Does Florence Pugh’s ‘Black Widow’ Character, Yelena Belova, Signal An MCU Development?

The upcoming Black Widow standalone movie (which arrives on May 30) received a teaser trailer that shows off much of the movie’s hand-to-hand combat, which Marvel Studios previewed at D23, involving the super-spy/assassin. Overall, it looks like Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff leads a solid action picture, even if Taskmaster’s getup looks a little sketchball (or paintball). I also think there’s some validity to the percolating theory of a Hawkeye appearance. Nerds do love a good source of speculation, but more importantly for our purposes here, it’s worth noting that Marvel rounded up an incredible known cast, one that I believe might include a key to the future.

In addition to Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, David Harbour is “flexing” away as Red Guardian, and two other Black Widows feature prominently. Those ladies, who are the “sisters” of Natasha, would be Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Weisz, of course, has been a Hollywood fixture for nearly two decades, and Pugh is the relative newcomer, but she’s made one hell of a splash these past few years, including but not limited to Midsommar and Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Little Women. Seriously, look her up on IMDb because we don’t have the space here to discuss all of Pugh’s rapid-fire merits. I will bet that she’s destined to not only be an indie darling but to achieve enduring mainstream success.

My gut feeling is that Black Widow might not be Pugh’s only MCU entry.

Ladies and gentlemen, from the Black Widow trailer … here are Natasha and Yelena throwing down in a kitchen. They’re whirling around each other in an elaborately choreographed confrontation, and not simply because they’re long-lost rivals. Nope, this is how two members of the assassin “family” say hello again.

Marvel Studios

This sort of thing happened in the comics, numerous times.

Marvel

I realize that it’s downright disrespectful to anticipate Black Widow for someone beyond Johansson. I mean, the film will arrive a decade after Natasha made her MCU entry in 2010’s Iron Man 2. She deserves this movie after always being the sidekick, goddammit. It’s practically her eulogy. However, we must face facts here:

(1) Natasha Romanoff is dead after sacrificing herself in Endgame; we’ll never see her again in the MCU after this prequel that follows the events of Captain America: Civil War;

(2) It’s no coincidence that Black Widow officially kicks off Phase Four, and the idea of this movie being a one-off for all involved is, well, silly.

So, let’s talk about Pugh’s character, Yelena. Why is she so important, and who is she?

Black Widow may very well have been timed to set up a Natasha successor in the MCU. There’s a new (non-superpowered) Captain America going forward, so why not a new Black Widow? No offense to Anthony Mackie, but his Falcon is mainly powered by a jet pack. He’s going to need backup (more backup than Bucky) from an Avenger who honed her agility and athleticism since childhood and knows exactly how to wield her advanced weaponry.

– In the comics, Yelena was groomed, just as Natasha was, to be a super-spy and assassin by the Red Room, an espionage academy for Soviet Russia. Yelena became a Black Widow contender after Natasha stopped being loyal to Russia (and picked up with the Avengers), and Yelena envisioned herself as the rightful (and superior) successor to the Black Widow title. She also wished to restore the Red Room’s reputation.

– Speaking of the Red Room, we haven’t seen much of what went down there in the MCU. We can probably expect some backstory in Black Widow to supplement the brief flashbacks we saw in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, but future appearances from the younger Black Widow in Avengers movies could tell us even more and build on that mythology.

– Florence Pugh kicks ass. Enough said, but let’s keep going.

– Plenty of source material exists for Yelena, who danced with S.H.I.E.L.D. and clashed with the Avengers, sparking a desire for vengeance. While working with a Hydra agent, she gained “Adaptoid” powers that could copy the Avengers’ powers. That’s not unlike the abilities of the Taskmaster, who can mimic his opponent’s fighting style. Aaaand we still don’t know the identity of the actor who’s playing the Taskmaster. Perhaps some chronology magic will happen, and it’s Yelena? Nah, but it’s fun to consider.

– Like I said, Yelena beefed with the Avengers. Spider-Man and Iron Man managed to defeat her, and before she could betray Hydra, the organization assassinated her. Any or all of this (obviously without Tony Stark) could figure into a future MCU movie, but I suspect that those Adaptoid powers might not have been fully neutralized and could come in handy for Yelena while working with the Avengers.

– Just an FYI here: the teaser trailer didn’t include a delicious moment from the D23 footage, which showed Yelena calling Natasha out as “a poser” because she loves to add her crouch-flourish during every possible fighting opportunity. It’s a delicious roasting of Natasha (who can handle it). I gotta look at that crouch again.

Marvel Studios

So, I’m all for Yelena carrying on the Black Widow mantle (while possibly wrestling with her villainous side) in place of Natasha. Really when I think about it, the delay for 2020’s Black Widow might have been the best thing that could happen. Natasha recently died, and there’s a worthy (and more conflicted, and therefore interesting) candidate who could take her place. Will Florence Pugh be the new-generation of Black Widow for the MCU? Why the hell not? Let’s do this, Kevin Feige.

Marvel Studios

Black Widow will arrive on May 1, 2020.

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