SPOILER WARNING: Do not read if you have not seen “Black Widow” at the moment in cinemas and available on Premium Access on Disney Plus.
In most of her interview with Variety, Cate Shortland was an open book: Sincere and funny and excited to talk about her experience of directing Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow.” That is, until she was asked about the movie scene after credits.
“Are you listening to this,” she asked the unseen (and completely silent) publishers watching the Zoom interview. “Are you listening to this, my friends?”
Even after further assurances that whatever she says will only be released after the film’s release, Shortland practically went along with herself with concern.
The Shortlands hesitation is understandable given Marvel’s legendary aversion to spoilers – and especially given what happens in the post-credits scene after “Black Widow” ends with a reunited family and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) leaves to bring The Avengers team together again.
On stage, Yelena (Florence Pugh) pulls herself up in a truck with a dog and parks in a bucolic, woodsy setting. She goes up to a grave and we see that it’s Natasha – we’ve jumped from the events of “Black Widow” (which took place between 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War”) to some point after the events of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” when Natasha sacrificed her life so the Avengers could acquire Soul Stone.
Her tombstone reads “Daughter Sister Avenger.” The graveyard reminds the audience that the Avengers are celebrities: It is covered in stuffed animals, which Yelena rearranges when she cries (and whistles, as she used to do as a child with her sister). While Yelena mourns, a woman standing next to her art blows her nose: It’s Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, first introduced on “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney Plus.
“Sorry,” Contessa tells Yelena. “I’m allergic to the Midwest.” (This statement confirms that Nat is buried in Ohio, where the opening scenes for “Black Widow” were set.)
“You must not bother me during my vacation time, Valentina,” Yelena says.
“Annoy you? No, no, no, no – I’m just here and respect,” Contessa replies. “You know coming here makes you look desperate,” says Yelena. With a barking laugh worthy “Veep’s” Selina Meyer, says Contessa: “OK!”
Contessa then takes a tablet out of her purse. “I have your next goal – I thought I should deliver it by hand,” she says. “Maybe you want a shot at the man responsible for your sister’s death.” She hands the tablet to Yelena, and the man in the picture is Clint Barton (AKA, Hawkeye, AKA Jeremy Renner).
“Kind of cute, don’t you think?” Contessa asks teasingly.
The film ends with Yelena looking at Clint’s picture.
From this scene, we learn several important things about Yelena since the events of “Black Widow”: She works for Contessa, probably in the same team that Val recruited “Falcon and Winter Soldier’s” John Walker (Wyatt Russell) for. And although Yelena is clearly annoyed with her boss, she seems to be living her life on her own terms, which is what she wanted after her release from her compulsory duties as an assassin for General Dreykov (Ray Winstone). It is also emotionally satisfying to know that Yelena kept close to Natasha.
But what’s most important about this scene is how it indicates the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Yelena’s role in it. She is sent to kill an Avenger on the pretext that Clint – Nat’s best friend, and for whom she sacrificed herself so he would not die to get Soul Stone – is “responsible” for Nat’s death.
The scene creates, in other words, Yelena resumes her MCU journey later this year in the TV show “Hawkeye” when it premieres on Disney Plus.
Pugh and Shortland spoke Variety about how the scene came together and how Johansson’s presence was felt even though she was not there.
The scene was shot during the “Black Widow” adaptation in early 2020.
Pugh said the final credit scene was not part of the film’s original production schedule, which took place from May to September 2019. “We actually shot that scene right around when we were making switches to ‘Black Widow,'” Pugh said.
The extra scenes were completed in the winter of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped production everywhere. And for Pugh, who has just worked with Johansson during the remakes, the film at Natasha’s grave made it less emotionally devastating.
“I did scenes again with Scarlett and was attached to her on different machines and we giggled again,” Pugh said. “And then the week after I was at her grave!”
