Cobain classic came out in 1991, so maybe is this a reference to the earlier events of the movie that occurred sometime in the 90’s. (perhaps a creepy version of “don’t look back in anger” from oasis would have been more appropriate? or at least a reference to take that infamous nirvana song from ’95). Then, once the movie is in motion, Natasha is listening to sia’s mega-hit “cheap thrills,” placing us squarely in the year 2016. (here in 2021, black widow fans don’t need dollar bills to party tonight) , only $29 dollars at disney +).
what mcu plot lines happen during this movie?
Due to the mixed chronology, Black Widow does overlap with pre-existing corners of the MCU, but not always in a direct way. this is how it works:
1995: This year is also the setting for Captain Marvel, meaning much of that movie also happens at the same time as the Black Widow prologue.
2016: In Black Widow, there are some nods to Captain America and Bucky hiding, a move prompted by the ending of Captain America: Civil War, set in early 2016. In the after scene In the credits of Black Panther, we find out that Bucky hid out in Wakanda. Other storylines revolve around this time: Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok.
2023: The post-credits scene will likely take place shortly after the end of the game. This places it in the same time period as WandaVision, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s cameo as Lady Val is directly related to her appearance in Falcon and Winter Soldier. Will Yelena (Florence Pugh) meet John Walker (Wyatt Russell) in a future Marvel movie or series? seems likely. they have the same boss.
does dreykov and his network of widows play a role in any other mcu stories?
at an important plot point (which feels like blofeld’s plan from the 1969 james bond movie about her majesty’s secret service glows), we learn that the spymaster from the red room Dreykov (Ray Winstone) has a global network of killers known as “Widows.” Dreykov describes his kidnapping of these “girls” as obtaining a “natural resource”, which obviously makes it horrible, and also suggests that his command of English is not very good.
but does her vast network of widows affect other mcu movies? short answer, despite the surprisingly huge amount of power she has in black widow, the answer seems to mostly be: no! Dreykov’s name is mentioned in another MCU movie, 2012’s Avengers. In that movie, Loki suggests that Natasha can’t erase all the red from her ledger due to an incident with “Dreykov’s daughter.” the events of black widow are apparently based on that single line.
did the red guardian really fight against captain america in the 80’s?
in prison, alexei shostakov (david harbour) brags about beating up captain america in the 1980s. a fellow inmate yells nonsense, reminding the red guardian that steve rogers was still encased in ice during that time period , so there’s no way the red guardian ever fought captain america, right?
While this naysayer is playing a perfect role as an in-universe mcu continuity cop, this scene might be more layered than meets the eye. In the comics, the Red Guardian derives from two different characters: Aleksey Lebedev and Alexei Shostakov. the first world war ii era red guardian actually fought on the same side as captain america, against the nazis, but at the time in the comics, “captain america” was a character named william naslund, no steve rogers. (Steve and Bucky went berserk in 1945 and a new cap was recruited, a plot point that happens a lot in comics.)
Now, the MCU hasn’t set up this sort of John Walker-esque replacement for Cap, operating sometime between Steve hitting the ice in 1945 and thawing out in 2012. But that doesn’t mean they can’t reconfigure a Captain. different america, from the 80s, that could have fought against this version of the red guardian. Between WWII and the 1990s, the MCU timeline is a bit blurry, meaning it’s possible that the Red Guardian fought a Captain America at that time. It’s also conceivable that the Red Guardian fought Steve Rogers in the 1980s. the shield after tony stark’s funeral). This means that, from 1945 to 2011, there are at least two Steves alive on (one) Earth(s). one is frozen in ice and the other is theoretically living a secret life with peggy. (In 1970 and 2012, there are, in theory, three Steves hanging out on Earth, thanks to time travel within the game’s ending itself.) the guardian is actually telling the truth.
wait, is natasha dead?
Although Black Widow is mostly set after the events of Civil War, the post-credits scene jumps to 2023, with Yelena standing by Natasha’s grave. This means that the final conclusion of the film is after the end of the game, a film in which Natasha sacrifices herself on the planet Vormir so that the Avengers can secure the Soul Stone. what did natasha do between all this? well in 2018 at the start of infinity war he teamed up with steve rogers again so presumably it takes him a couple of years to find him again. Then five years pass between Infinity War and Endgame, when Natasha finally gets involved in stealing time, along with Hawkeye.
now how the hell does lady val (julia louis-dreyfus) know that hawkeye was the only other person natasha was dating when she died? the red skull called her and told her? this detail is unclear. We know Natasha dies in Vormir, but what Black Widow’s post-credits presuppose is that the Avengers released the details of her death to enough people for Lady Val to find out. either way, yes: natasha is very dead. scarlett johansson has made it clear that she has no plans to return as natasha. This makes Black Widow not only Natasha Romanoff’s triumphant return to the big screen, but also her bittersweet coda.
black widow is available in wide version and disney+ premier access.