This article contains Black Widow spoilers. We have a spoiler-free review here.
The MCU is finally back on the big screen! Marvel’s Black Widow was supposed to be the official kickoff of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but then the pandemic happened, it got bounced around the release calendar, and Disney managed to release three MCU TV shows before Natasha got to take her curtain call on the big screen.
But that’s thankfully behind us, and Black Widow delivers terrific blockbuster action in the mighty Marvel manner. And you know what that means! Let’s try and spot all the cool MCU references and Marvel Comics Easter eggs in Black Widow.
- Setting this prologue in 1995 gives us the approximate age of Natasha. If she’s supposed to be about 11 or 12 here, that conveniently makes the character the same age as Scarlett Johannsson, who was born in 1984.
- The general premise of Natasha’s childhood, in which she was the daughter of two Russian spies is highly similar to that of the FX series The Americans.
- This seems to be the late summer of 1995, which puts it roughly around when Captain Marvel was taking place (the official word on that is 1995, but little details in it, like Stan Lee reading a Mallrats screenplay could place it in 1994).
- Young Natasha is played by Ever Anderson – the daughter of actress Milla Jovovich and Event Horizon director Paul W. S. Anderson. You will not be able to unsee her resemblance to Milla.
- The first song choice in the movie is young Yelena’s fixation on Don McLean’s fixation on “American Pie,” a song about (among other things) the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson. That being said, “American Pie” is about a larger loss of innocence, a theme that weighs heavily throughout this film.
- Before Alexei turns the radio off to play “American Pie”, the station is set to 105.1 FM. This is WQXK, a country station based in Salem, Ohio that serves the Youngstown market. Natasha and Yelena’s American home is likely based in Eastern Ohio.
- There’s an episode of DuckTales playing on TV in the background while they have dinner. We can’t tell what episode it is, but DuckTales ruled, and the new series was even better. And hey, we get some payoff later in the movie when they play an aircraft crash for laughs while having everyone just casually walk it off.
- Alexei was working undercover in the US at the North Institute, which he burned to the ground before making his escape. In Black Widow Vol 3 #1, Natasha decided to retire to Arizona but she and other Red Room victims were hounded by the North Institute. Spurred to investigate the situation, Natasha returned to Russia where she discovered much of the terrible truth behind her past Red Room manipulation. This was a story that also featured Yelena (and Daredevil, believe it or not).
- There’s definitely an early SHIELD logo on the trucks chasing the family to the very end there.
- The plane number is 258. In Incredible Hulk #258, we get the first appearance of the Soviet Super-Soldiers (later named the Winter Guard), a communist superhero team created for the sake of rivaling the Avengers. The original lineup was Ursa Major (more on him in a minute), Darkstar, Vanguard, and the fifth Crimson Dynamo (more on this, too). Over time, Red Guardian joined their ranks, though it was Josef Petkus and not Alexei Shostakov.
- This is a perfect cold open, the kind that James Bond movies excelled at, and it’s far from the only Bond parallel we’ll get in the film.
The Opening Credits
- There’s all kinds of stuff happening in the opening credits, including the film’s villain Dreykov being inserted into photos with various world leaders, including President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and others. The Red Room’s influence knows no national boundaries, it seems. There are other disturbing real world spy influences, as well.
- The overall effect is to imply that Dreykov and the Widows have been putting their fingers on the scale for quite some time.
- It’s also a nice touch that many of the “news broadcasts” we see here are from MCU staple WHIH.
- There’s a shot of some vials with blue liquid, which allude to the Red Room’s attempt to create Captain America-esque super soldiers, which they succeeded with to some degree with the Red Guardian, but also makes us wonder if they tried enhancing any earlier Widows.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
- The opening credits are set to a version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Malia J. You may have heard her covers of Seal’s “Crazy” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” in trailers for shows like Bloodlines and The Handmaid’s Tale.
We wrote more about the Black Widow version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” here.
When Does Black Widow Take Place?
- This movie takes place in 2016, shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) is here to remind us all that Natasha is still in trouble with the government.
