This article contains Black Widow spoilers.
During the first Avengers movie, in the midst of the Chitauri invasion into Manhattan’s Midtown district, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye) are standing shoulder to shoulder as wave after wave of aliens swarm. The archer has just saved civilians on a bus while the Russian spy is emptying her pistols into intergalactic monstrosities’ skulls.
Under normal circumstances, this should be a once-in-a-lifetime event. And even in the case of the Avengers, it should at least be a first. Yet in the middle of all this bizarre carnage, Nat takes a moment to crack, “It’s just like Budapest all over again.”
Really? Even Clint seems uncertain as he fires back, “You and I remember Budapest very differently.” Nonetheless, this friendly disagreement raised an interesting question: What exactly happened in Budapest and why is Black Widow nostalgic enough for it to imagine a connection between the Battle of New York and their previous espionage work?
We finally found out the answers in Marvel’s Black Widow, which revealed many secrets from Natasha Romanoff’s past, as well as the events which went down in Budapest—now spoken of with the city’s proper Hungarian pronunciation in the new movie.
Marvel Studios teased we’d be visiting the Hungarian capital years ago, back when it was revealed Natasha and her younger “sister” Yelena would meet up in Budapest. However, in the finished film we learn Yelena picked the location because this is where Nat left Yelena and her old life as a Russian spy behind.
As Nat confirms to Yelena in 2016, Budapest is where she got out of the Widow program, extracting herself from its seedy mastermind, a man named Dreykov, who founded the Red Room school back during the Soviet Union’s reign leading to the forced “adoption” of Nat and Yelena as infants. Hence when Clint Barton was sent by SHIELD director Nick Fury to Budapest to recruit Natasha, a key requirement of her defection involved assassinating Dreykov.
It’s interesting that Nat remembered parts of her previous time in Budapest with nostalgia, since that’s where she thought she killed the man who brainwashed her—at a terrible cost. While the act of killing Dreykov should’ve been thrilling, it actually became one of her greatest regrets since the only way to seemingly confirm his location was to follow his young daughter Antonia. The child’s presence in a Budapest home appeared to confirm to Romanoff and Barton that Dreykov was there. So she ordered the detonation of the explosives planted in the same building.
Black Widow shows these grim events in sporadic flashbacks, which not so subtly harken back to a sequence in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. In that film, Mossad assassins grapple with the morality of their mission as they are similarly ordered to take out alleged assets and spies working for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, including by nearly blowing up a young daughter with her father. For a woman defined by the trauma she suffered as a child at the hands of Dreykov, Natasha is visibly shaken in her Budapest flashback by the fact she is murdering another innocent girl to get back at him. Yet she is so desperate to be free of his vindictive and horrific influence that she orders the explosion, even as she sees Antonia in the window.
This harrowing decision is what opened the door to her joining SHIELD and, eventually, the Avengers, but it’s a hell of a lot of red added to her ledger. Black Widow also alludes to it leading to immediate fallout in Budapest that apparently made for better memories.
In another sequence in the new film, Nat and Yelena evade Dreykov’s underlings by escaping into the Budapest subway system’s air ducts. As Natasha confirms to her little sister, she and Hawkeye spent four days living in these coffin-sized tunnels. It is thus easy to infer after “killing” Dreykov and Antonia, Romanoff and Barton were pursued by Russian spies attempting to capture the traitor in their ranks. This likely led to a shootout that Black Widow was reminded of in The Avengers, as well as their escape in the subterranean ventilation system.
Spending days together in those hot boxes would’ve been a good place for Clint and Nat to truly connect and form a lifelong bond. After all, it was before either ever met Tony Stark that Natasha would be adopted by the Barton family as “Auntie Nat.” As Natasha later acknowledged in her final conversation with Clint in Avengers: Endgame, “I don’t judge people on their worst mistakes.”
She likely learned this compassion and open-mindedness from Clint, who for the better part of a week got to know the real Natasha beneath her stoic Widow exterior. That’d be well worth treasuring their time in Budapest together, even in the face of alien invasion.