Significant spoilers ahead for Avengers: Endgame and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Up until Avengers: Endgame, hero death in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was rarely permanent. Agent Phil Coulson died in The Avengers, and was resurrected for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Bucky Barnes appeared to die in Captain America: The First Avenger, and came back as the antagonist in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Even Loki, a villain turned semi-hero, seemingly died in Thor: The Dark World, came back for Thor: Ragnarok, died again in Avengers: Infinity War, and is back in play due to time-travel shenanigans as of Avengers: Endgame.
So it’s natural to ask whether Avengers: Endgame’s big deaths will eventually be undone as well. There’s precedent in the comics for Tony Stark’s resurrection after death, but will Black Widow’s death be permanent? She’s set for her own standalone film soon, though rumor has it that it will be a prequel. But there are plenty more MCU movies to come, she’s a fan-favorite character, and killing off the franchise’s most significant and central female character is a bad look for the entire series. So how would Marvel handle bringing her back from the dead?
In Endgame, Natasha Romanoff and Hawkeye are tasked with retrieving the Soul Stone from Vormir, which requires one of them to sacrifice themselves. They fight over who gets to die, and Natasha “wins.” Her sacrifice wins them the Soul Stone, in a way that supposedly “can’t be undone” by any form of the time travel that winds up resurrecting the rest of the MCU fallen later in the film.
Sacrifices for the Soul Stone can’t be undone and yet Gamora is back
But the film itself contains a clue: Thanos killed his daughter Gamora in Infinity War to obtain the stone, and she’s alive and well by the end of Endgame. She survives because she time travels from the past, skipping around the part of her history where Thanos sacrificed her. That seems like one easy path to Natasha’s resurrection. The only downside is that she wouldn’t be the latest, up-to-date version of the character — if the Avengers went back in time too far, they might meet a hostile Natasha who hadn’t yet joined S.H.I.E.L.D. And then she’d apparently be missing from her original timeline, though Endgame notably glosses over any effects that would have on anything other than an Infinity Stone.
Regardless of whether Black Widow’s standalone film takes place before The Avengers or after Endgame, the franchise would be better served if she ends up alive again. There hasn’t yet been a standalone film about a Marvel character who’s fated to die, which creates the usual prequel problem of finding it hard to invest in a drama about a character whose complete future fate is known.
And it would be depressing to have the series casually forget her, while resurrecting so many other people over the years. Before Captain Marvel graced our screens, there was Natasha Romanoff, holding her own alongside the Avengers’ otherwise male crew, kicking ass against alien villains and petty human mobsters alike. Sure, it would be cool to explore her time escorting a nuclear engineer out of Iran, or growing up in Russia as Natalia Romanoff, but her drama potential is extremely limited as solely a prequel character. It’ll be more exciting to see how the Avengers devise a way to bring her back.
There’s also evidence from the comics that the Black Widow could be brought back. In one comics plotline, Black Widow is infected with a molecular poison, but is later revived by Stone, a ninja who can wield mystic energies. In the Secret Empire series, she dies — but it turns out a secret program has repeatedly cloned her, and one of the clones ends up with her memories, effectively rebooting her character.
Other MCU characters have been brought back in creative ways as well. Phil Coulson, for instance, was resurrected by having his corpse injected with an alien serum. The experience is so traumatizing that Coulson loses his will to live, so the doctors who revived him also altered his memories so he believed he’d simply been recuperating in Tahiti.
There’s another time travel possibility as well, rooted in the sequence we don’t see, as Captain America returns the Infinity Stones to the exact times and places they were taken from. One fan theory suggests that if Black Widow had to die to prove Hawkeye was worthy to take the Soul Stone, Cap could broker her resurrecting by giving the Stone back at Vormir. That’d be a cheap solution, but given how unclear the mechanics of the Soul Stone are (who exactly is keeping it hidden and demanding these deaths?) there’s always the possibility of new information to fill in. And there’s a long history of stories where heroes who nobly give up their lives for the greater good are brought back by a higher power.
Finally, there are the questions raised by the way Black Widow died in the first place. Red Skull says claimants for the Soul Stone have to give up something they love, but Hawkeye doesn’t sacrifice Black Widow the way Thanos sacrificed Gamora — Black Widow jumps willingly, and Hawkeye fights her all the way. They don’t follow the stated rules at all, and maybe that will make a difference in how her future plays out. It’s not much to go on, but it’s possible her noble death meant something in the long run, and it could be the key to bringing her back to life.
It would be a frustrating loss of character development if an earlier version of Black Widow appears
That’s a bigger stretch than even the unlikely theories like cloning and consciousness transfer, given that Red Skull flat-out said her death is irreversible, and Hulk couldn’t bring her back even with the full time-reversing and reality-bending powers of the Infinity Gauntlet. So a time travel solution still seems more likely. But that would be a frustrating echo of what happened with Gamora, just as Natasha’s death was a frustrating echo of Gamora’s more emotionally resonant murder. If Natasha also comes back as an earlier, less developed version of herself, it’ll feel like retreading Gamora’s current plotline. But it’d still give the other Avengers a goal to rally behind in the next sequel. And the early Avengers films, where the characters were just getting to know each other, had the most fun character interactions and casual banter, so it could be enjoyable to take that trip down memory lane.
As it is now, Endgame leaves Black Widow’s story in a supremely unsatisfying place. Natasha Romanoff was just getting to become the Avengers’ makeshift leader while Captain America was off attending a veterans’ support group. Her reunion with Hawkeye demonstrated how far she had come over the course of a decade of films. Even so, she never got the spotlight, while Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and even the Hulk got their own standalone films, or entire trilogies. She only fared a little better than Hawkeye: not disappearing from the Avengers films altogether, but maintaining a minimal presence at best. She deserves the comeback of her own film, but it’ll be infinitely more satisfying if she also manages a resurrection in the process.