- What’s kind of neat about this is that it’s the first Marvel “prequel” that feels like it is designed to be watched in its chronological sequence (minus that post-credits scene, of course). Captain America: The First Avenger makes more sense as a flashback interlude between Thor and The Avengers, while Captain Marvel makes more sense as a breather between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. But Black Widow feels like it should be watched right after Civil War.
Natasha brings up Ross having his second triple bypass. In Captain America: Civil War, Ross talks about how he had his first heart attack while playing golf and it gave him perspective and convinced him to retire from the US Army. It seems chasing down Cap’s allies hasn’t been so good for his health.
- We know that Alexei has been active as Red Guardian since at least 1983 or 1984 based on the tales of fighting Captain America he tells while in jail. He was apparently sent to the USA for undercover work in 1992, and then imprisoned a few years after their 1995 escape back to Russia.
- Red Guardian’s knuckle tattoos say “Karl Marx” which is kind of adorable but…shouldn’t they be in Cyrillic/Russian characters and not Latin/English? Is this to troll his capitalist opponents so they can read them as he beats their asses?
- Red says he fought Captain America in 1983 or 1984. The simplest explanation is that he’s lying but…what if he isn’t?
- Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s telling the truth and there really was yet another secret Captain America active in the ‘80s. Now that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is done, we know that there was at least one “replacement Cap” and the comics indicate there were others. Or maybe it’s just Steve in the timestream…maybe we’ll find out one day, but we wrote much more about some possibilities for this here.
Red Guardian breaks the arm of a man named Ursa… Ursa Major (Mikhail Ursus) is the name of another Russian superhero in Marvel Comics, whose mutant power caused him to turn into a literal talking bear. He became a staple member of the Soviet Super Soldiers/Winter Guard along with a Red Guardian. While the movie doesn’t depict him like the comics, Red Guardian does joke about him being a bear.
- This is a very different version of Taskmaster than the one we got in the comics. Marvel Comics Taskmaster has “photographic reflexes” and is a man named Anthony Masters. Here, in addition to the new gender (Dreykov’s daughter is named “Antonia” as a nod to the comics character), Taskmaster is cybernetically enhanced to make those “photographic reflexes a little easier.
- There is precedent for a female Taskmaster. The series Deadpool MAX reimagined Deadpool in a cynical, dark, and very adult (albeit absurd and humorous) way. This lent itself to Deadpool-adjacent characters. Taskmaster was depicted as a woman roughly in her ‘50s who trained Deadpool and warped his mind.
- There’s also Finesse, a member of Avengers Academy, whose powers are so similar to Taskmaster that she believes him to be her biological father. Unfortunately, due to memory problems, Taskmaster doesn’t know for sure and refuses to offer any DNA to find out the answer.
- In the course of Taskmaster’s action scenes, we see her mimic a number of Marvel heroes, with a particular focus on those who played a part in the recent (by this movie’s timeline) Captain America: Civil War including Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Panther, and even Natasha.
We have more on Taskmaster here.
Who is Mason?
- Rick Mason first appeared in his own 1989 graphic novel called Rick Mason: The Agent. Mason was a SHIELD agent mostly remembered for being the son of Phineas Mason, the Tinkerer. Granted, the Tinkerer we saw in Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t nearly old enough to be Rick’s father in the movies and he looks nothing like him, so I wouldn’t expect any secret connection.
- In the comics, Rick was practically forgotten about and killed off-panel. His son was one of the victims of Nitro’s explosion in Stamford, Connecticut from the beginning of the Marvel Comics version of Civil War.
The Melina Vostokoff of the MCU is pretty different from the one in Marvel Comics (who created by Ralph Macchio and George Perez in 1983). There, she was known as (we shit you not) Iron Maiden, and she was at least a former Widow-esque agent as she is here in the film.
- Yelena and Natasha’s first meeting being over a bio-weapon/agent is very faintly similar to Yelena’s proper introduction in the comics, a 1999 Black Widow comics story where they were explicitly fighting over a bioweapon, not a “mind control antidote” as we see in this film.
- The “face swap” trick that Natasha and Melina pull in the film’s final act also has the faintest of echoes of another early Yelena story, where Natasha “swapped faces” with Yelena to try and break her mind and get her on the side of the angels.
