There’s a changing of the guard on the horizon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and it looks like it’s a case of out with the old (Avengers) and in with the New Avengers.
While MCU overlord Kevin Feige has promised there won’t be a traditional Avengers movie in Phase Four of the world’s highest-grossing franchise, that hasn’t stopped fans putting on their best theory hats to try and figure out what’s next.
With Cate Shortland’s Black Widow set to kick off Phase Four in style, it sounds like there are big things on the way for Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova.
With this in mind, is the newcomer poised to be the next Black Widow, and take a seat on the roster of New Avengers?
Since way back in Phase One, starting with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, has become a stalwart of the MCU.
Not only being as bad-ass as her comic book counterpart, Johansson has the honour of being the only original Avenger who’s a woman, making her something of a role model.
Avengers: Endgame neatly set up the idea of an all-female A-Force spin-off featuring everyone from Evangeline Lilly (The Wasp) to Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts/Rescue), but even now, the ‘official’ lineup has only ever included Black Widow and Scarlet Witch.
Thanks to its place in the timeline, Black Widow – when it’s eventually released – is something of a gamble for the franchise.
Being set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow is poised to fill in the gaps of Romanoff’s whereabouts, but also travel further back in time to give the ass-kicking Red Room recruit an origin story of sorts.
Although the various trailers have honed in on Nat’s fractious relationship with Yelena, the pair have affectionately referred to each other as “sister”.
As well as David Harbour’s Red Guardian looking like he’ll be a fan-favourite, and a villainous turn teased for Rachel Weisz’s Melina Vostokoff into the comic character of Iron Maiden, there’s a question mark over Pugh’s involvement with an expanding slate of MCU movies.
In an interview (shared via a fan account on Twitter), Johansson said: “I am very excited about Florence Pugh. She is my co-star in the Black Widow standalone franchise, and I’m, you know, like, learning from her.”
If a cryptic tease of more to come from the Black Widow name wasn’t enough, Shortland herself told Empire how the movie will “hand the baton” to Pugh.
That being said, there have been wild fan theories that Yelena will perish before the credits roll, explaining why she wasn’t part of Infinity War or Endgame.
Eagle-eyed viewers noticed Romanoff’s Infinity War vest is the same worn by Belova in Black Widow, meaning she could be wearing it as a tribute to her fallen comrade.
Elsewhere, more recent trailers seemed to show Yelena undergoing a face transplant, leading some to believe the pair will swap places and it’s actually Belova who died in Endgame.
It’s all very complicated, but either way, it seems odd Shortland would hype Pugh’s involvement in the franchise if it’s just a one-shot deal.
When it comes to the New Avengers, the latest rumours claim the next generation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will be ushered in by Spider-Man and Captain Marvel.
With Tom Holland’s part as the wall-crawling hero becoming a standout addition, and Brie Larson’s multi-movie contract, it makes sense these two become figureheads of the MCU.
Following the shocking events of Endgame, the original Avengers lineup was down to just Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye.
It’s easy to see Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk stepping up as a Nick Fury of the team, while Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is currently off gallivanting with the Guardians of the Galaxy ahead of Thor: Love And Thunder.
Jeremy Renner is set to head up his own Hawkeye series, which could tie into another Avengers movie. The same works for Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson, Scarlet Witch, and Vision, thanks to their Disney+ shows.
Finally, it’s unlikely any version of the New Avengers would leave out big names like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther.
Although this doesn’t leave much room for new recruits, Pugh’s crucial role and second-billing on Black Widow should stand her in good stead to make her mark on the MCU.
Whatever is going on, it sounds like Feige, Shortland, and the rest at the top are sowing the seeds for a new Black Widow.
It’s important to remember there are also rumours of a Young Avengers movie that could feature Cassie Lang (Stature), the formation of the Thunderbolts with Baron Zemo, and even a possible Dark Avengers that might bring Norman Osborn into the fold.
In the grand scheme of the MCU, it’s most likely that a New Avengers will be the next big crossover we see.
It’s just a game of wait and see who does and doesn’t make the cut, and whether Yelena Belova is really destined to be the next Black Widow.
Black Widow is due to hit US cinemas on 6th November.