Warning - This article contains spoilers for Black Widow.
Audiences were somewhat surprised to see two key Avengers missing from Black Widow: Clint Barton and Tony Stark.
The former was heavily rumored due to the film's exploration of the Budapest Operation, a flashback scene that has been teased since 2012's The Avengers. Knowing Hawkeye factored into that mission, the bow and arrow specialist seemed primed to make an appearance.
The latter's inclusion was birthed purely out of rumors. Robert Downey Jr.'s time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come and gone, but an Iron Man return gained traction once rumblings of a deleted Captain America: Civil War scene making its way into Black Widow began to surface.
Evidently, neither Jeremy Renner nor RDJ appeared in the flesh in this movie, a decision Black Widow's director says was made purposefully.
BLACK WIDOW: A TRUE SOLO FLICK
Leaving out key Avengers from Black Widow was no mistake.
Speaking to Total Film, director Cate Shortland revealed that Marvel Studios played around with the idea of including other big Marvel names but ultimately decided against it:
"Initially, there was discussions about everything, about all of the different characters. What we decided was, and I think Kevin was really great, he said, 'She doesn't need the boys.' We didn't want it to feel like she needs the support. We want her to stand alone. And she does."
Over a year ago during a press tour for Dolittle, Robert Downey Jr. was asked by ET about his rumored cameo as Tony Stark in Black Widow, to which he bluntly responded "it would be nice if they notified me. Forewarned is forearmed."
ALL EYES ON NATASHA ROMANOFF
One of the strongest aspects of Black Widow is that it refuses to sacrifice story beats for fan service.
The film operates as a proper tribute to Natasha Romanoff while not deviating from the Black Widow lore for a second. Considering this solo flick is 11 years in the making, shifting the spotlight to other Avengers, even just for a scene, could come off as a disservice to the titular character.
The omission of Clint Barton in the Budapest flashback caught many by surprise. The mysterious overseas operation has been a shared bond between Clint and Nat for a decade, so including him in the flesh would feel warranted. That said, electing to only use his voice and refer to his presence when recollecting about the event arguably strengthens the narrative.
As much as Budapest was thought to be an equal split, the events are completely intertwined with Natasha's DNA. The target, Dreykov, is a man from Natasha's past, not Clint's. While he helped immensely with carrying out the operation, it was Natasha's fight.
Focusing said flashback on Nat's face, showcasing what she went through when she called for the detonation, allowed for the emotional weight to hit. If a cameoing Jeremy Renner popped into the frame, the audience's sorrow immediately shifts to overjoyed nostalgia.
TONY'S ENDGAME REMAINS FINAL
As for the other potential cameo, leaving Tony Stark out of this movie was appropriate.
Robert Downey Jr. had one of the strongest finalities in film history with Avengers: Endgame. Including him in Black Widow wouldn't erase all the emotional weight of Endgame's funeral as it would be a flashback rather than a resurrection, but it could come off as a little cheap.
On top of that, including RDJ risks having Tony Stark be the main talking point leaving Black Widow. Even if it was only for one scene, a character with the magnitude of Stark would command a lot of headlines.
Fans can see Scarlett Johansson in the full spotlight as Natasha Romanoff as Black Widow is currently in theaters and streaming on Disney+ via Premier Access.