Black Widow. Natasha Romanoff. If that’s even her name. She’s gone by a lot. Who do you want her to be?
She can be that.
And that is what makes Natasha such a fascinating character; we never feel like we’ve fully figured her out, even though we’ve spent more time with her than so many other characters.
When we first meet her, she’s Natalie, a young assistant for Pepper. She’s soon revealed to be an extremely skilled S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent who manages to get some of the coolest fight scenes despite not having any technical powers.
She’s back in Avengers, and we get to know her a little better there.
She reveals herself to be capable, yes, but still vulnerable. Still human. The scene where Hulk chases her through the bowels of the Helicarrier is like something out of a horror movie, and Natasha is very reasonably terrified. She’s still smart and effective, she still handles the situation like a professional, but you can tell she’s scared out of her mind. Of course, she is; she’s a human going up against something that could crush her like a bug.
But she really gets to shine in The Winter Soldier.
In this movie, which is all about not knowing who you can trust and things not being as they seem, Natasha is presented as the very first person Steve questions. She’s got her own undisclosed mission from S.H.I.E.L.D., and she’s carrying it out while he’s busy saving hostages. This suspicion is flipped on its head when Natasha later becomes one of the only people he can trust, and they rely on each other heavily to survive. And this is when we get a few more peeks behind the curtain.
It’s no secret that Natasha considers herself to be lacking as a person. She refuses to try to pick up Mjolnir in Age of Ultron. And in The Avengers, she brings up remorse over her past more than once.
She’s a master liar, after all, and a key tenant to a convincing lie is to use truths. She was honest with Loki about that, and she revealed a bit about herself. In that same movie, when Bruce asks “they start that young?” after she hires a small girl to lure him out, Natasha replies with, “I did.”
So this is clearly someone who lives with a lot of guilt. Who never really had a chance to be someone else, and now is stuck with the skillset and history she built up before she was old enough to really even decide. I think she and Tony are a lot more alike than either of them realizes—riddled with guilt and shame, afraid, trying desperately to do the right thing, feeling they’ll never measure up, and of course, using humor and sarcasm to deflect anything real.
Which is why her friendship with Steve, which flourishes in The Winter Soldier, is such a big turning point for her. For the first chunk of the movie, Natasha is still very guarded. Her walls are up. She’s helping Steve, she respects Steve, but it isn’t until they’re catching their breath at Sam’s house and he tells her he would trust her with his life now that she has a very subtle but real breakthrough with how she regards him. She knows Steve is a man of principle, a very respect-worthy person who strives every day to live up to his ideals.
And he considers her a friend. Not automatically. Not naively. Not at all blindly. But because he’s seen how she conducts herself, he knows her (even the parts some would consider shady), and he still deems her worthy of his trust. That was a big deal for Natasha.
That was, I think, what gave her the push she needed to dump all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files—including all her aliases and past crimes—in the name of doing what’s right. It was what caused her to ultimately help Steve in Civil War, and to disappear with him in the aftermath of that. Natasha wants to be a good person, but for so long she never felt like she’d get there.
And possibly the most remarkable thing to me about Natasha is that even carrying this, even in her line of work, even with her history and her life…she was able to fall in love. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a BruceNat shipper (BuckyNat all the way, but I digress), but while the romance was rushed and did come a bit out of nowhere, there was an element of it I really liked: Natasha’s willingness to be vulnerable.
A lot of people responded to this with annoyance that the writers were weakening her character, but understanding the psychology of someone like Natasha, I feel like allowing her to fall in love and express a desire for a life with someone was one of the greatest showings of strength she’s ever given us. Do you know how scary it is to love? Do you know how scary it is to take that chance? Do you know how hard it would be to even consider a romance when one of you turns into a giant green rage monster when they get too upset, the other has been a spy for so long that she likely has moments of existential dread where she doesn’t really know who she is anymore, and both of you spend most of your time-fighting aliens and robots and hanging out with a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, a living legend, and the actual god of thunder?
You know how most people are like, “Uhh, this just isn’t a good time for me right now…I’m like…so busy…”?
Yeah, Natasha is so damn brave that she looked at HER life and went, “You know what? I want this. This is worth it, Imma go for it.”
That is some ridiculous courage.
And she didn’t compromise anything about herself—who she is, what she believes, what she does with her life. If anything, I think love made her fight harder for all that.
Natasha is such a complex character and carries so much fear and uncertainty in her, but she somehow manages to be the heart and soul of the team. Don’t believe me? Check this out: she’s forged more relationships with the other members of the Avengers than any of the others. She’s genuinely friends with Clint and Steve, she’s got a playful rivalry with Tony that clearly has actual weight to it when push comes to shove (see: Civil War), and she and Bruce have their budding romance—the only one she’s not legitimately close to is Thor, but even they get along well enough when they interact.
I’m convinced that they all draw strength from her when the chips are down. That her cavalier attitude and willingness to jump into even the most ludicrous situation inspires them all. That the fact that she has no powers but she’s still right beside them makes them all better.
She’s deep. She’s thoughtful. She’s highly intelligent. She thinks so quickly and acts so confidently, and she doesn’t just show up for the battles—she also shows up for the quiet, emotional moments when the people around her need a friend, even if all that friend does is stand by their side.
Natasha makes people and situations better just by showing up and being her awesome self, and the best part of these movies is that she is not restricted to kicking ass and looking great in order to do so.
Although she does excel at both.
In conclusion, we all wish we could be even half as cool as Natasha Romanoff, and it’s not just because she can do this.