Quite often, the end credits scenes in Marvel movies are more highly anticipated than the films themselves, setting up as they do the next chapter of whatever mind-blowing, gut-wrenching, emotional wringer you’ve just been put through.
The introduction of all-new big bads, the return of long-forgotten villains and scenes involving heroes doing and saying things that make you question their loyalties and motivations have all been used to devastating effect by the unstoppable studio over the years. After all, Marvel has to keep those fanboys' and girls’ juices flowing until next time, and their latest box-office blockbuster Black Widow is no different.
Refresh your memory by watching the post-credit scene here:
Now here's what it all means.
Warning: there are spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you haven’t seen the film.
A graveside visit from the anti-Nick Fury
It's an interesting ride to sit through a film knowing the protagonist is already dead, having sacrificed herself in place of Clint “Hawkeye” Barton to obtain the Soul Stone and play her part in saving the planet from Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. A fact which adds an inescapably bittersweet layer to the film.
After the screen goes black, we see Natasha Romanoff’s “sister” Yelena Belova pull up at a peaceful woodland glade, the location of which is unknown. Make no bones about it, this is a private and undisclosed gravesite. The flowers, candles and teddy bears surrounding the gravestone, which simply reads “Daughter – Sister – Avenger”, is not the kind of grave Romanoff would have if the public knew where to find her. It’s a final resting place known only to family and friends.
While Yelena mourns – and if you don’t find yourself holding your breath for a split second waiting to hear if Natasha whistles back in response, then you’re dead inside – she’s interrupted by a loud nose-blowing courtesy of Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, fresh from causing trouble in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
It's worth noting that Fontaine was supposed to make her Marvel debut in Black Widow, but when the film’s release date was pushed back, she debuted on The Falcon and The Winter Soldier instead.
“Sorry,” Fontaine says to Yelena, not sounding sorry at all, “I’m allergic to the Midwest.”
Fans taking notes will pick up on this clue as to where Romanoff is buried, with the big money on Ohio, where the opening scenes of the film were set.
“You’re not supposed to be bothering me on my holiday time, Valentina,” Yelena snaps back, making it obvious that, having left the Widows, she has been recruited by Fontaine.
“I’ve got your next target,” the Contessa tells the grieving sister, “thought I’d hand-deliver it. Maybe you’d like a shot at the man responsible for your sister’s death.”
Handing the tablet to Yelena we see a picture of – anticipation-building drumroll, please – Hawkeye himself.
(Side note: Yelena will be appearing in the Disney+ series Hawkeye, in which we can now comfortably assume she'll be going after the eponymous hero with a vengeance.)
And because Marvel can’t help itself, and comedy lies at the heart of all they do, the final word before the screen goes black belongs to Fontaine, who teases: “Kind of a cutie, don’t you think?”
The debate around Hawkeye’s perceived attractiveness is a conversation for another day, but a few things are clear, or at least mildly opaque as befits Marvel’s approach to secrecy surrounding their coming direction.
1. Yelena is being sold a lie by a powerful woman whose motivations remain unclear, although all plot lines point to a future Avengers takedown by an army of skilled anti-Avengers.
2. Which Avengers though? It’s pretty clear that with Stark and Romanoff gone, and Sam Wilson the new Cap, that generation 2.0 lurks in the not-too-distant future. So, who will be going head-to-head with Yelena and, most likely, John Walker from The Falcon and The Winter Soldier?
3. Well, surely Scott "Ant-Man" Lang’s daughter Cassie has picked up a few shrinking tips from dad, and Wanda of WandaVision’s twin boys, Tommy and Billy, certainly won’t be sitting this one out. Hawkeye’s young recruit, Kate Bishop, will be debuting in Hawkeye (to be played by Hailee Steinfeld), so that’s our new archer covered. And let’s not forget that Kamala Khan would fill those Captain Marvel boots to devastating effect. So, there you have it. The Black Widow end credits scene segues seamlessly into Avengers 2.0: The New Generation.