WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Marvel's Black Widow, now playing in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is developing a smart way of echoing back to earlier films by showing events audiences knew so well, but from a different character’s perspective. That played out most effectively in Spider-Man: Far From Home with the reveal of Mysterio’s team, which consisted of former Stark Industries employees dismissed at earlier points in the franchise. However, Black Widow one-ups that by casting the ending of Captain America: Civil War in new light.
Black Widow picks up in the immediate aftermath Civil War, with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow on the run, but before the 2016's final coda, in which Steve Rogers frees his friends imprisoned in The Raft. Black Widow’s story fits neatly into that point in MCU history, a largely unwritten period leading up to the events of Avengers: Infinity War. More importantly, it slightly re-frames Rogers’ rescue of Sam Wilson, Wanda Maximoff, Clint Barton and Scott Lang.
Captain America lurks around the edges of Black Widow, but he never makes an appearance. It’s Natasha’s film, and yet the hints at Rogers keep Civil War's finale in check. That starts early in the film, with Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) closing in on the Black Widow. Natasha slips out of his hands, and the film’s central plot continues, only to swing back to him once the main story has concluded. Natasha seemingly surrenders to him in the last five minutes, only to be revealed two weeks’ later, free and boasting the platinum-blonde hair she wore in Infinity War.
That’s where the shading of Civil War begins. Having freed herself from Ross comparatively effortlessly – so much so that the movie doesn’t waste time on the circumstances – Natasha tasks her quartermaster Mason (O-T Fagbenle) with acquiring a quinjet, then states she’s leaving to “break some friends out of prison,” which clearly indicates the other Avengers held on The Raft. That places her, and the high-tech jet, in the center of Civil War's final moments
That doesn’t affect the outcome of Steve's jailbreak, but it does alters the circumstances profoundly. Civil War kept the details cryptic, revealing unconscious guards and the imprisoned heroes looking up so see Steve smiling at them. Fans may have speculated that he had some assistance, but Black Widow makes clear he wasn’t working alone. Indeed, Natasha may have hatched the rescue plan herself, or else was tasked with finding transportation that could bring them, undetected, into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and then return them, with their teammates. Without Natasha's quinjet, the operation isn't possible
Beyond that, her participation in the raid remains unclear. At the very least, she piloted the quinjet while Steve infiltrated the underwater prison. More than likely, she set it to hover and joined him in taking out the guards. Regardless, what was shown in Civil Warrepresents only part of what happened; what began as Steve's solo mission to free his compatriots has now become a partnership. It also launches them into the lead-up toInfinity War where, along with Sam Wilson, they begin to pursue criminals who possessed Chitauri technology from the Battle of New York.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War became something of Black Widow movies by default, giving Natasha a strong second hand in the action and exploring her character in ways the Avengers films couldn't. The embellishment of her role as revealed in Black Widow is a means of further owning her contributions to those films. It’s also an impressive piece of world-building, enhancing a strong and important scene in the MCU without changing its specifics
Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow stars Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian, O-T Fagbenle as Mason and Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff, with William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross and Ray Winstone as General Dreykov. The film is playing in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.