Does Black Widow's post-credits scene ruin the film? Your burning questions answered
Why is Florence Pugh's vest a feminist symbol, and more WTF questions about the MCU's Marvel-ous return to the big screen.
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
In theaters now and streaming on Disney Plus (for a premium access fee), Black Widow is both a prequel and a solo adventure for Johansson's assassin-turned-avenger. It isn't as rife with links to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as other films in the franchise (well, at least until the post-credits scene, which does hint at the future of the MCU). But this slick spy thriller still has a few things to ponder. Zip up your utility vest, pull your best superhero pose and join in the search for answers. Warning: Spoilers everywhere!
How did the Widows escape?
At the end of the movie, Natasha and her surrogate family have crashed the Red Room, freed the Black Widows and are all set to start new lives. Hurray! Now all they have to do is get away. On foot. With a fleet of SUVs bearing down on them. We see Natasha hiding out again in the final scene, so what did the family and the Widows do? Cram onto that fancy hover plane? Hide behind some wreckage until the army of highly trained spec ops guys gave up and went home? What if two of the Widows tried to hide behind the same burning chunk of helicarrier? What if two of them started running in the same direction? Would that be hella awkward?
Natasha's got no nose. How does she smell?
Natasha beats Dreykov by severing her own olfactory nerve and short-circuiting his pheromone-based brainwashing. So in Infinity War and Endgame, does Natasha have no sense of smell? And why does the success of the mission rely on her smashing her own nose? Do we smell... a metaphor?
Once safely holed up off the grid, Natasha settled in to watch a movie. Specifically, 1979 James Bond flick Moonraker, in which Roger Moore battled toothy henchman Jaws on a cable car and went to space. Natasha knows the film inside out, so she may've been inspired by the villain's hidden space station and the scene in which Bond dived through the air to steal someone else's parachute. Perhaps more pertinent to Black Widow's themes, Moonraker included the nadir of sexism in the Bond series: Moore is surprised at meeting a scientist who is "A woman!"
Who was Taskmaster?
Under Taskmaster's task-mask is actor Olga Kurylenko, who provides a neat James Bond connection: She appeared as a Bolivian agent in 2008 Bond flick Quantum of Solace.
Will we see Taskmaster again?
I'll be honest, I was a bit disappointed by the amount of screen time for Taskmaster. Though the copycat villain gave Natasha and friends a run for their money, they weren't quite the threat they could've been. It was fun to see Taskmaster repeating
's archery skills,
's shield-tossing attacks and
's fingernail claws. And was that a Falcon-style kick flip or a Spidey-flip? Has Taskmaster been watching the Spider-Man movies?
Were David Harbour and Rachel Weisz digitally de-aged?
Marvel often uses computer trickery to make stars like Michael Douglas, Kurt Russell and Robert Downey Jr. look younger in flashbacks. For Black Widow it may've spent millions de-aging the two stars for the prologue, but who knows -- Harbour only has to lose the beard to look half his age and Rachel Weisz clearly hasn't aged a day in decades anyway.
How many bystanders died?
The car chase sequence pancaked a bunch of cars and pedestrians before launching a frickin' car into a frickin' train station. And nobody got hurt? Give me a break. (See also the astonishingly destructive chases through Edinburgh, Scotland, and Tbilisi, Georgia, in Fast and Furious 9.)
And that's just Natasha's most recent visit to Budapest -- last time she was there she blew up an entire building to get one bad guy. A bunch of Hungarian people are clearly dead is what I'm saying.
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The comics character debuted in 1964 as a Soviet superspy, and fit right into the Cold War drama of the '60s, '70s and '80s. But it's been decades since the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union finally dissolved, in 1991, and the opening scenes show Natasha and her family as sleeper agents in the US in 1995, during the new Russia's turbulent transition period. The film flirts with vaguely Soviet iconography (Alexei Shostakov's "Karl" and "Marx" knuckle tattoos, stirring Russian choirs on the soundtrack, the credits sequence) without really committing to exactly what Dreykov and his espionage apparatus are actually up to in this post-Communist era. Has he continued the Cold War or has he become a solely self-interested bad guy, an oligarch of superspies? Given that this is kind of an MCU side quest, it doesn't really matter.
Did Red Guardian ever fight Captain America?
Speaking of the slightly vague timeline, Alexei regales everyone in the gulag about his run-ins with Captain America during his time as Cap's Soviet super-soldier equivalent, Red Guardian. While that's all fine and dandy in the comics, as one of the inmates points out, it doesn't stack up with the MCU's timeline in which Cap was on ice from World War II right up until 2012 or thereabouts. TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier revealed that other heroes have borne the mantle of Captain America, so did Red Guardian face a Cold War Cap? Or is Alexei just talking a load of balalaikas?
How do you pronounce Budapest?
Natasha is right ("Budapesht"). If you're used to saying it Mason's way, just think of how Sean Connery would say it (eyebrow raise optional).
He can get ID documents and deadly weapons anywhere in the world, but he can't check a propane cylinder? Q would never.
When did Valentina recruit Yelena?
As the credits roll, the film skips ahead to, presumably, the present day for the post-credits sequence. At some point in between, Yelena appears to have been recruited by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She was the mysterious figure seen recruiting John Walker (the disgraced former Captain America) in TV show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But when and how did she recruit Yelena? And why is Valentina scooping up the more morally flexible super-dudes?
Why do they want Hawkeye dead?
To set up the Hawkeye TV series, obviously. But what's the real reason? Probably the haircut.
Doesn't the post-credits scene undo Yelena's entire arc?
So the whole movie is about the women of the Black Widow program battling for freedom to think for themselves. Yelena, for example, goes from mind-controlled assassin to a free woman exerting her own independence. Her emotional journey is symbolized by her vest: It's the first item of clothing she's ever bought for herself, and it's full of pockets -- because the availability of pockets in women's clothing is a feminist issue. Like Natasha says, her arc is all about "making up for the pain and suffering we caused. Trying to be more than a trained killer."
Cut to the post-credits -- and Yelena is back taking orders and apparently killing people on someone else's say-so. What happened to free will, Yelena?
Will we see Scarlett Johansson in the MCU again?
The million dollar question! Natasha laid down her life to secure an infinity stone in Avengers: Endgame, and we see her grave on Earth in a post-credits scene that also suggests Florence Pugh is taking over the Black Widow mantle. So is that it for ScarJo and the MCU? Time travel is now an established part of the MCU, thanks to the Loki TV series as well as Cap's use of those same infinity stones to undo Endgame's timey-wimey shenanigans. So maybe there's a chance Natasha will be un-widowed for the next phase of Marvel movies.
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