Warning: This post contains Black Widow spoilers.
Black Widow features a particularly evil villain thanks to being a prequel to Avengers: Infinity War. The latest film in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is situated in the series timeline between Captain America: Civil War and the battle against Thanos, which led to Black Widow’s death. It is the first standalone movie featuring Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, alongside a cast including Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, and David Harbour.
Aside from Taskmaster, the movie’s main villain is Dreykov, a Russian crime boss played by British actor Ray Winstone. The incredibly sinister character is responsible for the Red Room, an elusive training center that turns neglected girls into spies-turned-assassins called Black Widows. It’s a process both Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova (Pugh) have been subjected to, encouraging them to seek revenge on Dreykov. The movie also reveals that Dreykov was the target in Natasha and Clint Barton’s mission in Budapest, with Natasha seemingly killing Dreykov’s daughter to get to him.
In an interview with Slashfilm, screenwriter Eric Pearson discussed the difficulty he and his co-writers faced in creating a villain for a prequel. The greatest villains have to have the potential to succeed, so Dreykov’s plot for a global Black Widow program had to be possible regardless of what happened in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The villain the filmmakers came up with had to be elusive, someone whose whereabouts and ambitions had gone undetected until now. Read Pearson’s full description of creating Dreykov below:
This was the trickiest one, honestly. By the end of Thor: Ragnarok, we knew they were going to end up in space and Thanos is going to show up. So there’s a lot of ways to get there. But this was like, ‘Okay, we are right after Captain America: Civil War but before Avengers: Infinity War.’ So it was a very short window. This was the trickiest one, and the villain threat was the trickiest part of that, because you needed a villain threat that could realistically succeed, but we wouldn’t notice. That was the hardest thing. Ultimately, it led me to a place where it worked for the spy thriller genre we’re going for, and for Natasha’s character as well, to have this scumbag-y villain who is basically a coward and is hiding in the dark, puppeteering things. Because he’s such a coward, he doesn’t care about how much he’s ruining other people’s lives. That felt like an appropriate villain threat that also works, as opposed to say, ‘I’m going to blow up the moon.’ You can’t say that because we’ve seen Infinity War. There’s a moon there. We know that.
Since Black Widow is believed to be Johansson’s last appearance in the MCU, the film’s plot had to tie up loose ends in her character’s back story, something which had previously gone undeveloped in the franchise. Through Dreykov’s scheme, the film’s creators were also able to tie Pugh’s Yelena into the story and seemingly set up the plot of the Hawkeye original series due for release on Disney+ in the fall. All this had to be achieved without interfering with the events of the two Avengers movies set after the events of Black Widow, which the movie’s particular villain allowed them to do.
The threat of Dreykov is particularly impressive given the enormity of the MCU’s ultimate villain, Thanos, which he had to follow. The abuse to which the character subjects young girls makes Black Widow one of the franchise’s grittier entries, aided by the experience of director Cate Shortland. As the MCU continues to develop and grow both forwards and backwards, it will be fascinating to see how its creators approach future villains.
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