[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.”]
“Avengers: Endgame” is leaving fans across the world heartbroken over the death of Iron Man/Tony Stark (one woman in China was so upset she had to be hospitalized for hyperventilation), but that’s not the only shocking death that unfolds during the film’s three hour runtime. Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson since “Iron Man 2,” sacrifices herself on Vormir in order to get the Soul Stone. The decision has proven to be a polarizing one for fans, but screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely knew it was the only one that made sense for the character.
“Her journey, in our minds, had come to an end if she could get the Avengers back,” McFeely told The New York Times. “She comes from such an abusive, terrible, mind-control background, so when she gets to Vormir and she has a chance to get the family back, that’s a thing she would trade for.”
While Johansson has yet to comment on Black Widow’s death, she did talk about the character’s “Endgame” story-arc in a pre-release interview with Entertainment Weekly. The actress said Black Widow has never been able to make “active choices” in her life, so it was a priority for both Johansson and the “Endgame” story to bring the character’s active decision making to the forefront.
“She’s come into her own as a woman, saying, ‘Who am I? And what do I want? And what do I need out of my relationships and also out of my own self?’” Johansson said. “She’s someone who’s understanding her own self-worth.”
Black Widow’s decision to sacrifice herself to save the Avengers is certainly the most active choice of her life. The character is accompanied to Vormir by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who gets into a fight with her over who should be the one to die in order to retrieve the Soul Stone. McFeely said there had also been an outline of the “Endgame” script in which it was Hawkeye that died, although the screenwriters felt that wasn’t an emotionally rewarding decision for either character.
“It was him taking the hit for her,” Markus said. “It was melodramatic to have him die and not get his family back. And it is only right and proper that she’s done.”
Added McFeely, “The toughest thing for us was we were always worried that people weren’t going to have time to be sad enough. The stakes are still out there and they haven’t solved the problem. But we lost a big character — a female character — how do we honor it? We have this male lens and it’s a lot of guys being sad that a woman died.”
The idea that Tony would get a massive funeral and Black Widow would not troubled Markus and McFeely, although again it served the character. “Tony’s this massive public figure and she’s been a cipher the whole time,” Markus said. “It wasn’t necessarily honest to the character to give her a funeral. The biggest question about it is what Thor raises there on the dock. ‘We have the Infinity Stones. Why don’t we just bring her back?'”
As fans come to learn during “Endgame,” bringing Black Widow back would give up the Soul Stone and thus ruin the mission. Killing off Tony was more of a no-brainer for the screenwriters. As McFeely puts it, “Everyone knew this was going to be the end of Tony Stark.” The writers said Tony’s arc since “Iron Man” in 2008 has been to achieve selflessness, so simply letting him live a peaceful life in retirement with Pepper and his daughter would not have been true to that goal.
“We had the opportunity to give him the perfect retirement life, within the movie,” Markus said. “[He already got that]. That’s the life he’s been striving for. Are he and Pepper going to get together? Yes. They got married, they had a kid, it was great. It’s a good death. It doesn’t feel like a tragedy. It feels like a heroic, finished life.”
“Avengers: Endgame” is now playing in theaters nationwide.