Marvel Cinematic Universe profile: A look at Scarlett Johansson’s career

VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 29: Scarlett Johansson walks the red carpet ahead of the "Marriage Story" screening during during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on August 29, 2019 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 29: Scarlett Johansson walks the red carpet ahead of the "Marriage Story" screening during during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on August 29, 2019 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images) /

Scarlett Johansson portrays Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The assassin, spy, and superheroine is easily the most important Avenger that has not yet received her own movie.

Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has weaved throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with its third feature. It was an early sign that the extensive and expanding interconnectivity of the franchise’s heroes and storylines was being carefully and competently engineered. Iron Man 2 was the film that escalated SHIELD into prominence, so it was an appropriate place for Black Widow’s introduction.

On the contrary, Captain America: The First Avenger takes place in the 1940s so, naturally, she would be absent from that adventure. Then, because of her connection to Nick Fury and SHIELD, she teamed up with the Avengers during their first collaboration. She didn’t fit into Iron Man 3’s plot, since it was mostly a personal journey for Tony Stark. However, she was vital in Captain America: The Winter Soldier because of SHIELD’s central presence and eventual downfall.

Johansson explored Natasha’s potential for romance with Steve Rogers in The Winter Soldier and Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron, respectively, but her dark history and perhaps some psychological damage prevented those from evolving. Instead, her platonic relationship with Clint Barton proved to be most significant since The Avengers. They bond over shared experiences of being controlled and mutually decide to redeem their compromised statuses by taking on Loki.

They continued to have each other’s back against dangerous threats in Age of Ultron until their political affiliations tested their cohesiveness in Captain America: Civil War, slightly. Even while fighting each other on the battlefield, they joked that they were still friends, as Natasha’s loyalty to the Accords was always in doubt – she ultimately helps Captain America. She became a fugitive, and Clint was under house arrest, yet she came out of the shadows with Cap and Falcon to enlist as a soldier in Avengers: Infinity War.

Losing to Thanos put her in unchartered territory for Avengers: Endgame. Even after the Avengers find and kill Thanos, the damage was done, and everyone goes their own way. But Natasha buries herself in work and becomes a leader for the universe’s mightiest heroes. Johansson brings an emotional susceptibility to the role as never before for, once she completes her rounds and checks in on the Avengers, she quietly mourns the dead and deeply worries about her friend Clint. Her lines opposite Renner are delicate and stunningly delivered, and together they create the most melancholic scene in MCU history; the Vormir sequence where Black Widow sacrifices herself so that Hawkeye could live.

To claim that Black Widow is Scarlett Johansson’s most successful genre undertaking would be a hyperbolic understatement. Even putting the deadly assassin fighting style aside, Johansson acts toe to toe with some of the best leading men working today in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Elsewhere, the effort is definitely there in Lucy but, like in most of Luc Besson’s recent ventures, gestures are empty and talent is wasted. The same could be said for her role in Rupert Sander’s manga adaptation, Ghost in the Shell. And Frank Miller’s The Spirit is almost unwatchable, so even Johansson’s silky Silken Floss is not too noteworthy.

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Johansson actually infuses some fun into one of Michael Bay’s unsophisticated action blow-em-up’s, The Island, alongside fellow clone fugitive Ewan McGregor. Aside from the Marvel films, Johansson’s most absorbing science fiction work is in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, where her alien-like behaviors are both mesmerizing and mystifying. The difference between her role in Under the Skin and her other sci-fi films is that she draws viewers in to the point where the audience is on the edge of their seat to watch what her character will do next.

Many of Johansson’s finest performances come courtesy of the great directors she has worked with over the course of her career. She was a teenage revelation in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (she would work with Redford again almost 20 years later in The Winter Soldier). In the Horse Whisperer, she was as sweet as can be, yet poignantly compelling as her character dealt with personal tragedy.

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A few years later, as she was being comically dry in the graphic novel adaptation of Ghost World, she lands a part in the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There, where she playfully seduces Billy Bob Thornton, adding natural sex appeal to her arsenal of abilities. She acts for the acclaimed filmmaking brothers again 15 years later in Hail Caesar. That was a lesser part as an actress who resembles Esther Williams – she scored higher when portraying the more famous, Janet Leigh, in Hitchcock.

Getting back to her partnerships with auteurs, following the Coen Brothers, Johansson was Sofia Coppola’s leading lady in Lost in Translation opposite Bill Murray. Lost in Translation was a testament to Johansson’s genuine A-list talent, as she exquisitely interpreted delicate human loneliness and desperation to break out of the norms of one’s life. She is also exceptional in Girl with a Pearl Earring that same year; truly differentiating herself by using body language and meaningful glances to project her character’s hesitations and motivations. She then became Woody Allen’s muse from 2005 to 2008, starring in three of his works. She is fascinatingly titillating in Match Point, delightfully graceless in Scoop, and instinctively uninhibited in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

During Johansson’s decade of dominance as Black Widow, she would continue to trade off with other great parts. Her voice work in Spike Jonze’s Her is a unique stand-out, as her A.I. switches seamlessly between intoxicatingly sultry and endearingly gregarious. Several of her best performances came this year between Avengers: Endgame, Jojo Rabbit, and Marriage Story. Her sweet persona that she conveys in some of her earlier work is maturely transposed into a spirited yet brave, loving mother for Jojo Rabbit. Her ebullient method of anti-fascist defiance that she executes to shield her son from some of the horrors of hatred is reminiscent of Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful, and what Johansson accomplishes is also beautiful.

Scarlett Johansson’s Top 10 Movie Roles

1. Nicole in Marriage Story
2. Charlotte in Lost in Translation
3. Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff in the MCU
4. Griet in Girl with a Pearl Earring
5. Rosie Betzler in Jojo Rabbit
6. Nola Rice in Match Point
7. Laura in Under the Skin
8. Grace MacLean in The Horse Whisperer
9. Cristina in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
10. Birdy Abundas in The Man Who Wasn’t There

Scarlett Johansson constructs and develops her most organic true-to-life person in Marriage Story, where all of her emotions and vulnerabilities are exposed and on display in heartbreaking fashion. She forms one half of her most natural relationship since Lost in Translation. Astonishingly, five of her best performances arguably came in two years, 2003 and 2019, with an asterisk next to her MCU role, which spans seven movies so far. But as previously mentioned, she spectacularly brought the character of Black Widow to new heights for Endgame. Even with her time in the franchise coming to a close, Natasha Romanoff will definitely remain as a top Johansson role for the remainder of her career.

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Scarlett Johansson is sure to exit the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang, as her only solo movie, Black Widow, is set to be released on May 1, 2020.