Warning - This article contains major spoilers for Black Widow.
After more than a year of delays, Black Widow is finally out in theaters worldwide and available on Disney+ Premier Access.
The decision to move forward with a hybrid release for the MCU's first Phase 4 film was a bold one, and it remains to be seen how this will affect Black Widow's box-office gains.
The film served as a fun-filled, fitting sendoff for Scarlett Johansson’s tenure as Black Widow while paving the way for Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova to potentially continue the Avenger’s legacy. David Harbour’s Captain America-inspired Red Guardian also brought a lot of laughs with him, as he desperately tried to grasp at the one thing that gave him purpose.
As is typical for Marvel Studios affairs, Black Widow included an all-important post-credits scene that lets fans know where Yelena Belova is headed next. Here's everything that we learnt from Black Widow's end tag and how it will impact the MCU going forward...
1. YELENA IS STICKING AROUND
The post-credits scene opens with Yelena Belova, now living in a post-Blip world. She is notably accompanied by a big, fluffy dog, which she mentions wanting during the film.
Yelena doesn't seem to be look much older than she did back in 2016 when Black Widow takes place, which may strike some as especially odd considering this scene takes place 7 years after the movie's events. A similar instance occurred with Captain Marvel, who had not aged a day between her appearance in her solo flick and her return to Earth almost 30 years later in Avengers: Endgame.
While some may settle for the boring answer that Pugh is not able to miraculously age multiple years to appease the continuity of the MCU timeline, there could be an in-universe explanation for Yelena's lack of aging: she could have been snapped. Her disappearance, along with a potential dusting of Alexei Shostakov and Melina Vostokoff, could have also explained why Black Widow considering the Avengers her true family in Endgame, as her other surrogate family members were no longer around.
The most important aspect to note is that Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova is getting the spotlight, indicating that the MCU has a lot of plans for the rising star yet. As the scene continue, those plans become a lot clearer...
2. BLACK WIDOW WON'T BE BACK (AT LEAST FOR NOW)
The camera pans and Yelena's location is finally revealed: the grave of her sister. Natasha Romanoff's burial site is a relatively simple one with the headstone engraved with the Black Widow symbol and commemorating her legacy as a daughter, sister, and Avenger.
An abundance of flowers and gifts decorate Romanoff's grave, suggesting that this scene takes place not too long after the events of Avengers: Endgame in 2023. This inclusion seems to heavily suggest that the MCU is doubling down on the fact that Natasha Romanoff's journey has come to a close, but that doesn't mean that Black Widow's impact on the MCU won't be felt.
Black Widow director Cate Shortland said that a sequel could be possible down the road, but that Scarlett Johansson wouldn't necessarily be in the driver's seat. The focus on Yelena here, and previous comments from various key figures at Marvel Studios, indicates that the Black Widow mantle will fall to her.
There is of course always the possibility that Johansson could return to the role, especially now with a multiverse on the horizon. A post-apocalyptic Variant of Black Widow is even slated to appear in What If...?, though it is currently unknown if Scarlett Johansson will be reprising her role here.
Several key Marvel alums are bowing out from participating in the animated series, so this does not necessarily mean that Johansson is out for good. Marvel Studios seem to be quite keen to keep the actress around if possible, with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige saying that he is "excited to continue working with her in any way possible if we're so lucky."
Feige also pointing towards Marvel's history for the answer to a Black Widow return, mentioning that "comics have taught us" that "maybe there will be more down the road." Whether this is simply referring to Yelena Belova assuming the Black Widow identity or a Johansson return for a major event like Secret Wars, there is still hope for Black Widow to maintain her presence in the MCU.
3. VALENTINA IS STILL RECRUITING
Yelena's heartfelt moment is swiftly and rudely interrupted by a familiar face blowing her nose. Just months after her MCU debut, Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, or Val for short. John Walker isn’t the only wannabe hero on Val's paycheck it seems, as Yelena is making deals with the Contessa too.
Val tries to break the ice by reminiscing "What this woman did, honestly I can't even imagine," but a displeased Yelena is not so happy to see her: "You're not supposed to be bothering me on my holiday time, Valentina." While Louis-Dreyfus' character assures her that she is simply "paying my respects," Yelena simply wants to be paid more:
Yelena: "I want a raise."
Val: "Oh yeah, you and me both. Believe me you're gonna earn it."