What Happened in Budapest?
“You and I remember Budapest very differently,” Clint Barton famously told Natasha in The Avengers during the Battle of New York. But now we know what went down…
Basically, Taskmaster’s origin story is tied to Natasha’s superhero origin. To fully defect from the Red Room and go to work for SHIELD, Natasha had to assassinate Dreykov…which meant the collateral damage of Antonia.
Of course, that led to Clint and Nat getting hounded by Red Room agents, which led to them hiding out for days together.
And before that, they were in that safe house apartment that was currently occupied by Yelena, hence the arrow damage to the walls.
We wrote in much more detail about this right here.
- Yelena (probably on purpose) refers to Alexei’s superheroic days as when he was “the Crimson Dynamo.” Sure, this is cute, but there really was a Crimson Dynamo in Marvel Comics! Crimson Dynamo is primarily an Iron Man villain, lots of different Russian agents have worn the Crimson Dynamo armor. It…didn’t end well for any of them.
- The original Crimson Dynamo was Anton Vanko, otherwise known as the old man dying in the beginning of Iron Man 2. Although his son was known as Whiplash, Ivan Vanko was more of a cross between Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo. In the comics, “Ivan” was an alias Anton used.
- We’re gonna choose to believe that Yelena isn’t just making this name up and that the Russians really did have an armored hero called the Crimson Dynamo, and if we’re lucky we’ll get to see him in a flashback of some future MCU project. After all, there’s that Armor Wars series on the way…
- Also, there’s one thing that Crimson Dynamo has over the Red Guardian: he was immortalized in the lyrics of a song by a member of The Beatles. Paul McCartney and Wings have a tune called “Magneto and Titanium Man” which involves “a robbery” where “the Crimson Dynamo came along for the ride.” It’s great, and it’s on Wings Venus & Mars album.
Yelena’s line about how a “god from space” doesn’t “need to take an ibuprofen” after a fight is kinda priceless.
Mutants in the MCU
Dreykov tells Natasha that they were searching for the “genetic potential in infants.” Sure, this could mean anything like how athletic someone might grow up to be, but is there a chance they could also have been searching for a mysterious x-factor in a baby’s DNA?
Natasha is watching one of the lesser-regarded Bond flicks, Moonraker. Of course, she still knows every word.
Dreykov gets a classic “Bond villain monologue” wherein a baddie spells out his plans for world domination before a hero who he surely thinks is either neutralized or could be swayed to their cause.
Antonia/Taskmaster is a Bond Girl! Olga Kurylenko played Camille Montes, a Bolivian agent with a vendetta in Quantum of Solace.
Remnants of the Red Room
- Black Widow was written by Eric Pearson, who also wrote Thor: Ragnarok.
- So… Natasha probably couldn’t taste that peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Endgame, right? That’s too bad.
- It doesn’t seem that “Fanny Longbottom” is a thing from Marvel Comics, but as Mason points out it is most certainly a real name. Also, Yelena’s dog in the post-credits scene is named “Fanny.”
- We get an explanation for Natasha’s blonde look in Infinity War here, as Mason gave her the hair dye. But the way it’s presented here feels slightly like a sisterly tribute to Yelena, which is really sweet.
- Natasha makes a crack about “the cavalry” as Ross’ troops close in, but folks hoping that’s an Agents of SHIELD reference are probably going to be sorely disappointed.
- Dreykov’s pheromone trick that he has implanted in the Widows (and Natasha in particular) leads to this scene playing out like when RoboCop tries to arrest Dick Jones in the classic 1987 film.
- “Thank you for your cooperation,” Natasha tells Dreykov with a smirk after getting him to monologue his evil plans. This is as close as we get to a Black Widow catchphrase – she also ended a veiled interrogation with Loki using the exact same words in The Avengers.
The Post-Credits Scene
- Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) is back after her appearances in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. If we had to hazard a guess, she’s putting together a team of “Dark Avengers” or “Thunderbolts” for the MCU.
- Florence Pugh is indeed confirmed to appear in the upcoming Disney+ Hawkeye series, as well.
We went into much more detail about what the post-credits scene means for the future of the MCU right here.
Spot anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!