Scott MacHenry
Staff Writer

In 2019, Marvel Studios delivered its most successful year so far, but this year the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.  As with the entire Hollywood industry, multiple Marvel Studios properties have been slammed with delay after delay.  2020 was supposed to kick off the MCU’s phase four with theatrical releases of Black Widow in May and Eternals in November. Disney+ was also supposed to release The Falcon, Winter Soldier, and Wandavision in the fall.  

Instead, the theatrical window has been laid barren by the pandemic.  In the spring, Black Widow was delayed until November, disrupting the carefully planned cinematic universe which was preparing to start weaving in additional material through multiple Disney+ series.  Just last week, Disney and Marvel Studios was forced to delay Black Widow yet again; this time the film is set to air in May 2021, a year after its initial release date.  Tenet, the summer blockbuster from director Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros., attempted to open amidst the pandemic and received less-than-lukewarm box office results.  Tenet has accumulated just $36 million domestically in four weeks. Audiences are not willing to risk their own health, or the health of others, for a movie.  

Faced with Tenet’s disappointing box office, Marvel had no choice but to delay Black Widow again.  This is a blockbuster that hopes to gross over a $1 billion worldwide.  That kind of money simply isn’t flowing into movie theaters right now.  By delaying the movie so far into 2021, Disney hopes the pandemic will dissipate by May and audiences will be willing to return to theaters.  Disney could have placed Black Widow on Disney+ by using the new Premiere Access feature; however, they decided against it after their failed attempt at gaining revenue from the live action version of Mulan. The public relations and financial nightmares stemming from Mulan’s Disney+ release has likely soured the Mouse House from utilizing the Premiere Access feature- at least for the time being.

Black Widow was also delayed because Marvel President, Kevin Feige, and his team of producers want viewers to watch the film from a creative standpoint. Many fans have clamored for a Black Widow solo movie for years and this is just the second female-led superhero movie from Marvel. following the wildly successful Captain Marvel in 2019.  The character of Black Widow/Natasha Romanov has been played by Scarlett Johansson for 10 years; the ex-KGB assassin-turned-Avenger made her debut in 2010’s Iron Man 2.  This movie serves as Johansson’s swan song in the role.  Black Widow was killed in the climactic events of Avengers: Endgame, and now Marvel is going back in time to give Natasha a final goodbye and introduce new characters to the world.

Even though Black Widow focuses on the titular character in a prequel of sorts, the movie is rumored to take place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie was selected by Marvel to kick-off their new phase of storytelling.  A couple of new characters getting introduced in Black Widow might have an impact on the future of the MCU.  Stranger Things star, David Harbour, plays the Red Guardian: a twisted, Russian version of Captain America.  Keeping Harbour around longer would be in Marvel’s best interest because he is a rising star in Hollywood.  Drawing much of the speculation is Florence Pugh, a young Oscar-nominated actress who plays Yelena Bolova (an ally of Natasha’s and another Widow).  A prevailing fan theory is that Natasha’s spot on The Avengers roster will be taken by Yelena in the post-Endgame world.

Another major theory for Black Widow is that the climax or end-credit scene will reveal a new villain.  Eagle-eyed fans who broke down the trailer believe they spotted equipment for Advanced Idea Molecules (AIM) in a shadowy frame. Another fan theory is the reveal of Norman Osborn, a traditional Spider-man villain. Both AIM and Oscorp, the corrupt company run by Osborn, make some narrative sense.  In the wake of the death of Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, it is possible another tech conglomerate has risen up to overtake Stark Industries. However, this time there are evildoers behind the tech.

Black Widow’s delay further complicates the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe slate because it appears to impact the Disney+ shows.  When Kevin Feige announced the Phase Four slate at San Diego Comic Con last summer, the first MCU show was supposed to be The Falcon and Winter Soldier. Unfortunately, a shut down occurred in March with about two weeks left to shoot the film. The show has since returned to set and should complete filming this week, but it was delayed enough to push it into 2021.  Although filming and post-production delays were an easy answer for why the show was bumped, many fans speculate The Falcon and Winter Soldier actually ties into the ending of Black Widow.  If a connection exists between the two, then it is no surprise the show was bumped.  Eleven years into a cinematic universe, the continuity is too important to mess with.  

The ramifications of Black Widow and The Falcon and Winter Soldier’s delays are twofold.  First, Wandavision will now be the first MCU show, as it’s expected to hit Disney+ in December following the smash hit The Mandalorian.  Plot details have been kept hidden, but it looks like Wandavision will deal with the fallout of Vision’s death in Avengers: Infinity War and Wanda’s grief at losing her lover.  Scarlet Witch harbors great, reality-warping powers, so Wanda’s fragile mind might be playing tricks on all of us.  Additionally, since one movie was delayed, that means the entire slate is delayed.  Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Spider-Man 3, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder have all been pushed back by one of Marvel’s handpicked release dates.

Black Widow’s delay means a delay on the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It has now been the longest amount of time between MCU projects.  Whenever Wandavision is released, it will have been since July 2019 when Spider-Man: Far From Home hit theaters.  Hunger for MCU content is at an all-time high, so there was understandable disappointment when Black Widow was pushed out of 2020.  When Black Widow is finally released and the MCU gets back on track, hopefully everyone can watch it safely and celebrate the return of the world’s most popular franchise together.