My favorite movie from the MCU is Captain America: The Winter Soldier because it deals with an issue — security v. liberty — that is both topical and important. In the end, it comes down on the correct side of that debate — liberty — without being naive. As I was watching it yesterday, it evoked a thought about Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a., Black Widow and why she had to be the one to sacrifice herself in Endgame.
As I’ve opined on Facebook and Twitter, I’m not sure if Natasha and Clint Barton’s friendship is the best thing about the MCU, but it’s really close. You couldn’t build that relationship in a single film. It was first introduced in Avengers, and continued in Age of Ultron, Civil War, and Endgame. However, as you know, that wasn’t the only relationship of Natasha’s that was developed throughout the movies. Almost all of the original Avengers had a one-on-one relationship with her developed by the writers.
In Iron Man 2, she was paired with Tony Stark. Being very shallow, Tony probably needed more time than most to let her in, so introducing them to each other very early in the MCU was necessary. Even though Tony was, for lack of a better description, very anti-spy, he eventually found himself on the same side as Natasha in the Avengers’ civil war. So, when I think about there relationship, I can’t help but think it’s strong, or at least as strong as Tony can have. That’s the impression I get.
… And the Rest
From there, the relationships get even stronger, both professional and personal. In Winter Soldier, Black Widow was critical in helping Steve Rogers discover and take down Hyrda, and she also established a relationship with Sam Wilson, who was part of the same mission. Topping it off, Natasha got Steve back into “the game” by insisting he start dating, so it wasn’t merely professional; they were genuine friends. Next, in Age of Ultron, Bruce Banner and she discussed their romantic feelings for one another, which Banner threw away. That would later come back to haunt him in Endgame, where he must have felt some regret over that decision. While not developed, you knew there must be some professional respect between Natasha and Rhodey, and perhaps with Vision and Wanda Maximoff as well, as she and Steve were responsible for training them. Even across so many films, there was only so much time to develop these kinds of relationships, so they appropriately focused on the original Avengers, but those seeds were planted elsewhere.
When the Avengers were standing around mourning her loss, it felt real. Tony’s death affected the fans, but I don’t know that any other character could have evoked such a sense of genuine loss throughout the ensemble of characters. Each of those characters had a direct connection to her. The only one that was forced was her relationship with Thor because they never had a mission together, or even a significant moment. However, the other relationships within the group, as well as the fact that we’ve seen them work as part of the same team throughout those films, amplified the credulity of Thor’s grief, which Chris Hemsworth acted well. It’s a shame she didn’t have a funeral, but they had no place to put it.
I’ve read plenty of resistance to her sacrifice online, but I thought it was perfect for her to be the one. Natasha was in a very real sense the emotional glue that held the team together, which also explains her role as leader of the Avengers at the beginning of Endgame. She (and similarly Clint) had no superpowers but certainly held a very important place on the team. Losing her was emotionally devastating for the others on a personal level, and perhaps because she’s gone, it makes sense that the team has now split (even though that’s really about actor contracts). Then there’s the fact that the character isn’t dead to us. We’ll all be watching her solo movie later this year, so she’s not really gone until the actor doesn’t want to play the character anymore. Maybe she’ll get a funeral in the credits.
Her death meant something internally to the script. It had to be her.
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