Yelena is perhaps a surprising choice for Valentina’s recruitment, considering that John Walker’s dubiousness as a character is a choice whereas Yelena’s grey or lack of morality was forced upon her. So why is she teaming up with a shady dealer like Val?
Returning to the world after being a trained killer for so long must be tough -- anyone can relate. Yelena may be joining forces with Val as she has no other options, reluctantly carrying out contract kills to get by. The fact that she is somewhat fed up with Val supports this, indicating that she would really much rather be doing anything else.
This may be made tougher as the effect of the Sokovia Accords is still somewhat murky. The Avengers were still able to operate after the Snap, but whether they were government-supported is unknown.
Falcon was able to work with the US government initially during The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but his solo run as Captain America may work on different rules. Yelena may not be able to pick up hero business on her own out of fear being marked as a vigilante, so a devil's deal with Val could be the only way to go.
There is the possibility that Yelena may have had a slight change of heart in the time between the events of Black Widow and the post-credits scene. The targeted individual seems to indicate that not all of Yelena's missions are to take out bad guys, so she may have grown to be content with working for darker individuals. If Sharon Carter is any indication, characters can change a great deal between projects.
Alternatively, maybe Val's fringe benefits looked more appealing than Yelena's other options. The fact that Yelena gets leave for holiday is certainly a step-up from the relentless working hours at the Red Room.
So, is Val still assembling a team like the Dark Avengers or Thunderbolts? Her choices seem to say yes, with Yelena Belova and U.S. Agent both mirroring their more heroic counterparts of Black Widow and Captain America, albeit in a slightly darker form.
Once the roster is complete, Valentina may present this team as an all-new, all-different, and all-better version of the Avengers, now that Earth's Mightiest Heroes seem to have disbanded somewhat. The question now lies in who the Contessa has her eyes on next, as the choice of Yelena certainly widens the pool of choices. Is Abomination next on Val's list, or will Wong betray the Masters of the Mystic Arts for that sweet paycheck?
4. HAWKEYE NEEDING TO KEEP A SHARP EYE
After cutting the chit-chat, Val reveals who exactly she wants Yelena to hunt down next.
"I've got your next target, thought I'd hand deliver it. Maybe you'd like a shot at the man responsible for your sister's death."
Val passes the tablet over, displaying a picture of the target: Clint Barton.
Florence Pugh was previously expected to appear in the Hawkeye Disney+ series, but we now have concrete confirmation and the reason for her appearance. But will Yelena go through with it?
Yelena would have undoubtedly known about Natasha’s extremely close bond with Clint -- it’d be weird if she didn’t. Therefore, there will certainly be a great deal of conflict with having to assassinate her sister's closest friend. But does Yelena know the truth of Natasha's sacrifice?
It is unknown how public the information surrounding the events of Endgame is. The final battle against Thanos seems to be well-documented as indicated by WandaVision, but how much is known about the Time Heist is up for debate.
Yelena therefore may have not been given the heads-up, only learning that Black Widow had been killed in action with no specific details involved. Alternatively, the Avengers may have done the right thing and let her know of her sister's selflessness, which could lead to her betraying Valentina down the road.
Previous reports suggested that Yelena would be donning a similar Ronin costume to Hawkeye's threads from Endgame. If Pugh's character is hungry for blood, she may be wearing this outfit as a means to taunt Clint over the horrors he committed under the mantle. If Belova instead teams up with Hawkeye, she could be taking on the Ronin mantle before she graduates to Black Widow status.
5. WHERE'S EVERYONE ELSE?
So where is everybody else? Yelena's alliance with Valentina raises questions about how Alexei, Melina, Taskmaster, and the other Black Widows play into all of this.
The others could be searching for the remaining Widows around the world. There were hundreds, if not thousands of agents unaccounted for, so the former Red Room operatives may be doing the work to recover their sisters.
Is there a chance that they could be working for Val as well?
Pugh's character could have provided a letter of recommendation for her surrogate family and superspy contemporaries, folding them into Val's affairs. This would this mean that the likes of Taskmaster and the Black Widows would be at her disposal, effectively giving Val an army along with her core anti-heroic team.
Not one, but two Captain Americas can't be too bad either, especially considering both Alexei and John are both suped up with super-soldier serum. Melina would also bring a tactical and technical advantage to Val's operations, potentially allowing her to carry out some potentially devastating research. If Natasha's whole family has fallen on the wrong side, Val may have just become a much deadlier threat to the MCU at large.
Black Widow is out in theaters and available now on Disney+ Premier Access.