Why Black Widow’s fate in Avengers: Endgame is so stupidly frustrating


Avengers: Endgame is a love letter to 10 years’ worth of Marvel characters and storylines. But it sadly treats the franchise’s most established heroine as a disposable plot twist.

Let’s be clear: Avengers: Endgame is a fairly stunning achievement. The culmination of a decade of storytelling spread over twenty-some odd movies, it’s full of jaw-dropping visuals and heart wrenching character moments. It’s so good, in fact, that you want to ignore the fact that it’s got flaws.

But it’s also important to note that Endgame isn’t perfect, and that it suffers from some of the same problems that have generally plagued the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Some of these issues are more important than others. Most fans, for example, are probably willing to hand wave some of its more ridiculous theories about time travel, and how it works. (Or doesn’t.) The problematic ways the film treats its women – particularly Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow – are a bit more difficult to overlook, however.

Much of Avengers: Endgame struggled with how to handle its female characters. Most of the MCU’s women were largely absent in in the film or generally treated as afterthoughts, even the one that just had an entire solo movie about her. (Endgame takes pains to make sure that Carol Danvers is off planet for most of the events of the movie, and gives her little to do besides punch things when she does appear.)

And, unfortunately, it treats the franchise’s most established heroine the worst of all.

Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, has been part of the MCU for nine years, first appearing in Iron Man 2 before showing up in multiple other sequels and all four Avengers movies. For a (very) long time, she was the MCU’s only visible female hero in a cinematic universe filled to the brim with varying iterations of white dudes.

To say that she was a trailblazer who broke ground for every female character that came after her is something of an understatement. Natasha Romanoff mattered.

Until she didn’t.

Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Photo: Film Frame/Marvel Studios

The decision to kill off Black Widow in Endgame certainly stings, but at least you can sort of explain it. (Or rationalize it, should that be the word you want to use.)

Natasha’s journey has always been one of atonement, an attempt to balance the infamous “red in her ledger” that she mentions back in the first Avengers film. But in a larger sense, her story has also always been one of propping up the men around her in this franchise, and in that respect, she goes out as she lived.

Black Widow finally gets a significant leadership role in Endgame, wrangling the remaining superheroes in the post-Snap universe and working to make sure they’re all doing what they can to keep the world turning. It’s a shift that feels like a natural evolution for her, after years of serving as what was essentially Steve Rogers’ second both within the Avengers and without.

This job is such a perfect fit that some of us – i.e. me – might have even started assuming that Black Widow would obviously emerge as the de facto leader of the Avengers once Steve and Tony Stark weren’t around anymore. (Because let’s be real, we all knew going into this that Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. were both planning on hanging up their shields/helmets afterward.) Yet, that’s not at all what happens.

Instead, Natasha sacrifices herself on the alien planet Vormir, trading her life for the Soul Stone and a chance to undo all the wrong Thanos has done to humanity. On paper, this is a noble act. After all, she’s saving the world – though she won’t be alive to see it – and sending Clint Barton/Hawkeye home to the family he loves. (Clint, you’ll remember, is the person who originally brought Nat in out of the proverbial cold, forgiving her for her past heinous acts and helping her start over.)

Black Widow is a hero, right down to her very last breath.

But on the other hand, it’s also just another example of Marvel Studios not knowing what to do with this character or understanding precisely why she was so important to so many fans.

Because at the end of the day, Natasha Romanoff, a founding Avenger, didn’t even get a funeral.

Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Photo: ©Marvel Studios 2019

Meanwhile, Tony Stark, another founding Avenger who also sacrifices himself at the film’s climax, gets a massive montage with sad music and an appearance by virtually every character who’s ever been in an MCU film, including a recently sprung from the quantum realm Janet Van Dyne and the kid from Iron Man 3 who helped Tony hide in a shed that one time.


Granted, Natasha’s death occurs about two-thirds of the way through the movie, when our heroes are still deep into the fight against Thanos. It’s understandable that maybe the boys don’t have time for a big to-do. But nevertheless, Nat still deserves something better than the five guys she called family staring morosely into a lake. Doesn’t this universe owe her that much?

Shouldn’t her death be about more than sacrificing herself for a man who happens to have a family when she doesn’t? And if we can’t give her that, then can we at least remember her for longer than five minutes?

Black Widow’s “memorial” such as it was, was pretty much nothing at all. Sure, Thor, Steve, Clint, Bruce and Tony were all sad, of course, but the sequence was more about their pain than her life or legacy. Her death, as so much of her life, was used to push their story forward.

In a recent New York Times interview, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley were asked about Natasha’s sacrifice, as well as the fact that there’s no public mourning of her death. Their answer was…let’s just say not great.

"“Tony gets a funeral. Natasha doesn’t,” Markus said. “That’s partly because Tony’s this massive public figure and she’s been a cipher the whole time. It wasn’t necessarily honest to the character to give her a funeral.”"

Now it is true that Black Widow’s public profile has always been a fairly nebulous thing, even after she released a bunch of hacked SHEILD files that exposed her true identity. But all that means is that it’s even more important for her to be truly mourned by those that really knew her, the same people she fought beside for years and who knew her heart, even if they weren’t terribly familiar with her background.

At the end of the day, the audience deserved a chance to say goodbye to Natasha, as much as the other Avengers did. We got with Tony – why wasn’t it just as important to do the same for her?

Next. Here’s what the MCU will look like after Avengers: Endgame. dark