Following reports earlier this year Widow is set before 2012's The Avengers, the revealed plot would place the bulk of the film's action in 2006 — two years before the 2008-set Iron Man — with a 22-year-old Natasha Romanoff.
At birth the Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanova) is given to the KGB, which grooms her to become its ultimate operative. When the U.S.S.R. breaks up, the government tries to kill her as the action movies to present-day New York, where she is a freelance operative. The standalone film will find Romanoff living in the United States 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Cate Shortland (Lore, Berlin Syndrome) was tapped to direct in July from a script penned by Jac Schaeffer (Olaf's Frozen Adventure, The Hustle). Shortland's hiring makes Black Widow the first Marvel Cinematic Universe entry to be steered by a solo female director after Anna Boden co-directed the next-up Captain Marvel with Ryan Fleck.
Johansson, who has portrayed the deadly former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent since 2010's Iron Man 2, met with Marvel executives earlier this year to discuss development. The actress reprised the part in The Avengers before playing integral roles in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, and 2016's Captain America: Civil War.
She most recently returned as Black Widow, now one of Captain America's (Chris Evans) on-the-run "Secret Avengers," in this summer's Avengers: Infinity War. After adopting a dyed-blonde disguise in the crossover event film, May's Avengers 4 sees the fan-favorite superheroine return to a more classic look with her traditional red hair.
Widow will take on a bigger role in the Infinity War sequel, which finds Natasha and Steve Rogers "hardened" by the devastating events of the previous film.
"In Winter Soldier, what we found so compelling about pairing [Black Widow] up with Captain America was that he is a service paragon of morality and she is a paragon of gray," director Joe Russo told Wired.
"But they've grown together and I think when you find them in [Infinity War] and they've been the Secret Avengers for two years because they're being hunted by Ross and the government, they're like a tight-knit family now — her, Sam Wilson, and Steve Rogers."
Come Avengers 4, set at least a decade-plus after her first solo outing, Natasha has been "hardened" even further — adding to the red in her ledger.
"You can't go on the run without it affecting you emotionally, so I think all of those characters — specifically the ones who survived Infinity War, Cap and Natasha — you will see them with a much much harder edge," Russo said.
Disney has yet to announce a release date for Black Widow, rumored to bow sometime in 2020. Johansson returns as one of Earth's last-surviving mightiest heroes in Avengers 4, out May 3, 2019.