This article contains major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame. Not seen it? You’re probably alright reading our spoiler-free review.
The MCU has been around for 11 years and delivered 22 movies and as it’s been widely noted, it hasn’t been great for its inclusion of female characters. It wasn’t until the 21st movie in the series, Captain Marvel, that we had our first film with a female lead and it’s also still the only one with a female director.
Despite this though, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, has become a fan favourite since she first appeared in Iron Man 2 back in 2010. She’ll be getting her own movie at some point – there’s no release date yet announced – directed by Cate Shortland, who made Somersault and Berlin Syndrome.
We’re about to get mega spoilery…
But in Avengers: Endgame she dies. And in a way that’s not easy to come back from – in our current timeline at least. Natasha and Clint Barton – formerly Hawkeye but now Ronin – travel to Vormir to retrieve the Soul Stone from 2017. When they arrive, just as Thanos discovered when he travelled there with Gamora, the stone demands a sacrifice and it must be someone you genuinely love. Nat and Clint go back years, they knew each other way before either became an Avenger, it’s a scene heavy with history and pathos and it’s perfect.
In Endgame, post-Thanos snap, Clint’s become a totally different man. After his wife and children were dusted, he’s gone on a vigilante revenge mission dressed as an armoured ninja killing off criminals, driven mad with the injustice that they have survived the snap while his family didn’t. From back in Avengers HQ, Nat’s aware of what Clint’s been doing but she’s reluctant to condemn him, even though Rhodey tells her she needs to do something about him.
Later on Vormir she tells him, “I don’t judge people by their worst mistakes” and the love between the two is palpable. So when the time comes to choose who will sacrifice themselves, they both offer to do so. What follows is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, a fight between the two, both trying to save each other and sacrifice themselves, powered entirely by love. It’s dynamic, it’s moving and it ultimately results in Nat plummeting to her death, with Hawkeye waking up in a puddle holding the Soul Stone and sobbing uncontrollably.
At first glance, killing off the only female character from the original line-up, given how few there are even now, is a massive step back. And the fact that Gamora was sacrificed for the Soul Stone in Infinity War, knocking out another cool female character from the MCU at the bottom of a cliff doesn’t help.
But while we’re very sad to see Nat go, emotionally this was the right thing for her.
We don’t know that much about Nat’s backstory – perhaps we’ll learn more in the Black Widow standalone movie, which may or may not be a prequel. We do know, however, that she has history with Clint. We know he was sent to assassinate her but he “made a different call” and we know they went through something together in Budapest (referenced once again in Endgame).
We also know that she went through a horrific training period where she was sterilised – she tells Bruce Banner she feels like a monster in Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
During the five years since the snap, Nat doesn’t seem to have moved on at all, she doesn’t seem to have formed a new relationship or found a new family. Instead, she stays behind trying to keep everyone together, trying to do something good to make a difference and to keep an eye out for poor broken Clint. Nat, as she’s said before, has “red on [her] ledger” and Endgame gives her the chance to even the score.
The scene on Vormir is incredibly moving and would really only have worked with these two. There are no two other characters left in the survivors line-up who could truly be believed to genuinely love each other as much (except Pepper and Stark, but that would never have worked narratively speaking). In a perfect bit of plotting, Clint has lost his wife and children so Natasha is now definitely the person he loves most in the world. And it’s not a stretch that the feeling is mutual from Nat – though there’s chemistry with her and Banner, it doesn’t stretch to the depths of what she has with Clint.
When they arrive at Vormir the audience knows what’s coming and we’re fully expecting Clint to be the one to make the heroic sacrifice. But that’s not what Natasha wants and after her history in the MCU she deserves to make her own call. Unlike Gamora, tossed to her death by her Titan father, this is what Nat chooses. She knows her own mind and she has every right to choose when to go.
Yes, it’s sad to lose a woman from the line-up but there is no reason, and no way, Nat would step aside and let her friend sacrifice himself, especially in the knowledge that he’s only here because of the hope his family might be resurrected. They both try to end themselves and save the other, and Nat proves herself more determined, more agile and more able in a bizarre, beautiful fight driven by love. Nat is a true hero, one with agency and autonomy – why shouldn’t she be the one to save the day? Choosing to live at the expense of Clint, or losing the fight would have undermined her as a character, and as a female character at that. The guy shouldn’t necessarily get to be the hero and the winner, even if winning means death.
Throughout the series she’s been one of the most moderate and level-headed of the gang, refusing to fully side with either Cap or Iron Man in Civil War when they are arguing when they should have been uniting. She’s not interested in the limelight, she collaborates, negotiates, she soothes and aids other team members. But the time had come for her to save the universe and it’s the right thing to do – for her, for Marvel, for female characters in general. We’re sad to say goodbye, or perhaps au revoir (because who knows if there’s a way Black Widow could still be alive in another timeline, somehow) but for now, Natasha Romanoff, we salute you: you may not have special powers but you were a true superhero in every way.