“It was quite shocking to fast-forward,” she continued. “But wonderful to have only seen Scarlett the week before. I think it would have been sadder if it had been many, many months later. ”
Pugh was especially pleased that Yelena appeared on stage after credits because she said, “I did not know there was going to be one.”
The scene is when Pugh realized that her character continued in MCU – and soon.
“Black Widow” is almost certainly the end of the MCU road for Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff. In an interview with Variety, said the actor: “I’m really happy with the work I did in my last decade plus at Marvel. I feel like going out on a high note with a movie I’m incredibly proud of. I feel like my work with Natasha is over, if that’s the thing. ”
But that’s probably just the start of David Harbor’s Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz’s Melina Vostokoff – and we know we’ll soon be seeing Pugh as Yelena. But how seems soon to have been a surprise even for Pugh. “There are always conversations, but I never really imagined that it would continue quite quickly,” she said.
And the scene itself gave Pugh direction on what Yelena is doing today, as well as what had led up to the grave scene.
“She wants to continue what she’s good at, and even though her sister is not there, she’s back at work,” Pugh said. “If you look at her costume and you look at the way she dresses, it shows someone flourishing.”
After all, as Yelena told Nat, she has dreams of what she wants her life to be if she’s ever really free of the red space – as Pugh put it, “because she’s never been in control over his life. “
“So for me, it was just great to jump a little bit forward and see that she’s survived,” Pugh said of the scene, which also points specifically to Yelena’s future on a mission to kill Clint. “But of course it poses a completely different challenge – which is Natasha’s fighting partner.”
The location of the stage was based on a proposal from Johansson.
“Black Widow” ends with Natasha still alive, with her ever-changing hair cut to the blonde bob she plays in “Infinity War” as she flies off to reunite with her Avengers compatriots and in the end end fight against Thanos. The audience knows, of course, that this will be the most important mission of her life – and one that will end in her death. Shortland saw the stage for credits as the best way to honor this victim.
“I know the reaction fans had to Scarlett’s death in ‘Endgame,'” the director said. Having Yelena visit her graveyard allowed one last reminder of how long-lasting Natasha’s impact was on her sister’s life. “The fact that we got to see that moment between her and her sister means that to me she’s eternal, you know that?”
Where that the burial site was located proved to be just as important in achieving this goal. Throughout “Black Widow”, Natasha is reminded of how famous she has become an Avenger, and MCU has already portrayed how the Avengers’ fame was continued after their death, as are the ubiquitous memorials to Tony Stark in “Spider-Man: Far From Home And the museum’s exhibit dedicated to Steve Rogers in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Johansson knew, however, that Natasha would want to avoid that kind of attention as much as possible. “Scarlett talked to me about it: Her character would have hated a public funeral,” Shortland said. “So I felt that the fact that she’s buried in a really private place, in boondocks somewhere, is perfect.”
Yelena’s whistle almost got an answer.
When Yelena whistles while standing by Natasha’s grave, it’s the same pattern she had used with her sister as a child – and one that Natasha would always respond to with her own whistle. Shortland holds the moment for a painful blow as Yelena – and the audience – wait to see if Natasha will somehow magically react.
She does not, perhaps the final proof that the character is well and truly gone. But that was not always the case.
“I heard that whistle, too,” Shortland said, referring to Natasha’s phantom response. “I think we even – no, we never put it in. But we talked about it.”
Working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus is exactly as you think it would be.
Before the pandemic, “Black Widow” would debut in a few months Before “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” premiered on Disney Plus, so when Shortland shot the post-credits scene, it was the first time Louis-Dreyfus played the Marvel Comics icon, who has historically had ties to the fateful organization Hydra – and a complicated story with SHIELD boss Nick Fury.
So what direction did Shortland have for the multi-Emmy-winning actor?
“Nothing,” Shortland said with a laugh. “I think I told her I really loved her. I think at times I have just asked for really, really small things between them. But she came on as a fully formed genius. There’s not much I could have done except destroy her. ”