(This post contains a mega-spoiler for “Avengers: Endgame.” For real, this is one of the biggest.)
We didn’t know much about “Avengers: Endgame” ahead of time, because of how secretive Marvel Studios has been about this thing. But we knew that Captain America and Iron Man were on their way out, because Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr had long said they were ready to get out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after this one.
With Cap and Tony on the way out, that leaves a pretty big leadership void for the Avengers going forward. And it would make sense for someone who has been around as long as they have and has played just as central a role in the franchise to fill that void.
So why not Black Widow? After the big five-year time skip early on in “Endgame” she’s the one maintaining ties between the various remaining superheroes. She is, in this film, becoming the leader that the Avengers will need moving forward.
But then “Endgame” sees her and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) head to Vormir in the past to retrieve the Soul Stone during the big Time Heist sequence, and they have to make a sacrifice in order to get it. And Black Widow chooses to kill herself so that Hawkeye can be with his family again after the Avengers get all the stones and save trillions of lives.
Yes, they really killed her off, and she doesn’t appear to be coming back, even after Captain America returned the Soul Stone at the end of the movie by some means. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) even mentions that he tried to bring her back when he did his reverse snap, but that didn’t work.
And yet Marvel Studios has a solo Black Widow movie on the way next year, and there’s only two real possibilities for what such a movie could entail: it could be a prequel, or it could be a “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” type of thing. Or, I guess, it could be both. We don’t actually know anything firm about the movie yet, so right now we’re left to make guesses.
A prequel seems like the most logical answer, except that would be a strange way to usher in the beginning of the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would depend on what the actual plot is, I guess, but there’s no big cosmic stuff in Black Widow’s backstory that we know of. A Black Widow origin story or something would be an exceptionally strange concept to roll with after she’s dead in the present. Especially since Scarlett Johansson is set to star in the film, which would mean just de-aging her like Samuel L. Jackson in “Captain Marvel,” but to her teenage years for the entire film, maybe? It’s a headache just thinking about it.
The “Search for Spock” scenario, meanwhile, would likely involve Hawkeye and Hulk and whoever else embarking on a quest to retrieve her from the Soul Realm, which is presumably where the people who are sacrified to the Soul Stone go when they die, judging by Thanos’ brief conversation with young Gamora after he did the snap in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
But it would also be exceptionally strange for a movie about “Black Widow” to focus largely on two male characters. So a combination prequel/”Search for Spock” thing, perhaps with some time travel thrown in, would make more sense. Remember, the Avengers just have a time machine now, so while on the quest to find Black Widow they could interact with past versions of her. But even then the story would be focused on the men, which would not be ideal by any means.
Until we know more about the movie — a post-credits scene after “Spider-Man: Far From Home” seems like the most likely place for a hint — it’s basically impossible to try to figure this out accurately. So guess away.