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What Black Widow’s post-credits scene signals for the future of the MCU

The scene sets the table for Florence Pugh to play a bigger role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Scarlet Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Spoiler alert: This story includes details about the plot and post-credits scene of Black Widow.

Can a movie that’s set years before Avengers: Endgame really push the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward? No, but Black Widow’s post-credits scene surely tries.

The long-awaited film centered on the Avengers’ Natasha Romanoff — Marvel’s longest-tenured female superhero — is finally in theaters. I liked a lot of things about it, but even if the pandemic hadn’t delayed the film’s release by more than a year, its story would still feel long overdue.

Black Widow is a prequel whose chronology in the MCU falls years before Endgame, where the character ultimately dies a dramatic (and controversial) death. Unlike a lot of Marvel’s other solo Avengers films, it doesn’t really advance her individual story forward; instead, it fills in the gaps of a life we’ve previously heard about but rarely seen in the MCU.

Still, in the grand tradition of nearly every other Marvel movie to date, Black Widow has a post-credits scene. The studio has long used end-credits scenes to tease future movies and future MCU storylines. Despite Black Widow’s status as a somewhat static “backstory” chapter, its credits scene manages to hint at a possible future storyline and the emergence of a villain we’re just getting to know. It also further cements and strengthens the links between Marvel’s movies and TV series within the MCU. Rather than focusing on Natasha, however, it pivots a bit to tease how Florence Pugh — who plays fellow assassin Yelena — may carry on the title of Black Widow in the MCU’s future.

What happens in Black Widow’s credits scene

Black Widow’s credits scene opens with Yelena driving down a dirt road with an adorable dog. She finally reaches her destination, which is revealed to be Nat’s gravesite. The headstone is adorned with flowers, indicating Nat’s sacrifice and tenure as an Avenger didn’t go unnoticed.

The scene places us in the present day, sometime after Nat’s death in Endgame. That means the last time we saw Yelena in the MCU chronology was right after Civil War and years before Thanos’s invasion in Infinity War, when Yelena and Nat parted ways and Yelena set out to save the many women who’d been brainwashed into becoming Black Widows just like them.

Yelena is visiting Natasha’s grave to pay respect to someone who had become a sister to her. Suddenly, she is joined by the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who asks Yelena if she wants to avenge Nat’s death. Yelena says yes. Valentina shows Yelena a photo of a man whom she says is responsible for Nat dying. The camera, accompanied by a suspenseful music drop, reveals that the pictured individual is Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). That’s when the scene abruptly ends.

What this credits scene means for the future of the MCU

Technically speaking, Valentina isn’t completely wrong when she tells Yelena that Clint is responsible for Nat’s death. In Endgame, Clint and Natasha were tasked with retrieving the Soul Stone to complete the Infinity Gauntlet and reverse Thanos’s snap. The tricky part is that to obtain the Soul Stone, you need to sacrifice a soul.

Both Clint and Nat fought to be the one who sacrificed themselves, but it was Nat — declaring that she should be the one to die, in large part because Clint had a family to look after — who ultimately exchanged her life for the Soul Stone. So, sure, in a very loose interpretation, Clint and his family are the reason Nat is dead. If he didn’t have a family, and if Nat had not been close with them, she might not have been so compelled to throw herself off a cliff and save the world.

But from what we know about Valentina in Marvel’s comic books, she’s a nefarious player and mastermind. Also, in her recent appearance on Marvel’s Disney+ TV series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier — which marked her official on-screen introduction to the MCU — she seemed to be planting seeds of doubt and subterfuge in her recruitment of Captain America II, John Walker.

Thus, with Valentina not giving Yelena the full story in Black Widow’s credits scene, it appears she is setting up a clash between Yelena and Clint.

The inevitable face-off between Yelena and Clint probably won’t happen in one of Marvel’s upcoming movies; the next few titles on the studio’s schedule are The Eternals, Shang Chi, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, none of which will prominently feature Clint or Yelena. Enter Hawkeye, the forthcoming TV series on Disney+ that doesn’t yet have a specific release date but is expected to premiere later in 2021.

Few details are known about Hawkeye, except that Renner will reprise his role as the title character and Hailee Steinfeld will play Kate Bishop, a young markswoman who takes on the title of Hawkeye in Marvel’s comic books.

Should Yelena show up on Hawkeye and butt heads with Clint and Kate, there may eventually be a time when she learns the full extent of Clint and Nat’s deep friendship. If Yelena comes to realize that Nat loved Clint and his family so much, and that she wanted to do anything she could to help her team, she’d have the complete story rather than the half-truth Valentina told her.

Such a reveal would be an opportunity to set up Yelena as part of whatever the next version of the Avengers looks like — and open the door to her (and Pugh’s) future in the MCU.

There’s also a potential parallel between the Nat/Yelena and Clint/Kate duos, in that it seems as though Marvel intends to pass on the titles of Black Widow and Hawkeye to new people. In Black Widow, Nat and Yelena acknowledge they are sisters, even if they’re not related by blood. Clint and Kate have sort of an older-brother-younger-sister dynamic in the comic books, and it’s likely the same dynamic will carry over to Hawkeye. There will be a lot of nifty symmetry to future MCU storylines should Pugh and Steinfeld ultimately become the next iterations of Black Widow and Hawkeye, staying true to the characters’ histories and continuing their legacies.