It’s been three weeks since Avengers: Endgame flew into theaters crushing every record in its path. It did the impossible: ended a 22-picture saga that has culminated over the last eleven years. To much enjoyment, the audience saw all of their heroes in action to take down the evil tyrant. But, one character that has been apart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was underused and undervalued yet again: Black Widow, the team’s first female avenger.
But even though Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) was treated poorly once again in the MCU, she still has a long awaited solo movie coming up. Judging by the rumors of principle photography starting this June, one can assume that the film will most likely be released on Marvel’s next available date, May 1st 2020. This would put Natasha in an unique position by starting the MCU’s mysterious Phase 4 since Spider-Man: Far From Home ends Phase 3. But even though we don’t know where Romanoff’s story will go from here or how it will introduce Phase 4, we do know who will be behind the camera.
As a producer of the film, Scarlett Johansson has been heavily involved in the development of the project, unlike most Marvel stars in relation to their solo features. She has a say in almost every element of the film, including who directs the picture. After a year-long search of over 70 directors, Johansson and Marvel President Kevin Feigue chose Cate Shortland to direct the feature due to Johansson’s love for Shortland’s 2012 film Lore. So as an avid Black Widow fan, I watched Lore and Shortland’s latest film, Berlin Syndrome, to see what I could expect for the long awaited movie. After viewing both of them, I have faith that Natasha will finally get the treatment she deserves.
Lore tells the story of a young German teenager, Hannelore (Saskia Rosendahl) at the end of the second world war. At the start of the film, Germany has just lost the war and her parents, one of which is a Nazi officer, are arrested on war crimes. Germany, now divided, is no longer safe which forces Lore and her four younger siblings to travel on foot across the country in order to seek sanctuary.
Shortland uses Lore’s perspective to show the state of Germany after the war, but the film is not just about a young girl walking across a country. The film at its core is about Lore realizing that she was on the wrong side of history. Through her journey, she learns what her country and parents have done to innocent people during the war. She attempts to accept what her family, her society, her country, and Lore herself have done. The film is a coming-of-age story but it is also a story where the protagonist finds out that everything she’s learned, believed in, and valued was a lie. Lore isn’t guilty or innocent – she was corrupted. She believed in what her country was telling her, what her teachers were telling her, and what her parents told her. Lore believed that her parents and country were fighting evil forces because that is what they said they were doing, but through this journey, she finds out it was the exact opposite.
Shortland’s other film, Berlin Syndrome, also follows a young woman in Germany. Here, we meet Clare (Teresa Palmer) who is backpacking in Europe alone when she meets a charming man, Andi (Max Riemelt). The two start to go out together but one morning, Clare finds herself locked in Andi’s apartment as his hostage. The film then follows Clare as she tries to escape the apartment by any means necessary. As an audience member, we see Clare fight for her free will as she attempts to outsmart her captor.
Both of these films are dark, intense, and incredibly complex character pieces. They are not based around movie stars, big budgets, or explosions. Shortland tells the stories about people in the shadows and the ones lurking behind a mask. Her films are not about the hero, they’re about the survivor: the person who manages to overcome the impossible obstacle.
All of these themes fit perfectly with Black Widow’s character.
Think about it: Natasha Romanoff was trained to be an assassin; a gun for hire. She didn’t have the opportunity to have likes and dislikes or preferences. She just had to follow orders and be the best at them. Like Clare, she didn’t have free will. Similar to Lore, Natasha believed that she was fighting the forces of evil. She believed in her country and believed what her handlers were teaching her. It is only when she started to become more self aware that she realized that she was committing acts of terrorism for the KGB. From when Clint Barton recruits her, Natasha goes on a parallel character journey to Lore’s: she realizes the role that she has played in history. She learns that instead of fighting the forces of evil, she was a force of evil. This leads her on her own personal quest to make active decisions in her life and outweigh her acts of terrorism with acts of heroism.
Black Widow’s also journey is also similar to Clare’s in Berlin Syndrome. After defecting to America and joining SHIELD, she attempts to develop her free will, something that she was denied when she was apart of the Red Room. Natasha’s free will has been something she has been building throughout the MCU. Since then, she’s been trying to build a personality with values, beliefs, and loyalties, all while outsmarting all of her opponents. Just like Clare.
Cate Shortland is a strong character driven director. She’s likes to push the envelope through her stories to discuss the power of corruption and human agency. She humanizes the villains, attempts to turn them into heroes, and manages to make her audience sympathize with them. Her films are dark, edgy, intelligent, sexy, and live in the dark shades of the human psyche. They tackle interior battles on the exterior, which results in a rich and cathartic movie-going experience. Her films are about one’s inner demons, the dark side of humanity, and most of all: understanding one’s self worth. These tropes that Shortland excels in perfectly describe our favorite former Russian spy.
This type of film: a gritty, edgy, low-budget, character driven piece about one’s realization and taking agency of one’s life for the first time would be a fresh new genre for Marvel and a great way to kick off Phase 4. It’s new. It’s different. It fits the actor. It fits the character. It demands attention.
As of now, no one knows where exactly the Black Widow movie could take the MCU, especially after the events of Avengers: Endgame. But, if this film truly does launch Marvel into the next big story, Shortland certainly has her hands full. If her last two films can tell me anything about the future of Black Widow, it gives me hope that Natasha might get some justice after all.
Lore is available to stream on Prime Video and Berlin Syndrome is available to stream on Netflix.