Scarlett Johansson first appeared as Marvel’s Black Widow in 2010’s Iron Man 2. Since then, she appeared in several Marvel films in both the central Avengers film as well as supporting spin-offs. Yet, for years Johansson’s Black Widow remained one of the only Avengers not to have their own film despite audiences clamoring for it (A Hawkeye-centered Disney+ series will premiere later this year). I mean, Incredible Hulk: 2. Black Widow: 0.
That all changes tomorrow when Disney and Marvel Studios premieres Black Widow, starring Johansson in a return to the character last seen in Avengers: Endgame and directed by Cate Shortland. The film gives Disney and Marvel the opportunity to dive into the past of this iconic character.
“We very specifically knew there was a large period of her life that we didn’t know about. Not just her childhood, but this period of time between Civil War and Infinity War,” producer Kevin Feige explained. “That period we felt was ripe to creatively focus on and to discover more about her past and more about her present.”
Emerging as both a family drama and international spy thriller, Black Widow introduces a supporting cast of characters tied to Natasha Romanoff’s (a.k.a. Black Widow) past. Most critically, Florence Pugh’s Yelena provides a fantastic foil to the character, matching Romanoff’s intensity and prowess to impressive effect. But, despite the elaborate stunt sequences, the heart of the film remains the relationship between the characters.
And the chemistry between Johansson and Pugh gives the film moments we’ve rarely seen in an MCU film, even if some of it comes at Johansson’s expense. One of the most talked-about moments in the film is the merciless ribbing Pugh’s Yelena gives Black Widow for her dramatic action poses and head flips.
Johansson took that all in stride.
“I spent 10 years building up this iconic pose with such weight to it, and [Pugh] just, in a second, ripped it out, took it, tore it, shredded it up, and stomped on it,” Johansson laughed.
Joking aside, while the film does allow for character development, it is still a Marvel action film. Given that, the shoot became extraordinarily challenging for the actresses given the elaborate stunts and fight choreography required for the role. The first sequence Pugh and Johansson filmed together was a Budapest safe house sequence (yes, you find out what happened in Budapest) in which both actresses pummel each other mercilessly.
Jumping into the deep end of the shoot helped the two bond and develop that fantastic on-screen chemistry.
“I just remember there was no greater way than to just break the ice than really wrestling Scarlett Johansson to the floor,” Pugh laughed. “Trying to choke each other. We got to know each other, and we were friends.”
An introduction into big-budget Hollywood filmmaking for the Australian native, Black Widow’s director Shortland was tasked with a huge challenge. She needed to balance the requirements of an international espionage film, the narrative of an MCU film, and the much-needed emotional resonance tied to a character who would eventually die in Avengers: Endgame.
But most of all, Shortland just wanted the film to be fun.
“From the beginning when we spoke about the film, we knew that it had to speak to two things. First, it had to explore Natasha as an individual, what had happened to her, and who she was at the beginning of the film when she was completely alone,” Shortland explained. “Then, I wanted it to be really fun. I thought it should be like a fairground ride, really exhilarating. We wanted it to be both things and hope that those things would seamlessly mesh together. We made sure that we didn’t let the trauma of her past drag it down, that rather that we came up to answer it.We often did that with humor.”
Given that audiences know Natasha Romanoff’s ultimate fate (she sacrifices herself to stop Thanos in Avengers: Endgame), Black Widow had to help bridge the gap between the very tortured and lonely woman seen in the earlier Marvel films and the at-peace woman that says goodbye in Endgame.
That transition was important for Johansson to get exactly right so that she could properly say goodbye to the character.
“We knew that, in this film, she had to evolve into a place where she was moving forward in her life and had resolved the trauma from her past,” Johansson shared. “That she felt like a different person moving forward.”
Disney and Marvel Studios’ Black Widow premieres Friday, July 9, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access.