Major spoilers are ahead. After months of withstanding postponements, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have finally gotten the chance to officially say goodbye to Scarlett Johansson in her final act in Black Widow, in theaters and on Disney+ now. In her eponymous solo film, the assassin-turned-Avenger reconciles her painful past and the people who shaped it, resulting in a belated but full-circle character arc — and an important reminder of the massive role that Black Widow played in bringing Phase Three of the MCU to a satisfying close.
Within the current MCU canon, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow as we know her is dead; in Avengers: Endgame, she bravely chose to sacrifice herself at Vormir to obtain the Soul Stone. That death was permanent — or so MCU bigwig Kevin Feige says — but it wasn't the last we'd see of Johansson in the action franchise. To close out Natasha's story, Black Widow takes us back in time to the period right after Captain America: Civil War. As a result of the standoff between those in favor of government intervention after Ultron's near-destruction of Sokovia and those avidly against regulating the superhero business, the Avengers are divided, and Natasha has decidedly sided with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), making her a target for the feds. As she goes into hiding, the assassin's questionable past is about to catch up to her.
Long before she was a Widow-in-training, Natasha lived a charmed life in a small Ohio town with the fellow KGB government agents that made up her fake family: her "father" Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), "mother" Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and "baby sister" Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). The peaceful suburban facade didn't last long because the group was soon summoned back to Russia, where they would continue their assassin training separately.
Decades later, they're begrudgingly reunited in a fight against Red Room mastermind Dreykov (Ray Winstone), who survived Natasha's assassination attempt years ago and has since widened the scope of his killer Widow program to include girls and young women strategically placed around the globe. He also has a new secret weapon aiding him on his sinister mission: the Taskmaster, aka his daughter Antonia (Olga Kurylenko), or at least what's left of her years after Natasha bombed Dreykov's home.
Natasha and her family launch a plan of attack against the evil genius at the new and improved Red Room (now conveniently located in the sky), but their race against more time only gets more dangerous when one of the Red Room's engines blows a circuit, causing it to freefall from hundreds of feet in the air. Dreykov and his horde of security guards' hasty attempt to escape the Red Room is thwarted by Yelena, leading to the villain's apparent death and her dropping through the sky. Natasha jumps to save her, and bloodthirsty humanoid Antonia is quick on their heels, leaping after the sisters with every intention of completing her father's orders. When the three women land on the ground, Yelena escapes in a helicopter with Alexei, Melina, and her fellow freed Widows, and Natasha is left to face off against Antonia. Their sparring only ends when the Black Widow is able to release the last of a vial of the precious red liberating gas, breaking what's left of Dreykov's power over Antonia and releasing her from her decades-long vengeance plot.
A time jump, which appears to take place right before the chaos of Avengers: Infinity War, reveals a newly blonde Natasha admiring the sleek jet provided to her by arms dealer Rick Mason (O.T. Fagbenle). The brief but successful reunion of her own family has our heroine hopeful for the future of her other loved ones scattered around the galaxy after the events of Civil War. Fully equipped with the high speed aircraft, her sister's trusted utility vest, and a new sense of determination, Natasha sets off into the skies after saying she's got to break some of her friends out of prison. She doesn't know it just yet, but things will get better for the Avengers. Poetically, Natasha's pure love for her superhero family is actually the key to bringing them back together again — and saving the universe.
The end of Black Widow doesn't offer too many details about how Nat plans to free her fellow Avengers from a prison in the middle of the sea, where we left them at the end of Civil War. Originally, the end of that film implies that Captain America, alone, busts Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) out, but the end of Black Widow suggests that he had Nat's help. We know for sure that when Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his Dark Order landed on Earth in Infinity War — likely mere months after the events of Black Widow — Natasha had already reconnected with the fugitives before she, Captain America, and Falcon had to jet off to Scotland to rescue Wanda and Vision (Paul Bettany) from Thanos' league of space invaders. That reunion paved the way for the rest of the Avengers to later fight side by side in the devastating Wakanda battle sequence and later at the Avengers compound in Endgame, ultimately resulting in the mad titan's epic defeat and a reversal of almost all of the damage he wrought upon the galaxy.
Though this solo story came several years too late, Black Widow finally paints the full picture of Natasha's journey to becoming a hero as well as emphasizing her essential role within the Avengers. Despite being raised a lone ranger, she learned the value of family through fighting alongside some of the strongest beings alive, and when it came down to it, Natasha was willing to sacrifice her life for her family and for the greater good. If the late Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were the faces of the Avengers, Natasha was the powerful glue that kept the superhero union together, forever binding them in unity and in service.
Even as the MCU pushes ahead into the next several phases of its expansive world, the name and legacy of Black Widow will live on — after all, half of the universe would still be missing without her.